Address To The Nation

AUGUST 14, 1999

Fellow citizens, Friends, On the eve of the 52nd anniversary of India's Independence, I have great pleasure in extending to all fellow citizens, whether living in India or abroad, my warm greetings and felicitations. I send a special word of greeting and felicitation to our brave jawans and to our kisan and mazdoor brothers and sisters, who toil and sweat from dawn to dusk and keep our country going. I would like, this year, to convey the boundless admiration and gratitude of the nation to our Defence and Para-military Forces. It is the death-defying courage of our young men, hailing from every State, and every part of India, the sons of our common folk, fighting on the bleak and hazardous heights of Kargil, Batalik and Dras that protected India's sovereignty and territorial integrity, driving the intruders from our sacred soil across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.

Tomorrow when the national tri-colour flies atop the ramparts of the historic Red Fort and over a multitude of humble dwellings across the land, it will flutter in salute to the flower of our youth who sacrificed everything to preserve the honour of our flag. We must resolve now that their sacrifice does not go in vain. Years ago, our First Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had noted a common failing of our country and observed that "the basic fact remains that we have yet to develop as a unified nation...Under some calamity or external danger, we may well unite. When the immediate danger is removed, we fall back into our respective shells and lose the sense of the whole. We try to get out of these shells and then, something happens that lays bare our inner urges and failings. Whether it is provincialism or caste, we still live in a tribal age". Kargil has shaken us out of our narrow shells and forged a new national unity in the crucible of the common danger suddenly imposed on us. Friends, we hear voices from the other side threatening more Kargils in the future.

We have to remain united and prepared not only when war-like situations come upon us, but in normal times also, so that we are not ever again taken unawares by surprise attacks. We have to pay special attention to strengthening our armed forces, equip them with the latest weapons and force multipliers. Hitherto our expenditure on defence has been one of the lowest in the world in terms of percentage of the GDP, much lower than that of our neighbours. It is incumbent upon us to rectify this imbalance. At the same time let us remember that a country is defended not by arms alone but by wise policies and the strength of its economy, by the justice and cohesion of its society, by the unity of its people. We are a peace-loving people by nature and tradition.

We wish to live in peace with our neighbours and with the entire world. Indeed it was due to this passion for peace and our desire to avoid a fratricidal civil war, in the sub-continent, that the leaders of the Indian National Congress agreed to the partition of our motherland into India and Pakistan. It is ironic that this great sacrifice on our part and our desire to live in peace with Pakistan have not prevented unprovoked aggression and subversion against our country. In October 1947, in the very first year of our Independence, Pakistan launched an attack on us in order to wrest Jammu and Kashmir from the Indian Union. On October 29th Mahatma Gandhi said at his prayer meeting in Delhi that now that "the Maharaja of Kashmir has announced his decision to accede to the Indian Union ...and that he has taken refuge in the Indian Union, he should be protected". Answering the question as to what should the small band of Indian soldiers sent to Srinagar by air do, Gandhiji said: "Let them fight to the end. The job of armed soldiers is to march ahead and repel the attacking enemy. They die in fighting, but never retreat".

It was this advice by the Father of the Nation and the apostle of non-violence that our brave soldiers followed in 1947 and in the recent attack on us in the Kargil area in Jammu and Kashmir. In January 1948 Gandhiji said "We must never, under any circumstances, treat anyone as our enemy...My reason and my heart tell me that, if for some reason, we are unable to forge friendship between Muslims and Hindus, not only here but in Pakistan and in the whole world, we shall not be able to keep our free India for long. It will pass into the hands of others", and the freedom gained by both India and Pakistan "will be lost". On the awful prospect of a war between India and Pakistan he further warned, with his shrewd insight into the real politik of the world, that "If you imagine to-day that we can fight and win, let me say that even before you do so, some other world power is going to swallow us up. It will swallow, in fact, both the countries.

If all my friends who are sensible people and who have spent several years with me in my work, understand that much, we would all be safe". While driving this basic point home Gandhiji had a clear grasp of the reality of the situation and said "The fact is that Pakistan has invaded Kashmir. Indian troops have gone there as defenders at the express invitation of the Maharaja of the State and of Sheikh Abdullah who is the real leader of the Kashmiri people. I shall advise Pakistan and India to sit together and decide the matter. If they are interested in a settlement what is the need for an arbitrator." Gandhiji was against the intervention of a third party or of a foreign hand as arbitrator. I recall these words to-day because they sum up the totality of the position which we have followed. That was our position at the Shimla Summit in 1972 and that was the position our Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took when he travelled to Lahore this year and signed the Lahore Declaration with the Prime Minister of Pakistan. We adhere to the same friendly stand but, as we have been let down more than once in the past, it is prudent of us and it is our duty to our people to be prepared for any surprise attack on us.

We have to act according to the old adage that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom as well as of peace. Friends, as we celebrate our Independence to-morrow we recall in grateful remembrance the band of great and selfless men and women who led us in the struggle -- Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Babu Rajendra Prasad, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, Sarojini Naidu and the incomparable Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, and a host of others. We also recall the foot soldiers of that struggle, countless heroes and heroines who carried aloft the banner of Swaraj. Their aim was to free this ancient land so that millions of Indians sunk in poverty, disease and squalor would rise and live in dignity as free human beings. We have yet to redeem the pledge they gave to our people. One third of our people still live below the poverty level, almost half of our adult population is illiterate, and more than half of our children are under-nourished. And withal our population is increasing at an alarming rate - it has been estimated that India's population would cross the one billion mark on Independence Day.

