New Delhi: On the eve of India’s 68th Independence Day, when all eyes are on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden speech from the Red Fort’s ramparts, President Pranab Mukherjee invoked the glory of India as an “ancient civilisation” in his address to the nation Thursday night, and said, “We are modern nation with modern dreams”. He said freedom is a celebration and independence is a challenge.
The President declared that “intolerance and violence is a betrayal of the letter and spirit of democracy” and sharply criticised those who believe in the “poison drip of inflammatory provocation”.
In his address, he said, “Those who believe in the poison drip of inflammatory provocation do not understand India’s values or its political impulses. Indians know that progress, economic or social, is difficult without peace.”
The President’s remarks assume significance in the context of the rising incidents of communal violence, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, and contentious comments on Hindutva by some saffron hardliners.
Without naming ISIS, which is indulging in mass killings and religious intolerance in Iraq, the President referred to “bigotry” across the region, and said an increasingly turbulent international environment had sparked off rising dangers “in our region and beyond”.
The President recalled Maratha king Shivaji’s letter to Mughal emperor Aurangzeb when he imposed “jizya”, and reminded everyone that “Shivaji told the emperor that Shah Jahan, Jehangir and Akbar could also have levied this tax but they did not, as they considered all men, high and low, created by God to be examples of the nature of diverse creeds and temperaments”.
Mr Mukherjee pointed out how across Asia and Africa, attempts were being made by radical militias to redraw the maps of nations to create geography for theocratic ideology. “India will feel the heat of blowback, particularly as it represents the values that reject extremism in all its manifestations. We must defend our secular fabric with vigour. Our security and foreign policies must combine the steel of strength with the velvet of diplomacy even as we persuade the likeminded as well as the hesitant to recognise substantial dangers”, he said.
Talking about good governance, the President said India needed creative thinking in governance that enables fast track development and ensures social harmony. “The nation has to be placed above partisan impulses. The people come first,” he added.
Mr Mukherjee said good governance was critically dependent on the rule of law, participatory decision-making, transparency, responsiveness, accountability, equity and inclusiveness.
The President also touched on poverty, saying the decisive challenge of our times was to end the curse of poverty. While poverty has come down in the last six decades from over 60 per cent to less than 30 per cent, he said even then, nearly one-thirds of India’s population still lived below the poverty line. “Poverty is not a mere statistic. Poverty has a face, which becomes unbearable when it scars the visage of a child,” he said.
Referring to the current economic situation, he said while the growth rate was subdued at below five per cent in the last two years, there was a “sense renewed vigour and optimism in the air”.
As he gets ready to address the nation on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first Independence Day speech will be closely watched. There are indications that the PM may announce bold changes and “big bang reforms”. As his speech is going to be extempore in Hindi, elaborate arrangements are being made to get it translated in English in real time, and this will be heard on microphones for the benefit of foreign dignitaries at the ceremony.
The information and broadcasting ministry has made arrangements for a live webcast on YouTube. The ministry has also issued an advisory to all TV news channels to telecast live the flag-hoisting ceremony on Friday.
There is speculation that besides focusing on certain “deliverables”, the PM will ensure that Veer Savarkar’s name finds a prominent place among top freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Chandrashekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh.
Besides highlighting “50 new schemes” initiated by his government since it came to power, Mr Modi is expected to announce the setting up of a new department for skill development under HRD minister Smriti Irani, and one for the Clean Ganga project.
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