A day after violent protests rocked the country against the screening of a film, including an attack on a Gurgaon school bus with children on board, President Ram Nath Kovind weighed in on Thursday calling for a “civic-minded” society where one can disagree without “mocking” the other’s dignity, a social contract where neighbours respect each other’s “space, privacy and rights.”
In his first Republic Day-eve address to the nation, the President struck another timely chord when he underlined the need for institutions to be “disciplined and morally upright” adding they are always “more important” than individuals in office. The institutions should also respect their “fraternal relationship” with other institutions, he added. Read full text of his speech
The President’s remarks assume significance amid the ongoing standoff in the Supreme Court where four senior judges have gone public with their criticism of the way the Chief Justice allocates cases, when at least two Opposition leaders have said they are considering “impeachment” an option. Recently, questions have also been raised by many in the Opposition on the Election Commission’s conduct delaying Gujarat elections and, more recently, its order disqualifying 20 AAP MLAs in Delhi.
“A civic-minded nation is built by civic-minded neighbourhoods, whether in our cities or our villages. Where we respect the next-door person’s space, privacy and rights,” said Kovind. “Where we do not inconvenience our neighbours — while celebrating a festival or while resorting to a protest or on any other occasion. Where one can disagree with another viewpoint — or even with a historical context — without mocking a fellow citizen’s dignity and personal space. This is fraternity in action.”
Several groups have hit the streets protesting against Padmaavat alleging that the film distorts their history and defames Rajput queen Padmaavati. The film was released today with a security net draped over it.
On the role of institutions, Kovind didn’t mince his words. “A disciplined and morally upright nation is built by disciplined and morally upright institutions. Institutions that respect their fraternal relationship with other institutions. Institutions that maintain the integrity, discipline and limits of their functioning, without compromising on excellence. Institutions that are always more important than the individuals located there. And institutions where the holders and members make every attempt to live up to the office they occupy as trustees of the people.”
Defining every citizen as a pillar of the Republic — the soldier who defends, the farmer who feeds, the mother who nurtures, the doctor who heals, the scientist who innovates to the wise tribal who conserves ecology to the youth in whom lie the energy and in children who dream — the President identified “selflessness” at the heart of the “national project.”
“Let us all collate our privileges and entitlements. And then look at less-privileged members of a similar background, those starting off from where we once started off. And let each of us introspect and ask: Is his need or her need greater than mine?”
Pointing out that Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam — the world being one family — had always inspired India, Kovind said that this can be felt in the very texture of the nation’s Constitutional values. “The principles of compassion, of assisting those in need, of building capacities of our neighbours or even of those further away, underpin our society. These are the very principles that we bring to the international community.”
The President highlighted the freedom struggle to focus on what he called the task ahead. Referring to the movement led by Mahatma Gandhi in getting Independence followed by the work to frame the Constitution, he said: “This was a period of constant striving — of dedication, determination and commitment to improving our country. And setting right the aberrations of our society…Today, we are at a similar juncture. We have achieved a lot as a nation but much remains to be done. We need to work on this in the spirit of the generation that gave us our Republic.”
That’s why, the President said, the country cannot be satisfied without meeting the basic needs and essential dignity of the less well-off. “It is our sacred obligation to eliminate the curse of poverty in the shortest possible time. This is non-negotiable for the Republic,” he said.
Urging the nation to embrace reforms, the President said over 60 per cent of the country’s population is below the age of 35. “It is in them that our hopes lie. We have made strides in spreading literacy; now we must expand the frontiers of education and of knowledge. Our aspiration must be to reform, upgrade and enlarge our education system — and to make it relevant to 21st century realities of the digital economy, genomics, robotics and automation…”
The President asked children to make innovation their “obsessive goal.” He said the school system has to encourage children to think and to tinker, not just to memorise and reproduce. “We have made strides in tackling hunger but the challenge of malnutrition and of bringing the right micro-nutrients to the plate of every child is still there. This is important for both physical and cognitive development of our children — and for the future of our country. We simply have to invest in our human capital,” he said.