Address To The Nation

JANUARY 25, 1999

Fellow citizens, Friends, In a few hours from now, we will be completing 49 years as a Sovereign Democratic Republic. And we will enter the golden jubilee year of our Ganatantra. It is with the greatest joy and a sense of pride, that I extend to each of you, whether residing in India or abroad, my warmest greetings and felicitations. Our thoughts turn to-day to that glorious hour on January 26, 1950 when the Indian nation gave to itself a Constitution. In an exquisite balance of various streams of ideas and in language that is poetical, the Preamble to the Constitution pledged to secure for our people "justice, social, economic and political; liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; equality of status and opportunity, and to promote among them all fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity of the Nation." It was in pursuit of this composite ideal that we have built up, during the last half-century, an edifice of political democracy that is to-day the envy of many other nations. Political freedom in India to-day is vibrant and unconfined, but the pursuit of social and economic freedom is still on, and the nation's efforts are focussed on "justice, social and economic" envisaged in the Preamble, the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of the Constitution.

We have to endeavour with sincerity and seriousness to remove every injustice, every discrimination from every quarter, and as the Father of the Nation has put it, "wipe every tear from every eye". Speaking in the course of the debates in the Constituent Assembly, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar observed: "On 26th January, we are going to enter a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life we shall by reasons of our social and economic structure continue to deny one man one value". And he then asked: "How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we deny equality in our social and economic life?" Republic Day is an appropriate occasion for us to evaluate the facts of our society and our economy, and to examine our hearts to find out how far we have succeeded in overcoming these contradictions in our minds and in the objective conditions of the life of our people. We recall to-day with pride our accomplishments since those early days of the Republic.

First and foremost in a land where famine stalked periodically and life for the common man, was to use the words of Gandhiji "an eternal trance or an eternal vigil", we have brought about, thanks to the Green Revolution, self-sufficiency of foodgrains. It is no mean achievement, my friends, to be able to feed a population now nearing one billion mark without having to depend on the mercy of others. India to-day ranks among the major economies, advanced in modern industry and occupying the forefront of scientific and technological development in the world. We have given rise to an enterprising middle class the size of the entire population of India at the time of independence. In this era of liberalization they have become a potent force imparting momentum to the developmental process and to the wheels of commerce. India to-day is looked upon as one of the largest and enticing markets of the world. Our GNP is one of the biggest in the world and our growth rate and other economic parameters have been affected only marginally by the economic crisis in other parts of Asia. This emphasizes the basic strength of the Indian economy and the validity of the policies we have pursued. But in the midst of these remarkable economic achievements we have to recognize that economic disparities in the country have also increased. For example the number of people living below the poverty line is estimated a little larger than the size of India's population at the time of independence.

There is a consensus in the world to-day that economic development is not all and the GDP is not necessarily a measure of progress of a society. India is one of the countries which has traditionally attached importance to the development of man including spiritual development. The leaders of the Indian renaissance and the Indian nationalist movement had given capital importance to the social transformation and modernization of this ancient land. Following independence we have passed many laws emancipating and investing women, the deprived sections, and workers and peasants with social and economic rights. These are laws and policy measures of which the country can be proud, though they did not go far enough and were often frustrated in the process of implementation. Some of the very basic measures of far-reaching significance that we have taken of late are the constitutional amendments establishing Panchayati raj and local self-government and giving one-third representation to women in these grass-roots democratic bodies.

These have made a creative stir in our society and mark an important step in the participation of the ordinary people in local government and development and in the empowerment of women. The government and all political parties are committed to the idea of reservation for women in Parliament and State Legislatures. I do hope that India will enter the new millennium with our women folk unchained and empowered. And yet we are witnesses to the sorry spectacle of the suppression of women, Dalits and other deprived sections of society - denials of rights granted to them by law, violence and crimes committed against them, molestation of women in the barbarous practice of eve-teasing, dowry killings, and gang ra

Thank you

Jai Hind