Address To The Nation


A year ago on August 15 I had the privilege of addressing you at the inauguration of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of our Independence. I have now the pleasure of speaking to you again at the conclusion of these celebrations. I would, at the outset, like to extend my greetings to my fellow citizens, the men and women, and the youth and the children of India. The Golden Jubilee celebrations are drawing to a close, but the spirit of August 15, and the ideals and the aspirations symbolized by it, remain to be pursued with dedication and with renewed vigour - "the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity", as Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru urged at that mid-night hour. Thanks to the values bequeathed to us by our age-old culture and civilization, and revived and revitalized in the prolonged and peaceful struggle for freedom led by the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, we have pursued these ideals and objectives during the last 50 years within the framework of social and communal harmony and broad tolerance in spite of insuperable obstacles.

In January 1947, at his prayer meeting, after ending his historic fast, Gandhiji said "In this great country of ours there is room for all" and that "We must never, under any circumstances, treat any one as an enemy. We have all to live in harmony". It is in accordance with this ancient motto of the Indian civilization, restated by Gandhiji at the time of his soul's agony, that independent India under Pandit Nehru had built up the secular foundations of our polity. On these foundations rest our social and economic development, our democracy, our unity and coherence as a nation, and our position in the comity of nations . On this solemn occasion let us pay our homage to all those who had contributed to and sacrificed for this ideal, especially the common people of this land whose massive commonsense has withstood, by and large, all extremist ideological blandishments and emotional incitements, and helped us to keep to the golden middle path.

Indian democracy is the most precious product of this spirit of tolerance and this approach of secularism. During the last fifty years we have nourished the plant of democracy, with tender care and touching faith, and it has to-day fully flowered. Though this has elicited reluctant recognition from the democracies of the developed world, it must be noted that strategic considerations, even when they are misconceived, may be thicker than the spirit of democracy. What is important for us is that we preserve, protect, expand, and deepen democracy so that it covers meaningfully every section, every layer of our vast and complex society. Already the panchayati raj experiment is extending democracy to the grass roots of our society. With decentralization and devolution of powers to the panchayats Indian democracy could involve the masses intimately in the building of a new and resurgent India. It could release new social and economic forces that could put substance and dynamism into our large developmental programmes.

This is an occasion when we could take stock of our achievements in panchayati raj and find ways and means to inject greater democratic and developmental dynamism into its functioning. Though the women of India have a glorious record not only in looking after their families but in participating in public activities and in fighting for the freedom of the nation, they are to-day marginalized in our society and in politics. How can the nation progress when nearly 50% of the population is oppressed, ill-treated, discriminated against, denied basic human and civil rights? Instances of gender discrimination and atrocities against women ought to make our menfolk hang their heads in shame before the civilized world. Gandhi, Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Sarojini Naidu,and indeed all our great leaders had stood up for the rights of our women. In this Golden Jubilee year of our independence let us not deny them their legitimate social, economic and political rights. Let us gracefully concede to them one-third reservation in Parliament and the Legislatures before they wrest it from our hands by their votes of wrath in the General Elections.

In our society of multiple deprivations and discriminations, the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and large sections of the Backward Classes are the most deprived, oppressed, and marginalized. Indeed, the acid test of any social reform or economic progress in India is whether it has made a positive difference to the lot of the members of these classes. Since Independence, largely due to the impulse of the Gandhian reform movement and the more militant movement launched by Babasaheb Ambedkar, every Government has pursued policies for the upliftment of these people. But progressive legislations enacted by the Governments are being negatived at the level of implementation by forces in society that could only be described as counter-revolutionary. If we do not curb the reckless play of these reactionary forces who not only obstruct the implementation of reforms, but commit atrocities on the weaker sections with impunity, there is great danger of things going wrong with our democracy.

The momentum of our progressive legislation must be sustained. The backlog of vacancies reserved for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, especially in the higher rungs of government service, must be filled in. Another section of our society, tender and beautiful, whom we all love, but neglect, ill-treat, and even barbarously abuse, are our children. The social conscience of our people has to be aroused to ensure a fair deal for the children, and the State has to take a leading role in primary and secondary education so that children, especially of the weaker sections, are given education and thus prevented from working in hazardous occupations and becoming bonded child labour. This is not only a humanitarian task, but one that directly affects the health, education and the general social development of the nation. One part of India to which special and focussed attention needs to be given, is the North-East. Despite being rich in natural resources, that part of the country has remained under-developed. Compounding this disability, is the factor of insurgent activities among a section of its people.

