Public Diplomacy Public Diplomacy

Address to the Nation by the President of India Shri K.R. Narayanan on the eve of Republic Day - 2001

January 25, 2001

My Fellow Citizens,

On the eve of the 52nd Republic Day of India, I have great pleasure to extend to all my brothers and sisters living in India or abroad my greetings and good wishes. To the millions of kisans and mazdoors, teachers, doctors, scientists and technologists, who have laboured hard to build up New India, I offer my gratitude and greetings. And I salute the valiant personnel of our armed and para-military forces who have sacrificed so much and who stand ready to safeguard the territorial integrity and the honour of the motherland.

Friends, we are concluding to-day the Golden Jubilee celebrations of our Republic and entering the 52nd year of the Republic. The emergence of India as an independent nation and as a sovereign democratic Republic was a major event in the history of Asia and the world. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru articulated a new vision of India when he stated that the word Republic meant not only political freedom but social and economic democracy for India. To-day India has been acknowledged as a great democracy – indeed the largest democracy in the world and the Indian Constitution as the embodiment of the political, social and economic rights of the people. At the heart of our democracy is the right of the universal adult suffrage. It was an audacious and revolutionary act by the founding fathers, to have introduced in one go, the right of the vote to every adult citizen, a right for which the countries of the West had to struggle for almost a hundred years. And that too when the country was in a state of abject mass poverty and mass illiteracy. This act of faith by the founding fathers meant that the governance of this vast country was not to be left in the hands of an elite class but the people as a whole. It also meant, logically, that the voice of the people will be heard in the affairs of the State and their representatives will be elected directly to the legislatures and Parliament. The system of universal adult franchise also facilitated a dialectical process on the political scene out of which could emerge a consensus in the midst of all our differences and diversities. The founding fathers had the wisdom and foresight not to overemphasize the importance of stability and uniformity in the political system. As Dr. Ambedkar explained in the Constituent Assembly, they preferred more responsibility to stability. That is why they consciously rejected the system of restricted franchise and indirect elections embodied in the 1935 Government of India Act. It required a profound faith in the wisdom of the common man and woman in India. To-day it is necessary to look back to this faith when we hear voices pleading for a system of indirect elections. We may recall that in Pakistan, Field Marshal Ayub Khan had introduced an indirect system of elections and experimented with what he called basic democracy or guided democracy. It would be an irony of history if we invoke to-day in the name of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, the shades of the political ideas of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, the father of military rule in Pakistan.

Let us remember, it is under the flexible and spacious provisions of our Constitution, that democracy has flourished during the last fifty years and that India has achieved an unprecedented unity and cohesion as a nation and made remarkable progress in the social and economic fields. India to-day is adjudged as one of the fastest growing economies of the world. We have managed to accommodate the globalisation process without losing our distinctiveness as a culture and a civilization and without compromising the independence we secured after a long and heroic struggle. Through our Green Revolution we have achieved self-sufficiency in food grains for our one billion people. And our White Revolution has made us the largest milk producing nation in the world underlining our food sufficiency with an important element of the nutritional revolution that we are seeking to bring about. We have emerged as one of the scientifically and technologically important nations of the world. In the field of information technology and bio-technology we have made spectacular strides. In human development we have achieved significant successes. It is a measure of our human development success that the average expectation of life of an Indian is to-day 61 years raised from 27 years at the time of independence. Of course, we have yet to abolish illiteracy and poverty from the land, but we are confident that with the new tools of science and technology we have developed and the determined efforts of the Government and the people of India we would be able to conquer these problems also. We have to do this by keeping ourselves in step with world developments.

It seems for every stage of economic and technological development there are policies and programmes that are appropriate to that stage. In the 1960’s there was demand in the United States of America for change in India’s basic economic policies as a pre-condition for aid. A group of Harvard economists advised President Kennedy on aid to India. They wrote in their report, "There are situations in which development must already be established, before it is reasonable to expect private enterprise to take primary initiative, for pushing it forward. In such situations insisting that investment must be wholly or largely privately administered from the start, may prevent preconditions for private investment being established”. Indeed it is the growth of the public sector in India that made it possible for private sector to expand and flourish later. What we have done is to keep pace with world developments. While making necessary changes in our policies it is important to recognize the contributions made by India in its earlier stage of development and that it is standing upon the shoulders of our earlier policies and their results that we are to-day liberalizing and globalising our economy.

