Two speeches, common concerns

The two speeches — the farewell address on Wednesday night by the outgoing President, K.R. Narayanan, and the observations of the new incumbent, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, at the swearing-in ceremony on Thursday morning — provide an opportunity for a comparative analysis of their thinking processes, of the issues close to their hearts and their concerns. Some themes are common, though treated with a varying degree of emphasis, others are different. Together the two addresses set the agenda for the nation during the crucial period ahead.

Mr. Narayanan's concerns stem from his experience, his observations from the vantage point on Raisina Hill over the past five years: his message, as such, reflected anguish over the unpleasant patches of the objective reality during this period. Dr. Kalam displayed the enthusiasm of a fresher to the high office, focusing to a large extent on the future, on the "Vision of India".

When Mr. Narayanan spoke of preserving the tradition of tolerance, the need to forget communal, religious and social divisions, and when Dr. Kalam expressed his deep faith in secularism, they seemed to be touching on the same theme. But they expressed themselves in different idioms. In the case of Mr. Narayanan, it was in the form of an appeal to the citizens to "guard our tradition of tolerance, for that is the soul of our culture and civilisation, that is the spirit of our Constitution and that is also the secret of the successful working of our democracy and the secret of the coherence of this vast country as a united nation''. As on some occasions in the past, he recalled the words of Swami Vivekananda at the Parliament of Religions in America in support of his case for communal tolerance. In particular, he spoke of the responsibility of the majority community "to speak out in the traditional spirit of the Hindu religion". One did not have to stretch one's imagination to conclude what he had in mind. This was an essay in pragmatism.

Dr. Kalam confined himself to the principle, the concept as was perhaps natural in the case of a person who had just embarked on the high office. It was a welcome affirmation. "I wish to emphasise," he said, "my unflinching commitment to the principle of secularism, which is the cornerstone of our nationhood and which is the key feature of our civilisational strength".

In his meetings with spiritual leaders of all religions, he said, he found them echoing "one message — that is, unity of minds and hearts of our people will happen and we will see the golden age of our country very soon". It was difficult to say whether he had any specific situation in mind or whether he made a general observation when he referred to "certain internal conflicts", along with two other challenges, cross-border terrorism and unemployment.

Another common concern related to the lot of the deprived sections. Mr. Narayanan referred to the "majority of our people who are poor, ill-fed and illiterate (with a plea that this factor be kept in mind in the process of economic reforms through globalisation and liberalisation). Dr. Kalam observed that despite natural resources, vibrant people and traditional value system, "a number of our people are below the poverty line, undernourished and lack of primary education itself''. Both of them dwelt on the importance of the role of the younger generation. According to Mr. Narayanan, "today the youth of India are awake and they have brought India to the cutting edge of technology, making it possible to be a developed nation in the near future". Dr. Kalam dwelt on this point at a greater length, juxtaposing it with his pet theme, "transforming India into a developed nation", and his oft-repeated stress on technology.

Among the notable points made by the new President was his plea that "national security has to be recognised by every Indian as a national priority". In his view, "making India strong and self-reliant — economically, socially and militarily — is our foremost duty to our motherland." Unexceptionable sentiment, but coming from the "missile man", it may attract special notice.

How will sections of the Sangh Parivar take Dr. Kalam's thoughts on the Constitution? "The basic structure of our Constitution has stood the test of time... The first and foremost tasks to respect and uphold the Constitutional processes... without fear or favour and with fairness and firmness."

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