The great strides we have made in economic development and in the improvement in the condition of our people has been, to some extent, negatived by this population explosion. We have to gather the political and social will to stem this tide, instead of frittering away our energies in the pursuit of the politics of power and pelf. Great causes cry out for our urgent attention. The women of India have not yet come out of the long night of discrimination, inequality and denial of rights in which they have been living for ages. But it is gratifying to note that in different parts of India they have been rising and organizing themselves in movements for self-employment and economic empowerment. They need political support. The struggle for the basic and minimum needs of our people - for food, nutrition, health, education, drinking water and energy -- remain an unfinished business. The magnitude of these problems is so immense that if we do not address them as our over-riding political, social and economic priorities, the galloping population would overwhelm us in the future. Against this background I am glad to recognize the grass-root movements cropping up in different parts of our country for supervision of development programmes by the people for education, health, employment, etc. for which Government has set apart large sums of money.

The Right to Information is one such grass-root movement which deserves wider popular and legislative support. Our natural environment and life sources such as air, water and land are to-day receiving greater attention than before, thanks to the efforts of citizens and NGO's. But I am afraid, by and large, we remain reckless consumers than preservers of these life-sources. It is time that we took conservation and other environmental questions not as fashionable positions but as matters of life and death. No development will be sustainable or justifiable that ignores Nature and the human being. On the 26th of November this year it will be 50 years since we adopted, enacted and gave to ourselves the Constitution of India. The Constitution is the sheet anchor of our polity. It is my earnest hope that it would continue to be respected by all and become an instrument of social change and transformation of the status of the underprivileged as envisaged by Babasaheb Ambedkar. Science and technology, which occupy the centre-stage in our progress is paying heed to the human dimensions of development.

Thanks to the efforts put in during the first two or three decades India can to-day boast of a stabilized green revolution, a diversified industrial infrastructure, and a Science and Technology-base for our further development. While Jawaharlal Nehru's vision of "science solving the problem of hunger and poverty" in our country has not yet been fulfilled, we have been able to break the back of the demon of hunger by resort to science in our agriculture. Our progress in the development of satellites, atomic energy, information technology and bio-technology are not merely climbing the high peaks of Science and Technology, but are applying the techniques to grass-root problems and to the human needs of the country. It is heartening that our scientists are now wide awake to the importance of patenting our diverse genetic riches before they are taken away by the advanced nations. India is bound to emerge as a major scientific-technological power in the new millennium. Rolling back or putting a cap on the advancement of science is contrary to the very spirit and nature of science, and against the equitable world order that we are pledged to bring into being.

Friends, in a few weeks from now the people of India will be exercising their franchise to elect the l3th Lok Sabha and some of the State Assemblies. Our record of orderly elections, which form the basis of our democratic polity, is now acknowledged by the world. Indian voters have exercised their franchise and chosen their representatives with practical common sense; they have reposed confidence with generosity; withdrawn it without ambiguity; created, preserved and demolished mandates. No one dares take the Indian voter for granted. It is gratifying for us that to-day the world significance of Indian democracy has begun to dawn upon the developed democracies of the world. But still we must not forget that often in global power-politics the blood of strategic affinity is thicker than the life-giving waters of democracy. I would like to avail this opportunity to urge all contestants and campaigners in the coming polls to maintain our democracy's track record, to abjure appeals of a narrow sectarian nature and show a broad tolerance of opinions of others. I trust that the ugly phenomenon of voter-intimidation and booth-capturing which has marred voting in some pockets in the past, will not be tolerated anywhere on this occasion.

The firmness shown in this regard by our Election Commission has been widely appreciated. Our Election Commission, our Judiciary and other Constitutional authorities like the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, are institutions of which we are proud for their impartiality, objectivity and sense of responsibility. Likewise we derive great satisfaction from the functioning of the National Commissions that have been set up for the welfare of our minorities, women, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and other vulnerable sections of our society. Fellow citizens and friends, on this last Independence Day of the century we have every reason to look forward to the new millennium with hope and self-assurance. Despite all the obstacles set in our path we are well served by the strength of our democratic institutions and we draw sustenance from our rich heritage from the past and from the reawakened spirit of our people. In this spirit we send our greetings to our neighbours in South Asia - to Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Pakistan with whom we are engaged in the adventure of building up SAARC as a prosperous and viable regional entity. We also send our greetings to the friendly countries of ASEAN with whom we are closely associated, to Japan and to the countries of West Asia and Central Asia with whom we have traditional ties of friendship. I am delighted that our relations with the People's Republic of China have improved. On the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China and of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, I would like to send our warm greetings to the people and government of China.

It is a matter of satisfaction to us that our relations with the countries of the sister continent of Africa, the Commonwealth of Nations, the European Union and the United States of America are marked by warmth and understanding. Our close relations with our time-tested friend, Russia, continue to develop and diversify in several fields as well as in multilateral fora; this is most gratifying. From the inception of our independence India has been striving for a one-world that is free from the scourge of war and free of weapons of mass destruction. In the new century that is at our door step we pledge ourselves to persist with this effort. Towards this we would like to see the full potential and scope of the United Nations Organization realized through wider representation and restructuring. We will continue to attach the greatest importance to the Non-Aligned Movement in the formation of which we take pride and which has played an important role in ending the nightmare of the Cold War and which we believe is of relevance in providing stability and balance to the pluralistic world order that is emerging. Friends, on this independence day let us resolve to imbue our lives with the spirit of that midnight hour when we made our tryst with destiny. May the tri-colour continue to inspire us and fulfil our destiny as a people and as a nation.

Thank you

Jai Hind