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Independence Day Speech

15 August, 2016 happens to be the 70th celebration of India’s independence. Some of us such as I, who were born much before 1947 have had the privilege of experiencing and observing every Swatabtrata Divas ceremony since then. Indians have passed through 7 decades of political freedom.

This is a day for self-examination and assessment – an internal audit based on introspection is called for. One has measure, to weigh and to look into the worth of our 69 year effort of nation building. हमें ये तो करना है कि देश ने क्या खो्या और क्या पाया है!

India with all of us in it, is like a giant caravan. No matter what the ups and downs, regardless of who is at the helm of government, the caravan goes on. Today fellow-travelers like you and I should be asking : ‘have we reached the dreamt of  destination? Have we achieved a fair and just society?

About this very point, there is a famous poem in India written soon after partition, called “The dawn of Freedom, august 1947”

Our dreams were stronger than our weariness, have all the battles been won? Is the destination within reach?

Is celebration the order of the day?

One cannot fail to observe that in recent months, our nation has experienced a series of intolerance. Indians still have inhuman barriers between “we” and “them”, of “I” vs. “You”.

All thinking citizens, however do understand that constructive nation-building can only be done by including the poor and the needy, by pulling womenfolk of India into the mainstream, by a coming together of our high-castes and others, by including our Dalits  and Minorities. We must become more inclusive!

 Nothing but an inclusive approach can spread that mutual goodwill which is based on a vision of pluralism, of unity in diversity. This concept is enshrined in India’s constitution. It forbids discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, religion or gender.

 We are  a modern enlightened secular republic and are proud of it.

 For the first seventeen years, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru symbolized a national unity which went beyond language, class, caste and religion. His positive leadership ensured that India could make progress without abounding secular democratic values.

 Centuries ago, Mahatma Gautam Buddha taught us that true spirituality means that we should sacrifice our anger, our hatred, our envy and greed; we must give up pretty, narrow wrong ways of thought and action.

 In January 1966, the prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shasthri mentioned that of India were to discard its unique heritage of non-violence, truth and human brotherhood; India would lose its SOUL.

After Nelson Mandela released from prison after 27 years as a political prisoner, he later became the 1st democratically elected president of South Africa. After which the first country he visited was India. Later he was instrumental in setting up a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”. This was chaired by the Nobel peace prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose concept for the people of South Africa was: “without mutual forgiveness, there could be no peaceful future for south Africa, after its long years of civil-strife and social trauma”.

 On similar line, many Indians, such as former P.M, I.K. Gujral and veteran journalist Kuldeep Nayyar have advocated that w should have had an “Indian Truth and Reconciliation Commission” after the bitter experience of the partition of India. Mutual forgiveness should have been offered without anyone demanding it.

 Forgiveness between various groups leads to accommodation. Our elites and political parties face the challenge of winning the confidence and trust of all varieties of citizens across the social spectrum.

India is a massive geographic area with many, many regional divisions. The challenge is to understand and accept the differences. We have mighty cultural divisions. The challenge is to understand and accept the differences, while looking at the myriad similarities which we have in common.

 Differences can be bridged by dialogue, however a key point in any dialogue is that one should be willing to listen with the heart as well as the ear what is said and what is unsaid.

After that comes acceptance. In any home, any institution, any country, no one is perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect boss. There is no perfect principal; no perfect job.

 In real life one cannot always choose ones neighbors, or those, with whom we work, study, do business with or have political links with. This applies to individuals, to groups, regions and nations.

 Hence there is no alternative but to accept those who are next to us or opposite us. We may not always agree with others, we may not accept their views, however we want accept and honor their presence.

The past cannot be changed. No one can undo the wrongs of history; we have to accept past history, including its pain, wounds and consequences. As citizens we cannot change the past, but we can mould the country’s future on the vision of our highest ideals.

 Intolerance can be neglected by mutual goodwill. Let us today look deeply into this unforgettable poem of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls

Where words come out from the depth of truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.