India celebrated its 74th Independence Day on Saturday amid the coronavirus pandemic with the revelries and crowds missing as state leaders urged people not to fear the disease and called for a mass awareness movement to combat it.
Official celebrations in most states were restricted to unfurling of the national flag and chief ministers and governors addressing the people, with fewer guests in attendance.
Chief ministers of Bihar and Assam Nitish Kumar and Sarbananda Sonowal, respectively, used the occasion to reach out to voters, highlighting the achievements of their governments and announcing new schemes.
While Bihar assembly elections are due later this year, Assam will go to polls in 2021.
In the national capital, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the coronavirus situation in Delhi is 'quite under control' as compared to what it was two months back.
In his speech at the Delhi Secretariat, the chief minister credited the people of the city for bringing the situation under control.
He also thanked all the stakeholders, including the central government, 'corona warriors' and different organisations.
"The Delhi model is being talked about in the country and has emerged as a study case in the world. It is an outcome of working by taking everyone together," he said.
This year the city government shifted its Independence Day event to the Delhi Secretariat from Chhatrasal Stadium due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani called for a mass awareness campaign on the lines of the Quit India Movement to drive the pandemic out of the state and the country.
Speaking at the Independence Day function at Swarnim Park in Gandhinagar, the chief minister said the pandemic has slowed down the pace of development in the state but his government is committed to make up for it.
"To achieve independence and drive out the British, the slogan of 'Quit India' resonated across the country. As a result, the British left the country and we got freedom. Likewise, let's start a mass awareness campaign to free the country and Gujarat of coronavirus," he said.
Due to the pandemic, the Independence Day function was held in the capital city for the first time in 15 years. As part of a tradition started by former chief minister Narendra Modi, earlier functions were held in district headquarters.
Speaking about the state government's efforts to tide over the coronavirus crisis, Rupani said his dispensation has managed to bring down the COVID-19 death rate to 2.1 per cent and increase the recovery rate to 78 per cent.
At the state function held in Kolkata, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee exuded confidence that the country will overcome the challenge posed by coronavirus.
She unfurled the national flag and inspected the guard of honour by various contingents of the state police at the event held at Red Road.
Only a few ministers and government officials were present at the event.
Banerjee felicitated 25 frontline workers who rejoined duty after recovering from COVID-19.
A song composed by her -- 'Corona chole jabe ek din, COVID joddhader mone rekho' (coronavirus will be defeated one day, but remember the COVID warriors) -- played in the background during the felicitation.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik assured people that no COVID-19 patient in the state will be deprived of treatment due to financial constraints as the government has taken concrete steps to provide all facilities free of cost.
"Every life is valuable for us," he said at the Independence Day function held at the Exhibition Ground in Bhubaneswar.
"Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa, who recently recovered from COVID-19, asked people not to be afraid of the disease.
"I too was infected with coronavirus, and I have fully recovered. I would like to send a message on this occasion that the people need not worry or be afraid of this infection," he said.
The 77-year old leader was discharged on Monday after about 10 days in hospital.
In his message to the people of the state, the chief minister said the pandemic has affected every single industry but the pace of life that had slowed down during the lockdown is slowly picking up.
In Jammu and Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar, newly appointed Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha said a new era of normalcy and development has dawned in the union territory due to the changes effected in the last one year.
In his maiden Independence Day address, he expressed the resolve to make peace, progress and social harmony the most integral part of the transformed narrative.
"After the constitutional change enacted in 2019, the central government took not one or two, but historic 50 decisions to transform the face of the region.
"A new era of normalcy and development has dawned due to the changes effected in the last year; a new journey has been undertaken," the LG said referring to the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35-A in August last year.
Sinha said some 'wrong decisions' were unfortunately taken after independence which inevitably led to resentment in the hearts of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and distanced them from the rest.
In Jammu, official functions witnessed low attendance as authorities restricted the entry to special invitees and also curtailed many traditional programmes as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The main function in Jammu was held at Mini Stadium Parade where K K Sharma, advisor to the LG, unfurled the national flag and addressed the gathering.
In poll-bound Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar sought to counter the 'uninformed criticism' faced by his government through his Independence Day address.
In the celebrations held at the historic Gandhi Maidan in Patna, Kumar spoke at length about the work done by his government besides announcing new vacancies for teachers and extending the Employees' Provident Fund benefits for those already in service.
"It has become a fashion these days to tweet anything while sitting at home, without having any idea of what has been achieved," the chief minister said.
Kumar's government has been repeatedly targeted by opposition leaders and aide-turned-adversary Prashant Kishor over its handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
In his speech, which lasted over an hour, Kumar sought to sum up his government's various accomplishments, including schemes for schoolgirls, the ban on sale and consumption of alcohol and environment conservation drives.
Fewer people were allowed to attend the function to ensure social distancing. The attendees were seen wearing face masks.
With an eye on the Assam assembly polls scheduled to be held early next year, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal announced a slew of incentives for the agriculture sector.
At a subdued official Independence Day function in Guwahati, he said farmers utilised the lockdown and their products were exported to Dubai, London, Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong and other markets.
"The state government will set up rice purchasing centres in every district so that farmers get the minimum support price for their produce. We will also offer 30 per cent grants to set up 220 rice mills," the chief minister said.
The government will distribute 1,000 mini-trucks among youths and self-help groups (SHGs) to ensure smooth transportation between paddy fields and markets, he said.
Sonowal said his government had identified 75,000 bighas of agricultural land to develop the state as an organic hub.
He said a Centre of Excellence for Organic Agriculture will be set up in Biswanath district.
He also announced cold storage units will be set up in every district to preserve farmers' products scientifically.
The 126-member Assam Assembly is scheduled to go to polls in March-April next year.
On the occasion of Independence Day, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot called on people to keep democracy intact and counter divisive forces.
"Governments kept changing but democracy continued in the country. We all have the responsibility to keep democracy strong because the country will survive only when democracy survives," he said in a speech at Jaipur's Sawai Mansingh Stadium.
In Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath remembered Mahatma Gandhi and other freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives for India's independence.
Dressed in a saffron robe and turban, and wearing a white mask in view of the pandemic, Adityanath unfurled the national flag at the Vidhan Bhavan in Lucknow ahead of his address to the people of the state.
He urged people to value the importance of independence.
He also lauded health workers and security personnel for their work during the coronavirus pandemic.