The Podium Article

 

Remarks by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee

Pranab Mukherjee

(President of India)

On the eve of the 66thanniversary of our Independence, my thoughts turn first towards the Father of our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, who shaped our liberation struggle, and the martyrs who made supreme sacrifice for the freedom of our country and great patriots whose relentless struggle liberated our motherland from the colonial rule of nearly two hundred years. Gandhiji sought freedom from both foreign rule as well as the indigenous social chains that had imprisoned our society for long. He launched every Indian on a path of self- belief and hope for a better future. Gandhiji promised

Swaraj- self-rule based on tolerance and self-restraint. He promised freedom from want and deprivation. For nearly seven decades now we have been masters of our destiny. This is then the moment to ask: are we heading in the right direction? Gandhiji's vision cannot be turned into reality if we spurn the very values that were compulsory to his cause: sincerity of effort, honesty of purpose and sacrifice for the larger good.

Our founding fathers created the first oasis in the desert of a colonized world nourished by democracy. Democracy is much more than the right to vote every five years; its essence is the aspirations of the masses; its spirit must influence the responsibilities of the leaders and duties of the citizens every day. Democracy breathes through a vibrant Parliament, an independent judiciary, a responsible media, a vigilant civil society, and a bureaucracy committed to integrity and hard work. It survives through accountability, not profligacy. And yet we have allowed unbridled personal enrichment, self- indulgence, intolerance, discourtesy in behavior and disrespect for authority to erode our work culture. The biggest impact of the decay in the moral fiber of our society is on the hopes and aspirations of the young and the poor. Mahatma Gandhi had advised us to avoid, and I quote, “politics without principles, wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, and worship without sacrifice”, (unquote). We have to pay heed to his advice as we work towards building a modern democracy. The ideals of patriotism, compassion, tolerance, self-restraint, honesty, discipline and respect for women have to be converted into a living force.

Institutions are a mirror of national character. Today we see widespread cynicism and disillusionment with the governance and functioning of institutions in our country. Our legislatures look more like combat arenas, rather than fora that legislate. Corruption has become a major challenge. The precious resources of the nation are being wasted through indolence and indifference. It is sapping the dynamism of our society. We need to correct this regression.

Our Constitution provides a delicate balance of power between various institutions of the State. This balance has to be maintained. We need a Parliament that debates, discusses and decides. We need a judiciary that gives justice without delays. We need leadership that is committed to the nation and those values that made us a great civilization. We need a state that inspires confidence among people in its ability to surmount challenges before us. We need a media and citizens who, even as they claim their rights, are equally committed to their responsibilities.

A re-ordering of the society can be brought about through the educational system. We cannot aspire to be a world-class power without a single world class university. History records that we were the cynosure of the world once. Takshashila, Nalanda, Vikramashila, Valabhi, Somapura and Odantapuri comprised the ancient university system that dominated the world for eighteen hundred years beginning Sixth Century BC. They were a magnet for the finest minds and scholars in the world. We must seek to regain that space. A university is the banyan tree whose roots lie in basic education, in a vast network of schools that build the intellectual prowess of our communities; we have to invest in every part of this knowledge tree, from seed, root and branch to the highest leaf.

There is a direct relationship between a successful democracy and a successful economy, for we are a people-driven nation. People serve their interests best when they participate in decision- making at the level of panchayat and other forms of local government. We have to rapidly empower the local bodies with functions, functionaries and finances to improve their performance. Faster growth has given us the resources, but largeroutlays have not translated into better outcomes. Without inclusive governance, we cannot achieve inclusive growth.

For a developing country of more than 1.2 billion people, the debate between growth and redistribution is vital. While growth builds the scope for redistribution, redistribution sustains growth over time. Both are equally important. A disproportionate emphasis on any one, at the expense of the other, can have adverse consequences for the nation.

The last decade has seen India emerge as one of the fastest growing nations in the world. During this period, our economy grew annually at an average rate of 7.9 per cent. We are today self-sufficient in food grains production. We are the largest exporter of rice and second largest exporter of wheat in the world. The record production of 18.45 million tonne of pulses this year augurs well for our march towards self-sufficiency in pulses. This was unthinkable just a few years ago. This momentum has to be sustained. In a globalized world, with increasing economic complexities, we have to learn to cope better with adversities, both external and domestic.

At the dawn of our Independence, we lit the glowing lamp of modernity and equitable economic growth. To keep this lamp aflame, our highest priority has to be the elimination of poverty. Though a declining trend in the poverty rate is clearly visible, our fight against this scourge is far from over. India has the talent, ability and the resources to overcome this challenge.

Reforms that have enabled us to come this far have to be pursued at all levels of governance. Favorable demographic changes over the next two decades can pay us handsome dividends. It requires industrial transformation and rapid creation of employment opportunities. It also requires an orderly urbanization process. Several initiatives taken by the Government in the recent past including the New Manufacturing Policy, the renewal of urban infrastructure and the ambitious skill training programme will need close monitoring in the coming years.

We have given our citizens entitlements backed by legal guarantees in terms of right to employment, education, food and information. We now have to ensure that these entitlements lead to real empowerment for the people. We need robust delivery mechanisms to make these legislations work. New benchmarks of efficient public service delivery andaccountability have to be established. The Direct Benefits Transfer Scheme, launched earlier this year, will bring in greater transparency, enhance efficiency and eliminate wastage of precious resources.

There will be a general election in our country before our next independence day. This great festival of democracy is an opportunity for us to elect a stable government which will ensure security and economic development. Every election must become a crucial milestone in our nation’s journey towards greater social harmony, peace and prosperity.

Democracy has given us an opportunity to re-create another golden age. Let us not squander this extraordinary opportunity. The journey ahead calls for wisdom, courage and determination. We must work on across-the-board revival of our values and institutions. We must realize that rights go with responsibilities. We must re-discover the virtue of self-scrutiny and self-restraint.

Let me conclude by quoting from the great classic Bhagvad Gita where the Teacher propounds his views and then says, and I quote, “even as you choose, soyou do. I do not wish to impose my views on you. I have presented to you what I think is right. Now it is for your conscience, for your judgment, for your mind to decide what is right.”On your decisions rests the future of our democracy.