After a show of grandeur in the presidential procession from Raisina Hills to the Parliament, the 13th President of India, Pranab Mukherjee signed on the dotted line after being sworn in. And then the president spoke. In all that I heard on the news channel, there was one of the preliminary sentences that stuck out, and it did not just stick out, it did prick. It pricked the conscience, it pricked the pride and it pricked the collective vision of a nation. And I quote that part of the speech
“Our national mission must continue to be what it was when the generation of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Ambedkar and Maulana Azad offered us a tryst with destiny: to end the curse of poverty, and create such opportunities for the young that they can take our India forward by quantum leaps.”
So what did I find so distasteful, so repulsive, so unfortunate about it?
The distasteful, the repulsive and the unfortunate part of it is that after having been independent for 67 years we still have to strive for that basic need, that whiff of development, that goal of elimination of poverty, that creation of opportunities. We still have to pursue, for we have not yet reached anywhere near that ‘national mission’ which the forefathers of the nation had set. That ‘ tryst with destiny’ that Jawaharlal Nehru had famously mentioned in his horologically mistaken speech (it was not midnight in other parts of the world and the world was not sleeping then as he mentioned) continues to this date.
India has caught the development bus, but has been able to get on board those who could run to catch the moving bus, those who had aesthetically designed shoes, those who were wearing good jogging outfits, those who were fit to run. It left everyone else, and that everyone else is the majority. They are the poor, the downtrodden and how much ever one would like to believe it to be non-existent or a minority the fact is in the contrary. Hence the tryst which is now going on since years has not resulted in what is a buzz word these days – inclusive growth. Mr. Mukherjee exhorted everyone to work for that left out section, but what good are words which has become cliche of every politician and mocked in movies to such an extent that no one tries it anymore. There could have been better, meaningful words.
What else could have Mr. Mukherjee spoken on? His speech writer would have thought it glorious to invoke the larger than life political figures of India, all with a Congress connection on this momentous occasion. But in a world where everyone is increasingly being heard and analysed, little thought should have been spared either in acknowledging that India has failed in feeding its poor, uplifting from bottomless pit of poverty its citizens or a more pragmatic approach to cater to these goals should have been mentioned. Although it is not a Prime Minister speaking from the Red Fort, extraordinary times, which the new President describes as Fourth World War, calls for extraordinary measures, speeches included.
Everyone will agree that in Indian democracy President is unceremoniously described as ‘rubber stamp’, but the ceremonies associated with the President is in no way reflective of that view. While one may argue what spectacle of austerity did the new President present with the grand limousine, and a grand procession, more on it later. The President however detached from the policy making has a role to play in affecting the psyche of the nation, a feat well achieved by Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. Despite playing the role of a rubber stamp, he was able to use his office to reach out to children, motivate them, thereby contributing in nation building. When he spoke, he spoke about pragmatic steps, and a glorious vision for the country. Will the erudite scholar with impeccable memory Mr. Mukherjee deliver anything on those lines? At least his words at the beginning of the innings did not say so.
Will it be just another banter against the system? Will this article just about another pot shot at our political establishment? Will it be lament at the state of affairs? will it be read and realised and commented on and passed on as yet another essay? As unfortunate the speech of the new President is, so is the answer to the questions, an unfortunate ‘yes’.