Thriving on the vision of a modern nation, President Pranab Mukherjee today in his first address to the nation, said that the country can achieve that by focussing on freedom of faith, gender equality and ensuring economic justice.
“Propelled by freedom of faith, gender equality and economic justice for all, India will become a modern nation. Minor blemishes cannot cloak the fact that India is becoming such a modern nation: no faith is in danger in our country, and the continuing commitment to gender equality is one of the great narratives of our times,” said Mukherjee in his televised address to the nation on the eve of 66th Independence Day.
Appreciating the contribution by different strata of society towards the growth of the nation, he said, “Our productive working class; our inspiring farmers, who have lifted a famine-wrecked land to food-surplus status, our imaginative industrialist entrepreneurs, whether in the private or public sector; our intellectuals, our academics and our political class have knit together a modern nation that has leapt, within mere decades, across many centuries in economic growth and progressive social legislation.”
The president said the sense of country’s achievement may be judged by turning the pages of history. “We cannot appreciate how far we have travelled, until we understand from where we started in 1947,” the president said.
Although the president expressed satisfaction over the country’s progress, he also sounded a note of caveat.
“Yet there are several gaps that need to be bridged. Green revolution has to be extended to the eastern region of our country. Creation of high quality infrastructure has to be fast tracked. Education and health services have to reach the last man at the earliest. Much has been done, a lot more remains to be done,” Mukherjee said.
On economy and agriculture
“Between 1900 and 1947 India’s economic growth was an annual average of 1 percent. From such depths we climbed, first, to 3 percent growth, and then took a quantum leap forward: today, despite two great international crises that rocked the world and some domestic dips, we have posted an average growth rate of more than 8 percent over the last seven years,” Mukherjee said while talking about the country’s economic development.
“If our economy has achieved critical mass, then it must become a launching pad for the next leap. We need a second freedom struggle; this time to ensure that India is free for ever from hunger, disease and poverty,” he said.
Mukherjee also sought to highlight the resilience of the Indian economy.
“Notwithstanding the tremendous pressure of an adverse external environment, our economy today is more resilient and confident. Two decades of steady economic reforms have contributed to improvement in average income and consumption levels in both rural and urban areas. There is new found dynamism in some of the most backward areas bringing them into national economic mainstream,” the president said.
Expressing concern over the impact of bad monsoon, drought and floods on agriculture, the president said, “The monsoon has played truant this year. Large areas of our country are in the grip of drought, some others are devastated by floods. Inflation, particularly food inflation, remains a cause of worry. While our food availability remains healthy, we cannot forget the plight of those who made this possible even in a lean year; our farmers. They have stood by the nation in its need; the nation must stand by them in their distress.”
On youth and education
Mukherjee also stressed upon the need to utilise the skills of young Indians for the development of the nation.
“We are a nation that is becoming younger both in age and spirit; this is an opportunity as well as a challenge. The young thirst for knowledge that will lift their skills; and for opportunity that will put India on the fast track to the first world. They have the character; they need the chance,” the president said.
He also drew attention to the need of quality education as a remedy to many problems troubling the country.
“Education is the seed; and economy is the fruit. Provide good education; disease, hunger and poverty will recede. As I said in my acceptance speech, our motto must be: All for knowledge and knowledge for all. Vision cannot be an open-ended vista; it must be focused on our youth,” Mukherjee said.
On environment and economic development
“I do not believe that there is any inherent contradiction in protecting our environment and economic development…. We must learn to live in harmony with nature. Nature cannot be consistent; we must be able to conserve her bounty during the many seasons of plenty so that we are not bereft during the occasional bout of scarcity,” Mukherjee said in his address.
On corruption and democratic institutions
“Anger against the bitter pandemic of corruption is legitimate, as is the protest against this plague that is eroding the capability and potential of our nation. There are times when people lose their patience but it cannot become an excuse for an assault on our democratic institutions,” the president said.
He made it clear that for a democracy to survive the sanctity of the democratic institutions has to be preserved.
“Institutions are the visible pillars of our Constitution, and if they crack then the idealism of our Constitution cannot hold. They are the interface between principles and the people. Our institutions may have suffered from the weariness of time; the answer is not to destroy what has been built, but to re-engineer them so that they become stronger than before. Institutions are the guardians of our liberty,” Mukherjee said.
“The vigilance on our frontiers has to be matched with vigilance within; we must restore the credibility of those areas of our polity, judiciary, executive and legislature where complacency, exhaustion or malfeasance may have clogged delivery. The people have a right to express their discontent. But we must also understand that legislation cannot be wrenched away from the legislature or justice from the judiciary,” he said.
The president even warned against authority becoming authoritarian.
“When authority becomes authoritarian, democracy suffers; but when protest becomes endemic, we are flirting with chaos. Democracy is a shared process. We all win or lose together. Democratic temper calls for dignity of behaviour and tolerance of contrary views. Parliament will live by its own calendar and rhythm,” he said. “I say this not in a spirit of admonition, but as a plea for greater understanding of the existential issues that lurk behind the mask of the mundane,” Mukherjee said.
On Assam Accord
“It is particularly painful for me to witness the violence in Assam. Our minorities need solace, understanding and protection from aggression. Violence is not an option; violence is an invitation to greater violence. Concrete attempts have been made to heal the wounds of Assam, including the Assam Accord conceived by our young and beloved former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. We should revisit them, and adapt them to present conditions in the spirit of justice and national interest. We need peace for a new economic surge that eliminates the competitive causes of violence,” the president said.
Praising the security forces in their fight against terror, he said, “I am proud of our brave armed forces and our valiant police forces, who have done so much, at such great personal risk, to curb this menace of terrorism. It is their vigilance which has prevented more havoc.”
Mukherjee also called for a greater role to be played by SAARC to fight terror elements.
“The SAARC should be a major instrument in the common war against terrorists. Great success is possible by international cooperation. All SAARC nations must cooperate to bring to justice those who believe in mayhem against innocents. There is no other way towards peace on the subcontinent,” he said.
“I congratulate all who have done their nation proud at the recently concluded Games, by winning as well as by participating. The number of trophies may not be too large but it is a remarkable improvement upon the last count, Four years later, when I hope to address you again, I am sure, we will celebrate a medals spring,” Mukherjee said.