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In his first presidential address to the nation on the eve of our 64th Republic Day, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee invoked the glorious heritage of Indian civilisation and History to rouse the nation to address its contemporary challenges in a manner befitting our great legacies. It was a glorious departure from mundane speeches of the past, a speech to which routine newspaper reporting did little justice.
“History shifts its pace when touched by vision,” Pranabda said, pointing out that India has changed more in the last six decades than in the six previous centuries. In 1947, the dream of raising a new India from the ashes of colonialism climaxed and became a turning point for a dramatic narrative of nation-building, the foundations of which were laid through the Constitution adopted on 26 January 1950, which we commemorate as Republic Day. Its driving principle was a compact between state and citizen, a powerful public-private partnership nourished by justice, liberty and equality. In a clear admonition to our political class, the President said India did not win freedom from the British in order to deny freedom to Indians.
While major strides have been made in economic growth, literacy, food production and reduction in poverty, the time has come to ensure gender equality for every Indian woman. This, he said, is a national commitment we can neither evade nor abandon. Mentioning in this context the brutal rape and murder of a young woman (in Delhi, December 16, 2012), Mr. Mukherjee said, “The sanctity of a woman is a directive principle of that larger edifice called Indian civilization. The Vedas say that there is more than one kind of mother: birth mother, a guru’s wife, a king’s wife, a priest’s wife, she who nurses us, and our motherland. Mother is our protection from evil and oppression, our symbol of life and prosperity. When we brutalise a woman, we wound the soul of our civilization”.
Rarely has a modern dignitary uttered such powerful words linking the honour of women with the motherland itself, invoking automatically and involuntarily images of Sita and Draupadi, two revered queens for whom Hindu kings waged the bitterest wars of our civilisation. It pained the writer that almost all newspapers purged the references to the Vedas in their coverage of the President’s speech, as also to the multiple mothers of our moral universe, including the motherland.
Calling the gruesome Delhi gang-rape a “grave tragedy”, the President grieved that the victim “was symbol of all that new India strives to be”; her murder “has left our hearts empty and our minds in turmoil. We lost more than a valuable life; we lost a dream. If today young Indians feel outraged, can we blame our youth?”
It was in this context that the President called upon the nation “to reset its moral compass”. Warning against cynicism which is blind to morality, he urged the nation to look deep into its conscience and see where we have faltered, and seek solutions to problems through discussion and conciliation of views. The people must believe that governance is an instrument for good and for that, we must ensure good governance.
India today stands at the cusp of a generational change, whose vanguard are the youth in villages and towns. But they are troubled by numerous existential doubts – does the system offer due reward for merit; have the powerful have lost their Dharma in pursuit of greed; has corruption overtaken morality in public life; does the legislature reflects emerging India or does it need radical reforms? The elected representatives must quell their doubts and win back their confidence.
Dreams, the President said, are not possible on an empty stomach. Hence youth must have jobs capable of serving their own and the nation’s ambitions. While India has come a long way from 1947, when the first Budget revenue was roughly Rs.171 crore, we still have to ensure that the fruits of economic growth are not monopolised by the privileged.
As India walks the path of economic reforms, the President cautioned that it must remain alive to the persisting problems of market-dependent economies. Many rich nations, he said, are trapped by a culture of entitlement without social obligations; we must avoid this trap. This seems a veiled warning against populist schemes that are draining the exchequer, fatiguing taxpayers, and not benefitting the intended beneficiaries due to ‘leakages’ facilitated by technological advances, which is what their critics always feared. Interestingly, the CAG report on the farm loan waiver scam came the very day of the President’s speech.
As Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, the President made heartwarming mention of “serious atrocities on the Line of Control on our troops”. Neighbours may have disagreements, he said, and “tension can be a subtext of frontiers. But sponsorship of terrorism through non-state actors is a matter of deep concern to the entire nation. We believe in peace on the border and are always ready to offer a hand in the hope of friendship. But this hand should not be taken for granted”. Ministers making statements undermining the national sentiment on the issue of the mutilation of two Indian soldiers and the beheading of one would do well to heed the President’s message, which sums up the mood of the nation.
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