Address To The Nation


Fellow citizens, On the eve of the 53rd anniversary of our Independence, and the first Independence Day of the twenty-first century, I have great pleasure to offer to my fellow citizens, whether living in India or abroad, my greetings and salutations. I extend a special word of gratitude to the brave men of our defence forces who guard our frontiers, to our kisans, mazdoors, artisans and entrepreneurs, our teachers, doctors, engineers, scientists and technologists, and the youth of India, whose toil and hardwork have put India among the front rank of the nations of the world. My fellow citizens, fifty-three years, of independence inspires pride and confidence among all of us. We liberated ourselves from foreign rule and established a democratic polity through our Constitution which embodied modern ideas of governance and the rights and liberties of the people, and blended them with advanced ideas of social equality and justice, integrating them all into our age-old human values and cultural heritage. Our second struggle began for economic independence and social transformation soon after 1947.

Indeed this second struggle is even more arduous and prolonged than the first one. Our objectives of national construction, social change and the upliftment of our people from the abyss of illiteracy, ill-health, economic deprivation and social backwardness, became the driving force of our development. To-day, on the anniversary of our independence, it is appropriate to reassess our progress and advancement and reflect on our failures and shortcomings. I have no hesitation in saying that our achievements have been impressive in spite of many shortcomings. The forging of the unity of the nation and its consolidation during the last fifty-three years, is an achievement that we could be proud of. The unity of India which had haunted us for centuries as an elusive dream has become a reality born out of diversity. The establishment of democracy in this vast land of bewildering variety is the greatest achievement of India since independence.

It is heartening to know from a recent study of people’s attitude in our country that the poor and deprived classes defend democracy with greater conviction and vigour than the elite and the affluent. In the area of economic, technological, social and human development we have also registered impressive progress. Our sharp focus on nation building and the constructive efforts through planning and economic development provided a solid economic content to our political and cultural unity and a strong, industrial, technological and agricultural base to our nation. We have achieved enviable industrial growth. We are reckoned as one of the twelve industrialised countries and also one of the fastest growing economies of the world. In the field of science and technology India has made rapid strides that is to-day the envy of many countries. Thanks to the imaginative leadership given by Pandit Nehru and our great scientists like Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai, we achieved remarkable success in nuclear science, especially in the application of it, for peaceful and constructive purposes. We have attained new heights in the pursuit of space sciences mastering satellite technologies and launch capabilities.

In information technology India has made a leap forward, especially in software, and we are looked upon as an emerging IT super-power in the world. Indeed Indian science to-day inspires confidence. An eminent Indian scientist has observed that "if one is depressed, one should think of science to overcome the depression." In spite of this impressive catalogue of achievements we are still plagued by poverty, ignorance, disease and superstition. Our policies, programmes, five year plans and other developmental efforts as reflected in our economic liberalisation, have not been adequate enough to ensure basic needs to our vast millions even after more than five decades of independence. The common man and woman have nursed the lingering feeling that they have yet to taste the fruits of independence. On the other hand, the conditions of society after independence, especially the new affluence of the privileged classes, have given rise to certain evil fruits.

The precious heritage of tolerance of different faiths and ideologies, which has been the cementing force in our complex pluralistic society, is showing signs of breaking down and a new intolerance, resulting often in violence, is manifesting itself in our society. In addition there has been a resurgence of old superstitions and outmoded social practices retarding the progress of society along modern lines. Child marriage, for example, was made illegal during the British time under the pressure of enlightened Indian social reformers. But to-day child marriages are common in some of the States of India and are celebrated openly with impunity, receiving publicity in the sensation-crazy sections of the media. Our women are still treated as less than human. Day in and day out, we read in the newspapers gruesome stories of dowry deaths of young women in the flower of their youth, because of the insatiable greed of husbands and the in-laws.

The law enforcing agencies remain indifferent or ineffective, and the law itself remains awfully inadequate. In fact statistics show that crimes against women have been on the increase. No place is safe for them, not even their own homes. Swami Vivekananda used to say "the land of India is soaked…with the tears of widows". To-day it is soaked by the tears of women in general, and even girl children, who are ill-treated and murdered. In a recent case of a five-year old girl abducted, raped and murdered, the Sessions Judge let the accused go scot-free. In his eloquent judgment he said: "I am of the view that the prosecution has not been able to prove the guilt of the accused beyond the shadow of doubt. Dark clouds of doubts are hovering all around, the benefit of which is to be given to the accused." Indeed, there are dark clouds of prejudice and callous unconcern hanging over our society with regard to the problem of rape and atrocities on women. Since neither conscience nor common sense is responding to this tragic problem, should not the law-makers rewrite the laws so that a deterrent against such crimes exist in society? I referred to the growth of violence in our society. Indeed crime and violence and the links between criminals, politicians and important people in society, has become almost an unholy alliance.

Criminals are being glamourised by the media and are treated as if they are the new heroes of our society. It is time that civil society and the lawful government asserted their authority and primacy over the dare-devil heroes of crime and banditry. At every social and political level there is crying need to speak out against crimes and violence of all kinds, but even such rhetoric is absent in India to-day. On the other hand there is a tendency to romanticize them. Kazi Nazrul Islam talking about the colonial times in Bengal had observed "To-day the greater the robber, the bigger the thief and the cleverer the cheat, the more honourable, the more distinguished and the more dignified his seat". We should take care not to have those times return to our society.

