Calls for turning today’s disadvantaged into multiple engines of economic development

Simmering anger over the continuing attacks on women, the growing restlessness of the youth, the vulnerability of the country to terrorism through non-state sponsors and rising conflicts within the boundaries arising out of economic and developmental disparity — President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to the nation on the eve of the 64th Republic Day touched on all of these issues, as he urged the nation to “reset its moral compass.”

In the backdrop of the prevalent debate on women’s safety, the President, in his first Republic Day address, urged the nation to identify problem areas and make amends.

“I speak to you when a grave tragedy has shattered complacency. The brutal rape and murder of a young woman, a woman who was the symbol of all that new India strives to be, 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?” he said.

Referring to the nationwide protests, particularly by the youth, against the growing attacks on women and the perception that there had been a governance deficit in protecting women, Mr. Mukherjee said: “We must look deep into our conscience and find out where we have faltered. The solutions to problems have to be found through discussion and conciliation of views. People must believe that governance is an instrument for good and for that, we must ensure good governance.”

Pushing for gender equality for every Indian woman, he said this national commitment could be neither evaded nor abandoned, for the price of neglect would be high.

The resentment and exasperation of the youth, their declining confidence in the elected representatives and the prevalence and spread of social ills like corruption also needed to be addressed, he said.

“We are on the cusp of another generational change; the youth of India spread across villages and towns are in the vanguard of change. The future belongs to them. They are 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 said.

Mr. Mukherjee referred to the prevalent inequalities in development, economic disparity, poor reach of education and healthcare, and cautioned that unless growth was all inclusive, it would have a serious repercussion vis-à-vis internal conflicts.

“Figures mean nothing to those who do not benefit from them. We must act immediately, otherwise the current pockets of conflict, often described as ‘Naxalite’ violence, could acquire far more dangerous dimensions,” he said.

On an equally concerned note, he drew attention to the growing unrest along the territorial borders of the country, making a specific reference to the recent firing on the Line of Control that escalated tension between India and Pakistan.

He said while India had been toeing the line of peace and friendship, its efforts should not be taken for granted.

“In the recent past, we have seen serious atrocities on the Line of Control on our troops. 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,” he said.

The President concluded his speech on an optimistic note, assuring the people that there was no reason for despair. “India’s enduring vitality is at work. Even the British sensed that they were leaving a land which was very different from the one they had occupied. At the base of the Jaipur Column in Rashtrapati Bhavan there is an inscription: ‘In thought faith…In word wisdom…In deed courage…In life service…So may India be great.’ The spirit of India is written in stone,” he concluded.

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