Address To The Nation

JANUARY 25, 1998

Fellow Citizens, It is with pride and pleasure that I join you in the celebrations of our Republic Day. It falls within the year of the Golden Jubilee of our Independence. On this doubly auspicious occasion I extend my warm greetings to all fellow-citizens in India and abroad and to our defence forces guarding the integrity and security of our country. Republic Day is more than a national day; it is the anniversary of a defining moment in our history. It was on this day in January 1930 that the Indian National Congress meeting on the banks of river Ravi declared that "the goal of India was Poorna Swaraj, that it was the right of every Indian, as of any other people, to have freedom", and that "if any government deprives a people of their rights and oppresses them, the people will have the further right to alter it or to abolish it." It was on the same day in January, 1950, that we gave to ourselves a Constitution. Among the foremost of the goals we set before ourselves were our unity as a nation and a people, and their journey towards an egalitarian order.

From the Upanishadic idea of the world as a single family to our struggles for independence, for nation-building, and for world co-operation, India was preoccupied with the concept of unity. This urge for unity was as much a product of our philosophical and humanistic thinking as a response to the challenge of the wildly pluralistic nature of our society. We know that this unity in diversity is the secret of our viability as a nation and our strength; the binding force of our age-old culture, the long tradition of our tolerance, the net-work of socio-economic bonds that we have built up among our people, and above all our vibrant democracy, have made the unity of India unassailable. And yet there is our historic tendency to quarrel among ourselves. In the midst of these differences and quarrels we should not forget to nurture and strengthen the unity, integrity and security of the nation. The sagacious words of Bhishma in the Shanti Parva of "Mahabharata" we must pay heed to seriously. "Leaders of the republic should unitedly pursue the interests of the republic as a whole, otherwise discord among them leads to emergence of numerous antagonistic groups, which disrupt its functioning, leading to disastrous consequences. " The unity of a country also is the combined outcome of political, social, and economic development, and of a sense of fairness and justice pervading the body-politic as a whole.

The State should deliver the goods to the people and meet their established and rising expectations. We have registered some notable successes in this respect. At Independence our agriculture was at subsistence levels and our industrial development was rudimentary. Thanks to eight five year plans, six years of economic reforms and the harnessing of science and technology for economic development, India has made a great deal of progress on all fronts. Slowly but surely our economy is being transformed, real incomes are rising, life expectancy has doubled and poverty has declined. During the Eighth Five Year Plan economic growth accelerated to attain an average of 6.5 per cent per year, the highest achieved during any five year plan period. Despite the unprecedented financial and economic crisis in neighbouring countries of East Asia, the Indian economy has continued to perform well and the external sector has remained resilient, partly due to the indigenous prudence we have exercised in the execution of our liberalization programmes.

In spite of the Green Revolution it is an unfortunate fact that hunger and malnutrition persist in our rural as well as urban areas. There is the need now to go beyond the Green Revolution and bring about a nutritional revolution in the country. The food and nutritional needs of the poor in India especially of children and women must be tackled. Besides, on this anniversary of our Republic we must resolve to complete the unfinished task of land reforms that we embarked upon years ago and empower the landless poor and small farmers who have not got any benefits from the Green Revolution. Much of the poverty and unrest in rural India -- the caste conflicts and the economic violence -- can be traced to the gross injustice in the distribution of land and to some kind of a counter-revolution that is taking place holding up the implementation of land reforms and the snatching away of whatever benefits progressive legislations had bestowed upon the poor. As a people we are generally prone to take delight in de-bunking our achievements and successes.

That is not an altogether negative fact. But on an occasion such as this we must count our blessings and celebrate our successes. We must also squarely face up to our failures and shortcomings. One often hears people asking why it is that after 50 years of independence, there are in India the largest number of people living below the poverty line. And that in the midst of plenty and wasteful conspicuous consumption among sections of our society. Indeed the idea of austerity and the word itself has disappeared from our vocabulary. As regards literacy, is it not a shame that in this land known for its traditions of philosophy, scholarship and intellectualism, there exist the largest number of illiterates in the world? To find an answer to these ironies we must look at our society with open and penetrating eyes. Ours is a society divided vertically and horizontally in innumerable compartments. Economic development, technological changes, social reform movements have not succeeded in pulling down these domestic walls, even though they have been considerably lowered, and benefits of development do not flow from one compartment to another.

The result is uneven development and existence of plenty and poverty, change and stagnation almost side by side. How can we tolerate indefinitely these dangerous dichotomies and inequalities? We are witnessing to-day uncontrolled growth of communalism and casteism snuffing out the lights of secularism in our society, and the increase in corruption, violence and criminalisation of politics and society. The State and the Government have the responsibility of dealing with these dark forces threatening the fabric of our society and our cherished values. But people themselves have a responsibility and a role to play. In 1947 when Mahatma Gandhi decided to go on a fast in the face of the communal carnage in Calcutta, a distinguished leader wrote to him trying to dissuade him from taking the step. He asked "Can you fast against goondas?". Gandhiji's reply was revealing: "It is we who make the goondas. Without our sympathy and passive support goondas will have no leg to stand upon. I want to reach the hearts of the people behind the goondas." In the situation obtaining to-day the people have the right, the duty and the opportunity to dissociate themselves from individuals and groups who propagate and indulge in corruption, violence, and crimes against society. They must not give them passive support, as Gandhiji advised, and shun and isolate them in society.

Together with governmental action this would produce results. In this context we can take a lesson from our experience of fighting terrorism in Punjab, Assam and Kashmir. The people tired of violence and insecurity dared to break out of the mystique of fear of the terrorist and asserted their will for normal life. This was followed by democratic elections which acted as some sort of a social and political therapy. The essential element in all this was the attitude of the people. We have to mobilise ourselves and harness our energies against the forces of violence, corruption, communalism and casteism. And we will have to release the energies of women, scheduled castes, tribes, backward classes and minorities. The social, economic and political empowerment of women is a pre-requisite to the revitalisation of our development and democratic processes. My fellow-citizens, in a few days we will be observing the martyrdom of Mahatma Gandhi. This kind of collective action is the least that we can do in memory of his great sacrifice. And within a couple of weeks the nation will go to polls in the largest democratic elections in the world involving an electorate of 600 million people.

I have no doubt that under the vigilant eye of the Election Commission of India we will have free and fair elections in which the people could express their sovereign will. Fellow-citizens, while we are engrossed in our own concerns and problems, we cannot forget that we live in a world and in a neighbourhood. We can take pride that we are regarded in the world as a mature and a vibrant democracy, and a country that is forging ahead into the 21st century as a considerable economic and industrial power. In the past we have given to the world great ideas and philosophies. After Independence we have had the privilege of initiating the policy of non-alignment and we have worked for peace in the world with sincerity and passion. To-day in co-operation with the peoples of the world, particularly the non-aligned and developing countries, we are working for a just, equitable and peaceful world order. We have extended our hands of co-operation and friendship to our close neighbours.

Our destiny is linked with their destiny. And we stand for friendship with all nations and pursue our objectives of peace, disarmament and development. On the occasion of our Republic Day we send our greetings to all the nations of the world. And to my sisters and brothers and to the youth of this great country I convey my good wishes for the Republic Day. May the flag that will be unfurled to-morrow on State buildings and atop millions of homes inspire us to work for peace and prosperity that is shared by all in this motherland of ours.

Thank you

Jai Hind