President addresses the Conservatives

ChandraBhan Prasad

The head of the Indian Republic represents the collective wisdom of the nation. He is also the official moderator of the nation's conscience. And therefore, whenever he speaks up, he does so for the common good of society and the nation. A diverse society or rather, a complex one carries a dark past - a "shadow" from which the nation had to come clean when it evolved into a Republic in 1950. At the time of its birth, it mandated a manifesto for the entire nation, those at the seat of power were expected to translate the same into reality. That meant transforming India's varna or caste ridden order into a civil one, where a citizen's merit and wisdom alone would define his personality and standing in the civil order.

After half a century of experimentation, the nation has moved in that direction, but very slowly and very little. The Republic's manifesto was, to begin with, seen with some contempt by the Indian polity. The political parties showed a considerable amount of reluctance when it came to pursuing the Republic's goals. They feared intervening with the internal affairs of society. The end result, we all know. The crises have only grown and the Dalit and non-Dalit divide has widened. The slogan of "Progress" missed the cordial message of "Peace." Now the nation is confronted with a new choice: "Progress with Social Peace" or "Progress without Social Peace."

The post of the President is a political one. Anyone who occupies it is a political person. We live in and hail this era of liberal democracy. Democracy allows ideologies and political formations to contend "democratically." In a society like ours, several political persuasions are allowed to grow. But under this vast political sun, the Head of the State, irrespective of his/her political beliefs, is a mirror in which every citizen can see his/her face, voice and aspirations. But at times, the President's individual choices, beliefs and commitments find echo in his reflections. A President of Brahman origin may visit several temples and organise Mata Jagarans at Rashtrapati Bhavan, as also seek the blessings of one of the Shankaracharyas. Similarly, a President of Dalit origin may find it fit to attend Dr Ambedkar's birth anniversary.

Which is why the nation was expecting a major portion of the President's Republic Day eve speech to touch on anti-saffronisation or the dual policies being adopted by the White House on the issue of terrorism. After all, the Honourable KR Narayanan is considered to be ideologically Left of the Centre or to be precise, a scholarly person with Left inclinations. But the President, departing from his life long ideological convictions, took a line which not many expected. It is not for nothing that a leading English daily, while reporting his address, said, "The President made a major departure from the socialist tenor of his previous speeches."

The President, in his address to the nation, included the following: "Even today, it is amazing that we have not become an inclusive society, in spite of the political triumph of our democracy. The discrimination being suffered by women, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes is a crying denial of the democracy that is enshrined in our Constitution. Recently, a conference of Dalit and tribal intellectuals and activists was held in Bhopal. They issued a declaration called the Bhopal Declaration, charting a new course for Dalits and the tribal people of the 21st century. After calling for the implementation of the policies, enshrined in our Constitution and aiming at their development, the declaration emphasises the importance, in this present era of privatisation, of providing representation for these deprived classes, not only in Government and public institutions but in private corporations and enterprises which benefit from Government funds and facilities. Indeed, in the present economic system and that of the future, it is necessary for the private sector to adopt social policies which are progressive and more egalitarian; for these deprived classes to be uplifted from their state of deprivation and inequality and given the rights of citizens and civilised human beings. This is not asking private enterprise to accept Socialism but to do something like what America, with its Diversity Bill and affirmative action, have adopted and are implementing. My fellow citizens, I have talked to you of these social questions because if our great democracy is to remain great and relevant to the problems of the masses, we will have to pay heed to these crying socio-economic issues."

The President knows that globalisation is an irreversible process and that the Dalit masses will find themselves left out of a market economy. Hence, he found it necessary to remind the nation of the commitments made five decades ago. In doing so, he refers to the American experience. Dalits have always drawn inspiration from the Black movement and if the Blacks have, through their struggle, made inroads into the American economy, why not emulate the same in India? But, will the Conservative streams - the Sangh and the Left/Socialist, in particular - listen to the President's voice?

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Source: Link to Pioneer
Published on: October 29, 2001
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