NEW DELHI: In his maiden Republic Day eve speech, President Pranab Mukherjee on Friday warned Pakistan not to take India’s friendship for granted, hailed the spirit of the Indian youth and said brutalizing women amounted to wounding “the soul of our civilization”.
In a crisp speech laced with his trademark intellect, the President referred to the numerous doubts and problems plaguing the world’s largest democracy but predicted a bright future for India.
“On our 64th Republic Day, there may be some reason for concern but none for despair,” said the veteran politician who became the Head of State in July 2012.
“If India has changed more in six decades than six previous centuries, then I promise you that it will change more in the next 10 years than in the previous sixty,” he said. “India’s enduring vitality is at work.”
Without naming Pakistan, the President spoke of “serious atrocities” committed on Indian troops on the Jammu and Kashmir border — an obvious reference to the brutal killing of two Indian soldiers by Pakistanis.
“Neighbours may have disagreements; 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.”
Mukherjee spoke about the Dec 16 rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi, calling the 23-year-old a “symbol of all that new India strives to be”.
Her death, he said, “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?”
In an oblique reference to the recent youth-led protests on the streets of the capital and elsewhere, that took the administration by surprise, Mukherjee also called on people’s representatives to win back the confidence of the public, create avenues of employment for the benefit of both the youth and the country, and strive to fashion governance for the good of the society
The President said that while there was a law of the land, “there is also a higher law” when it came to women.
“The sanctity of a woman is a directive principle of that larger edifice called Indian civilization…
“Mother is our protection from evil and oppression, our symbol of life and prosperity,” he said. “When we brutalize a woman, we wound the soul of our civilization.”
The President said it was “time for the nation to reset its moral compass… We must look deep into our conscience and find out where we have faltered”.
Mukherjee admitted that the Indian youth were today troubled by a range of existential doubts.
“Does the system offer due reward for merit? Have the powerful lost their Dharma in pursuit of greed? Has corruption overtaken morality in public life? Does our legislature reflect emerging India or does it need radical reforms?
“These doubts have to be set at rest. Elected representatives must win back the confidence of the people. The anxiety and restlessness of youth has to be channelised towards change with speed, dignity and order.”
He underlined that the fruits of economic growth should not become the monopoly of the privileged.
“As we move ahead on the path of economic reforms, we must remain alive to the persisting problems of market-dependent economies.
“Many rich nations are now trapped by a culture of entitlement without social obligations; we must avoid this trap.”
Failure to do so could make Maoist violence “acquire far more dangerous dimensions”, he warned.
He spoke of India’s many successes over the past six decades, the vision of India’s founding leaders and asked the civil society and the government to work together for the country’s betterment.
“India can double its growth rate by turning today’s disadvantaged into multiple engines of economic development,” he said.
“Even the British,” he said, “sensed that they were leaving a land which was very different from the one they had occupied… The spirit of India is written in stone.”