My fellow citizens, in the encircling gloom of these negative tendencies manifesting themselves in our society, there are positive and encouraging trends that give hope to us. There are, in fact, hundreds and thousands of examples in our country, that too at the grassroots levels, in remote villages, and tribal belts, where poor and deprived people, women, dalits etc. through their associations, panchayats, youth clubs, mahila mandals, community efforts, thrift societies and as individuals, took innovative steps, raised resources, used locally available skills and contributed voluntary labour to change their conditions of life. These examples of assertion of people’s power are testimony to the success of democracy. Once when Mahatma Gandhi was asked as to how he would fight foreign rule, he at once replied, "with the strength of dumb millions".

I think our second struggle for development and social change, as I had mentioned earlier, will also increasingly rely on the strength and efforts of our ordinary people. To-day women are in the forefront to spread literacy and education among people. Rural women in Madhya Pradesh are campaigning for literacy by coining a slogan ‘Jai Akshar’ which they say is equal in importance to ‘Jai Hind’. They argue that the way ‘Jai Hind’ slogan rallied people to liberate themselves from foreign rule, ‘Jai Akshar’ will liberate them from illiteracy and ignorance. In other parts of rural India women have increasingly realised that literacy may not have given them Swarg but has certainly given them Swar and that they can change their Vidhi through Vidya. Literacy has awakened their consciousness, empowered them and brought about significant changes in their lives. Neo-literate Rosamma in Andhra Pradesh started the anti-arrack movement which spread to other parts of the country.

Emboldened by their ability to write, women in Tamil Nadu organised themselves against contractors of stone quarries and eventually managed the quarries themselves. Literacy movement helped to lift the veil off women and has also helped them to organise credit and thrift societies and fight against liquor, the dowry system, meaningless rituals, and oppression and discrimination against them. It is because of their empowerment that women are now restless to further widen their opportunities. It is evident from the answer of some rural ladies in Haryana, who when asked about the meaning of good life replied, "women’s participation in decision making". As I had mentioned earlier, literacy movement has opened many avenues for our ordinary people. For example new watershed management programmes have witnessed participation of large numbers of poor women and men for harvesting rain water, recharging ground water level and reviving rivers and lakes.

Our tribals, poor women and men are the best protectors of the environment. Watershed programmes in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, river revival and cleaning programmes in Rajasthan, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and roof top rain-water harvesting programmes in Mizoram, are some of the examples which show the involvement of people and voluntary organisations to face the crisis of water shortage and environmental degradation in our country. An experiment that is worth taking note of is the campaign for decentralized planning launched in Kerala a few years ago. This, of course, is an old Gandhian idea that is significant in the modern context. The District Development Councils were asked to plan for their districts in consultation with block and gram panchayats. 35 to 40% of the State’s total outlay on projects and programmes in the Five Year Plan was devolved to the local bodies.

This decentralisation and devolution of funds have given economic power to people at the grass-roots level, aroused their enthusiasm for developmental work and enabled them to work together for their own advancement in their respective areas. These days when people feel helpless in the face of the blind and inexorable march of globalisation eroding even national sovereignties, an answer to the problem might well lie in a radical decentralisation of power to the grass-roots institutions. In this context I recall what a British administrator in India had said about the durability of our ancient panchayats. He said: "Dynasty after dynasty tumbles down. Revolution succeeds revolution. Hindu, Pathan, Mogul, Mahratta, Sikh, English are all masters in their turn. But the village communities remain the same." To-day we do not want the village communities to remain fixed in time past, but to change and keep pace with the times present and times future. Our new panchayats in which people have become active and conscious of their rights and upon which have been bestowed financial and administrative powers in a decentralized scheme, can be made strong and self-reliant units of democracy, capable of standing on their own feet, and also of strengthening the identity and the sovereignty of the larger nation. Herein lies the significance of the movements which are arising at the grass-roots of Indian democracy.

With the initiative and the innovative capabilities of our grass-roots institutions and of our ordinary people enhanced through decentralized democracy, it would be possible for India to be an effective player in the globalized world that is emerging. India, my fellow citizens, had always a world view and believed that she has a part to play in the world. Our wise leaders who got us independence and shaped the future of free India, had formulated a world approach and a policy for India – the policy of non-alignment and peaceful co-existence. That policy has performed a historical role – that of showing the world a way out of the nightmare of the cold war. Basically, we have adhered to that approach and to that policy. We wish to be friends and live in peaceful co-existence with all nations of the world, more especially with our neighbours. At the same time we will have to be prepared to defend the unity and integrity of our nation and the safety and prosperity of our people.

It is indeed a tribute to our democracy that people are now mobilising themselves to protect their rights and to realise their basic needs and change their living conditions. After all democracy is a method of enlisting people’s participation. Howsoever deprived and distressed our people are, they have shown remarkable initiative to participate in civil society to fight against social evils, poverty, corruption, environmental degradations and a host of other ills gravely affecting their daily lives. In fact the silver linings in the dark clouds of backwardness and deprivation are the people’s initiatives which have served as crucible of new ideas and methodologies for nation building. Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation, had very prophetically said in 1947, "As a matter of fact, if the people will help themselves, then the Government is bound to move and that is what I will call real democracy which is built from below". Let me conclude with a few lines from a famous Hindi poem :

Thank you

Jai Hind