New Delhi: Triggering a fresh debate in the context of the brutal gang rape in Delhi and youth protests that followed, President Pranab Mukherjee on January 25 raised a question whether the country's legislature reflects emerging India or does it need radical reforms.
Asking if corruption has overtaken morality in life, the President said elected representatives must win back people's confidence and the anxiety and the restlessness of the youth has to be channelized towards change with speed, dignity and order.
In his first address to the nation on the eve of the 64th Republic Day, Mukherjee referred to the "grave tragedy" of the brutal rape and murder of a woman in the capital that has shattered complacency. "The brutal rape and murder of a young woman — a woman who was 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 asked.
The President said there is a law of the land but there is also a higher law. The sanctity of a woman is a directive principle of that larger edifice called Indian civilization. "When we brutalize a woman, we wound the soul of our nation."
"It is time for the nation to reset its moral compass. Nothing should be allowed to spur cynicism, as cynicism is blind to morality. 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," he said.
Apparently referring to the protests by youth in the national capital and elsewhere in the wake of the gang rape, Mukherjee said country was 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."
The youth doubt whether system offers due reward for merit and whether the powerful lost their dharma in pursuit of greed. "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 the youth should be channelized towards change with speed, dignity and order," he said.
The president said the young cannot dream on an empty stomach. They must have jobs capable of serving their own as well as the nation's ambitions. "But we must ensure that the fruits of economic growth do not become the monopoly of the privileged at the peak of a pyramid. The primary purpose of wealth creation must be to drive out the evil of hunger, deprivation and marginal subsistence from the base of our expanding population," he said.
Noting that last year has been a testing time, the president said as the country moved ahead on the path of economic reforms it 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. The results of our policies should be seen in our villages, farms and factories, schools and hospitals," he said.
The President said 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.
He underlined the need for ensuring gender equality for every Indian woman. "We can neither evade nor abandon this national commitment, for the price of neglect will be high. Vested interests do not surrender easily. The civil society and the government must work together to fulfill this national goal," he said.
Mukherjee emphasized on the importance of education calling it the ladder that can help those at the bottom to rise to the pinnacles of professional and social status. "So far education has not reached, to the extent desired, to those most in need of this ladder. India can double its growth rate by turning today's disadvantaged into multiple engines of economic development." he said.
The president said on the 64th Republic Day, there may be some reason for concern, but none for despair.
"If India has changed more in six decades than six previous centuries, then I promise you that it will change more in the next ten years than in the previous sixty. India's enduring vitality is at work," he said.