This calls for the most urgent attention and action, so that the North East feels a secure participant in our national progress and part and parcel of our mainstream. In the maintenance of democracy the example set by the legislators and the holders of public office is supremely important. Public office was regarded as a sacred space. Today it is regarded by an increasing number of wielders of it, as an opportunity to strike gold, and enjoy the loaves and fishes of power. It is a matter of the deepest regret that a great cynicism prevails in the public mind about politics and the administration. Floor crossings and cross-votings in power games are no longer rare transgressions of democratic norms.

I cannot but recall the example, here, of Acharya Narendra Deva who, when he decided to leave the Congress, persuaded his colleagues in the U.P. Assembly to resign from their seats in the House. Speaking here in this hall on the midnight of August l4-l5, l947, it is surprising that Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan referred to evils that have crept into administration and said: "Unless we destroy corruption in high places, root out every trace of nepotism, love of power, profiteering and blackmarketing which have spoiled the good name of this great country in recent times, we will not be able to raise the standards of efficiency in administration as well as in the production and distribution of the necessary goods of life." Unfortunately, those words are true to-day, if not truer.

I cannot but voice a pervasive sense of public concern over the frequent departure from order and decorum in parliamentary behaviour. Scenes of frayed tempers, often degenerating to violent acts in the well of the House, bring no credit to our democracy. Our people take democracy seriously. Let us not betray their faith in it -- our most precious legacy. In the field of industrialisation and economic and scientific-technological development India has made substantial, even spectacular progress. Our Green Revolution and White Revolution have given us self-sufficiency in foodgrains and milk production. But we have still to bring about a nutrition revolution capable of giving our people, especially the young people and expectant mothers, a nutritional diet. This lacuna has to be filled. And literacy, education, and health standards of our country have to be raised not only for securing a higher place in the world human development index but in providing the basic conditions and the motive force to any significant economic growth.

India to-day is a significant industrial and economic power of the world. And all estimates are that early in the 21st century, she would be one of the major world economic powers. Thanks to the liberalisation of and the opening up of the economy to the world that we have launched since 1992 and which we have been prosecuting with vigour as well as a measure of reasonable caution, India with its nearly 300 million strong middle class seething with the entrepreneurial spirit, and one of the largest markets in the world, has become a very attractive place for foreign investment. On this occasion I should like to greet Indian citizens and people of Indian origin all over the world and invite them to invest in India with national pride and confidence that their investments would be safe, productive and lucrative in the land of their origin. In science and technology, thanks to the vision of Jawaharlal Nehru and our scientists from Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai onwards, we have made great leaps forward.

To-day Indian science has been crowned with important successes. These are for the welfare and safety of our people and of our nation. We are as intensely interested in peace and in a world without arms, as we have always been, and we have declared our willingness to join any international arrangements and agreements that are non-discriminatory to rid the world of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. We have conducted nuclear tests recently not with the intention of using it against anyone. In fact I believe that atomic bombs are useful only when they are not used. They can only be a deterrent in the hands of a nation. Despite the prognosis by some of a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan,

I think, now that both countries have these weapons, it would drive home to both, the inescapable need to settle the differences between them peacefully and through negotiations. In the Shimla Agreement of 1972 India and Pakistan had solemnly declared to put an end to the conflict and confrontation between them and to resolve all differences through bilateral and peaceful means. Nuclear weapons have now made it compulsory for us to do so. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in his famous broadcast of September 7, 1946 had sent out the greetings of the newly emerging independent India to the world. He sent his greetings and good wishes to the United Kingdom, to United States of America, to the then Soviet Union, to the nations and peoples of Asia, to our neighbours and to China which he called "that mighty country with a mighty past".

To-day on this solemn occasion I should like to renew those greetings and expressions of friendship to our neighbours in South Asia and Asia. Pandit Nehru had pledged then to work for a one world, a world in which there was free co-operation of free peoples, and where no class or group exploits another. To-day on behalf of the people of India I renew that pledge. May I conclude by offering to the martyrs of our freedom struggle and to the great leaders and foot-soldiers of our freedom struggle, my homage. I also offer my greetings to our valiant defence and para-military forces. It is their vigil that safeguards our unity and sovereignty. Let us, on this landmark occasion, re-dedicate ourselves to India's greatness.

Thank you

Jai Hind