Address To The Nation

AUGUST 15, 1997

Redeeming the Pledge: New Oppurtunities and New Challenges Fellow citizens, Freedom Fighters, Sisters and Brothers, Honoured Guests from abroad, and Friends, This midnight hour, thronged with memories of the past, and throbbing with significance for the future, is a golden moment in the history of India and the world. Fifty years ago, at this very moment, a new age of freedom dawned for India, and as Jawaharlal Nehru put it, "the soul of a nation, long suppressed, found utterance". It was also the beginning of the end of colonialism in the world. On the fiftieth anniversary of this historic event, it is my privilege to extend to all Indians throughout the length and breadth of the motherland, and to all Indian nationals living abroad, my heartiest greetings and felicitations.

I also send my greetings to the brave soldiers of our armed forces, who stand guard over the remote frontiers of our land. At this moment of the midnight, let us bow our heads to Bharat Mata, whose children we are, and take a vow to serve her, and the people of India regardless of caste, class or creed, religion, language or region. On this solemn occasion, we remember the countless men and women - the peasants, workers and the youth of India - who suffered untold hardships and sacrificed their careers, and even their lives, for the freedom and independence of the nation. We pay our homage to Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army; and the great men like Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and a galaxy of others.

We also remember and pay our tribute to the founding fathers of our Constitution, and the Chairman of its Drafting Committee, Baba Saheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, who championed the cause of the down-trodden and the most exploited classes of people in our society, and who reminded us in the Constituent Assembly that "social and economic democracy are the tissue and the fibre of political democracy". At this moment we cannot forget the tragedy and the trauma of Partition, that cast a shadow on the first Independence celebrations, but as Nehru said on the occasion ". . . . the past is over and it is the future that beckons to us now". That future seems to have now arrived, with India playing its part in co-operation systems in South Asia, Asia and the world. It is pertinent to reflect and ask on this occasion, what we have achieved as a nation during the half century of our independence, and what have been our short-comings and failures.

I have no hesitation in telling you, my fellow citizens, that our achievements have been impressive, in spite of many failures. First and foremost, we have succeeded in maintaining the unity of the nation, and kept this vast country together. It is for the first time in our history, that we have been able to put an economic content into the dream of unity that has haunted the mind of India over the ages, and establish economic ties of inter-dependence between the diverse parts of the country. It is by clinging to our cultural values and our traditions of tolerance, to our composite culture and secularism, and to our economic and social development programmes, that we can maintain our unity. It is from this domestic base that our armed forces defended with valour the territorial integrity of the country during the last five decades. The greatest achievement of India since independence, has been the establishment of a democratic system of government and politics.

Indian democracy is the product of a complexity of factors. Several strands of thought and experience have gone into it: Western liberal and British parliamentary ideas, Socialist concepts, the deeply rooted traditions of India, both Hindu and Buddhist, and the ideas and methods propagated by Mahatma Gandhi, like the panchayat system and democratic decentralisation. In the inter-play and inter-penetration of these ideas and methods, a distinctly Indian variety of democracy has been in the making, that is not only important to India, but relevant to the new world of pluralism that is emerging. Besides, the revolutionary implications of universal adult suffrage that we adopted are unfolding themselves today. The lower and poorer sections of society and the women are being drawn into the political system as active players.

The time is overdue for meeting the aspirations of these sections of society, particularly the women, for their economic and political empowerment. Fellow citizens, we have every reason to be proud of our democracy. But we will have to strain our every nerve to purify our political, administrative and electoral processes, and to remove the aberrations and distortions that have come into the functioning of our democracy. It is in the area of economic, technological and social development that India, during the last fifty years, has had to face formidable challenges. Here, though we have registered significant successes, the fact of the matter is that we have not been able to abolish poverty, ignorance and disease from among our people. The massive programmes that we have launched in these fields have not yielded the desired fruits. But we ought not to underestimate our achievements. India is today a considerable industrial and technological power of the world, and promises to be an economic giant of the twenty first century.

The economic reforms that we launched six years ago with the liberalization and opening up of our economy have reached a decisive stage. The country has moved to a high trajectory of growth with a growth rate of 7 to 8 percent of GNP envisaged for the next five years. This is a record-breaking achievement. We have accomplished this by standing on the shoulders of our basic policies of self-reliance and social justice. In this context I would single out two broad parameters of progress we have made. One is the revolution in the production of foodgrains making the country self-sufficient in food, and the other, is the rise in the average expectation of life of an Indian, which, more than doubled since Independence. Notwithstanding all these we have yet to provide for our people safe drinking water, basic health facilities, electricity supply and other basic necessities of daily life. But, obviously, these rates of progress are not enough for us to take pride in, or to be complacent about. Other countries have gone far ahead of us. We have to move faster, without upsetting the delicate and complicated balance of our society. We have to put special emphasis on the development of infrastructure and on investment. But we have also to devote more serious attention to the question of equity and social justice, thus releasing the energies of nearly 75 percent of our population for productive purposes. We have to give the youth of the country new opportunities, new hopes and new challenges. All these require hard work, discipline and unity of purpose, and faith in the future of the country.

While I appeal to all the people of India, to demonstrate such unity and faith, in this fiftieth year of our independence, I am painfully aware of the deterioration that has taken place in our country and in our society in recent times. The traditional cultural and spiritual values, which have been the mainstay of our civilization, seem to be losing their grip over society and politics. Sheer opportunism and value-less power-politics have taken over the place of principles and idealism, that had been the hall-mark of our social and political life. Violence has increased in the relationship between people, groups and parties. Social evils like the ill-treatment of women, and the weaker sections like the Scheduled Castes, including atrocities against them, are on the increase marring the fair name of India in the world. And corruption is corroding the vitals of our politics and our society. Mahatma Gandhi, with prophetic insight, had observed, on the growing phenomenon of corruption as follows: "Corruption will be out one day, howevermuch one may try to conceal it: and the public can, as it is its right and duty, in every case of justifiable suspicion, call its servants to strict account, dismiss them, sue them in a law court, or appoint an arbitrator or inspector to scrutinize their conduct, as it likes."

It seems the people have to be in the forefront of the fight against corruption, communalism, casteism and criminalization of politics and life, in the country. A social movement or a widespread national movement is needed to cleanse the system. Such a social movement need not be merely negative, but for positive purposes. Illiteracy, for example, has become a disgrace and the greatest obstacle against the progress of the country. Cannot we launch a mass movement for literacy, involving the people, the students, the educated unemployed, the teachers, public servants, and the private enterprises. In the same way, social movements are required for fighting poverty, population growth, and environmental degradation. In all this, I call for a new partnership between the government and the people. India has always had a vision of the world, and a message for the world.

It has played a crucial role in international relations, and has every right to be in the central organs of the United Nations System. From the dawn of our civilization we had believed that the world is one, and humanity is a single family. In the dark and bitter days of the Cold War, it was this vision that Jawaharlal Nehru projected to the world, through his policy of nonalignment and peaceful co-existence. Cold War is fortunately over today partly due to the refusal of India and other nonaligned nations, to join up with one or the other bloc, and their efforts to promote detente and reconciliation between the two. A new pluralistic world order has now emerged but there are still signs of the powerful developed nations trying to marginalise the weak and developing countries, which constitute two-thirds of the world. And, real disarmament and a world without arms remain a distant dream. In this context, India entertains her vision of the world as an association of free and independent nations in an inter-dependent world. Let us, on this fiftieth anniversary of our Independence, dedicate ourselves to the welfare and happiness of the people of India, the peoples of Asia, and all humanity.

Thank you

Jai Hind