Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday launched a blistering attack on the Congress, saying India's defence interests were compromised under its rule, and asserted nothing is more important to his government than protecting the country.
Modi hit out at the opposition party, which headed the coalition government at the Centre during 2004-14, after inaugurating the strategically important 9.02-km Atal Tunnel, the world's longest highway tunnel which reduces the distance between Manali and Leh by 46 km and the travel time by four to five hours.
He cited a number of strategically important projects, from Atal Tunnel to the air strip at Daulat Beg Oldi in Ladakh and Tejas fighter aircraft production, to assert that they were delayed or almost forgotten and questioned as to what 'compulsion' and 'pressure' might have been behind it, without directly naming the Congress.
His government, the prime minister said, has deployed all its strength to develop border infrastructure, adding that never before has work been done at such a big scale, be it building roads, bridges or tunnels.
For long, he said, border projects could never come out of planning stage and those which did got stuck or were kept on the back burner.
The then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had inaugurated the approach road to Atal Tunnel in 2002 but the project was almost forgotten after his government was gone, Modi said, targeting the Congress-led UPA dispensation.
Work on only 1,300 meters was completed by 2013-14, he noted, adding that the project would have been completed by 2040 by this pace before his government took charge in 2014 and speeded it up at an unprecedented rate.
'Our govt increased the pace of construction from 300 meters/year to 1400 meters/year and completed the project in 2020,' Modi said.
In just six years the government completed the work of 26 years, he said.
Just like the Atal tunnel, this treatment was meted out to several such projects, the prime minister said, adding that Daulat Beg Oldi air strip remained closed for four to five decades.
'There was no political will. I can talk about dozens of projects that are important from the strategic point of view, but for years they were neglected,' he said, hitting out at the previous Congress-led governments.
'Nothing more important to us than the national interest and protecting the country, but the nation has seen an era when defence interests were compromised,' he said, in an apparent swipe at the opposition party.
In this context, he also referred to the Kosi mega bridge in Bihar which was envisaged by the Vajpayee government and inaugurated by him last month.
The decisions of our government are a testimony to that it does what it says, he said.
His government has undertaken major reforms so that defence equipment could be made under 'Make in India', he said, adding that fulfilling the defence needs are his government's top priority.
Speaking of the Atal Tunnel inauguration, Modi said it is a historic day as not only has the dream of the former prime minister been fulfilled but the decades-long wait of people of the state is also over.
The tunnel will be a lifeline not just for Himachal Pradesh but also for Leh-Ladakh, he said.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh highlighted on the occasion the strategic importance of the tunnel, saying it will make soldiers' deployment and movement of weapons and ration easier. It will also be a big help to people and tourism sector, he said.
Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur and Union minister Anurag Thakur were also present on the occasion. PTI KR/ASK SMN SMN