Friends, India in this 21st century will be predominantly a young country. According to the 1981 Census, people in the age-group of 15 to 35 years constituted one third of the population and in 1991 nearly 34% of the population. By 2000 almost two-third of the population belonged to this young age group. Youth power is manifesting itself in various fields of human activity. The spectacular growth of the Information Technology is largely the achievement of the youth of India. To-day it is youth organizations that are launching movements for preservation of the environment, of literacy, etc. in the country. The National Cadet Corps, the Bharat Scouts and Guides, the National Service Scheme represent the active youth of the country engaged in promoting national development. In the field of sports, Indian youth are making their mark. The world championship in Chess gained by Viswanathan Anand is an inspiration to all young people in India. Our young women have also come to the fore in international sports and beauty contests, projecting a new image of Indian womanhood of beauty as well as personality and intelligence. Our children caught in hazardous situations have shown dauntless courage, winning bravery awards of the nation. The story of Sunil Singh and Mukesh Kumar of Kashmir who picked up the gun from his murdered father and kept firing at the militants until they fled, is a heart-warming story. I had the pleasure of receiving these brave children and other award winning children at Rashtrapati Bhavan yesterday. Youth power is breaching the old barriers and expressing itself to the admiration of the whole country. It was Swami Vivekananda who said that by playing foot-ball you will be nearer to God and that you will understand the Upanishads better by playing foot-ball. We should applaud and encourage the new spirit of Indian youth, for, they are our pride and our future. We, the older generation, owe it to the youth that we set an example to them.

My fellow citizens, we have declared the year 2001 as the year of women’s empowerment. The pages of history unfold the fact that all social and political movements and even great revolutions, had bypassed women. Gandhiji was the first leader in the world who brought women to the centre stage of a national movement. To-day woman power is a hidden treasure that we are discovering and utilising for the benefit of the nation. Once when Smt. Sarojini Naidu submitted to the British rulers a petition for granting political rights to Indian women, she was asked a poignant question: "Will Indian men support your demands?” To-day the men of India are supporting, the movement for women’s empowerment. We have already empowered women at the Panchayat, block and district levels. Already there are nearly one million women in local level democratic institutions. They have made an impact on the working of our democracy at the grass-roots and have made a stir in the society. It is only logical to carry forward this process of empowerment of women to the State legislatures and to the Central Parliament. The responsibility of the men of India in this matter is clear and unavoidable. The empowerment of women in politics might well be a decisive factor that will purify and save the democratic politics of India from the deterioration of standards and values it is experiencing to-day.

The awakening of the women and the youth of India is something that gives us hope. But the march of development is having different kinds of impact on different sections of our people. It tends to widen the existing inequalities and create new inequalities. The already marginalised sections, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, are the greatest sufferers in this process. Referring to the tribals, Dr. Ambedkar had said: "Civilizing the aborigines means adopting them as our own, living in their midst and cultivating fellow feeling, in short loving them”. But the developmental path we have adopted is hurting them and threatening their very existence. It is well known how the large river valley projects are uprooting the tribals and causing them untold misery. The mining that is taking place in the forest areas are threatening the livelihood and the survival of many tribes. It is through enlightened developmental policies that we can resolve such dilemmas of development. One pre-condition for the success of developmental projects in our extensive tribal areas is that we should take into confidence the tribals and their representatives, explain the benefits of the projects to them, and consult them in regard to the protection of their livelihood and their unique cultures. When they have to be displaced the resettlement schemes should be discussed with them and implemented with sincerity. This could avoid many critical situations, and we will be able to carry the tribals with us. We have laws that are enlightened and which prohibit the transfer of the tribal lands to non-tribals, private bodies and corporations. The Supreme Court has upheld these provisions through its judgments. We cannot ignore the social commitments enshrined in our Constitution. In eastern India, the exploitation of minerals like bauxite and iron ore are causing destruction of forests and sources of water. While the nation must benefit from the exploitation of these mineral resources, we will have also to take into consideration questions of environmental protection and the rights of tribals. Let it not be said by future generations that the Indian Republic has been built on the destruction of the green earth and the innocent tribals who have been living there for centuries. A great Socialist leader has once said that a great man in a hurry to change the world who knocks down a child commits a crime. Let it not be said of India that this great Republic in a hurry to develop itself is devastating the green mother earth and uprooting our tribal populations. We can show the world that there is room for everybody to live in this country of tolerance and compassion.

Friends, India has always thought of the world and the happiness of others, especially our neighbours. It is in this spirit that sometime ago our Prime Minister declared a unilateral cease-fire in Kashmir. It was a bold and imaginative measure that has attracted the attention of the world and gladdened the hearts of the people of Kashmir suffering from the acts of violence by militants and terrorists. On this Republic Day, let us think of peace and work for it sincerely and tenaciously so that we can get rid of the scourge of terrorism from this land. Let us persist in the belief that the people at the other end will realise the futility of their hostility and respond to our gestures of peace and friendship. I have no doubt that through the firmness of our determination and through the exercise of our traditional tolerance, India will triumph in the end.

Jai Hind



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