In his farewell address to the nation on the last day of his presidential tenure, President Pranab Mukherjee said the multiplicity in culture, faith and language makes India special. He also expressed concern at the increased violence
in the society, which he said stems from "darkness, fear and mistrust." Mukherjee said the power of non-violence
has to be resurrected to build a compassionate and caring society.
Mukherjee, 81, with his typical modesty, said that as "one advance in years, so does one's propensity to sermonise. But I have no sermon to make." However, he said he wished to share some truths that he has "internalised" in his 50-years in public life.
In the last three years, the President has spoken often about the 'argumentative Indian', tolerance and pluralism being the soul of the Indian ethos and the need to provide justice to the marginalised and the dispossessed. Today in his farewell speech, the President returned to these themes.
Mukherjee said, "the soul of India resides in pluralism and tolerance. India is not just a geographical entity. It carries a history of ideas, philosophy, intellect, industrial genius, craft, innovation and experience. The plurality of our society has come about through assimilation of ideas over centuries."
The President didn't refer to any of the recent attacks on minorities, particularly Muslims and Dalits in the name of cow protection, and the intent by some groups to impose their idea of Indian culture and nationalism. But he said, "The multiplicity in culture, faith and language is what makes India special. We derive our strength from tolerance."
Mukherjee said there are divergent strands in public discourse. "We may argue, we may agree or we may not agree. But we cannot deny the essential prevalence of multiplicity of opinion. Otherwise, a fundamental character of our thought process will wither away."
He said the "capacity for compassion and empathy is the true foundation of our civilisation. But every day, we see increased violence
around us. At the heart of this violence
are darkness, fear and mistrust."
The President called for a need to "free our public discourse from all forms of violence, physical as well as verbal." He said, "only a non-violent society can ensure the participation of all sections of the people, especially the marginalised and the dispossessed in the democratic process."
"Power of non-violence
has to be resurrected to build a compassionate and caring society," the President said. He said the founding fathers, with the adoption of Constitution, set in motion powerful forces that liberated us from the stranglehold of inequity in gender, caste and community along with other fetters that had tied us for too long.
"It inspired a social and cultural evolution which put Indian society on the track to modernity," he said, again not specifically referring to the recent trends of obscurantism, extolling of a 'glorious past' and running down of scientific advancement.
"A modern nation is built on some essential fundamentals - democracy or equal rights for every citizen, secularism or equal freedom to every faith, equality of every region, and economic equity. For development to be real, the poorest of the land must feel that they are a part of the nation's narrative," he said.
He said for the past 50-years of his public, his sacred text has been the Constitution, his temple the Parliament
of India and his passion the service of the people of India. Mukherjee said ever since he took the oath of office five years back, he has been "conscious" of his "responsibility" to "protect and defend" the Constitution.
He said over these five years, he learnt from his interactions from his conversations with a cross section of people.
"These interactions kept me focused and inspired. I strove hard. How successful I was in discharging my responsibilities will be judged, over the time, by the critical lens of history," the President, who now retires to a life of a private citizen, said.
The President flagged the need to protect the environment, expressed concern at the tremendous stress that climate change has put on the farming sector and said scientists and technologists have to work with millions of farmers and workers "to revive the health of our soil, arrest the decline in water table and restore the ecological balance."
Mukherjee called for the need to improve India's education system. "Our universities should not be a place for rote-memorizing but an assembly of inquisitive minds. Creative thinking, innovation and scientific temper have to be promoted in our institutions of higher learning. It calls for an application of logic through discussion, argument and analysis. These qualities have to be cultivated and autonomy of mind has to be encouraged," he said.
The President reminded the nation that Mahatma Gandhi
saw India as an inclusive nation "where every section of our population lived in equality and enjoyed equal opportunity." He called out for financial inclusion of the poorest,
Mukherjee said he has "received much more from the country" than he has given, and will remain ever indebted to the people of India. He also congratulated his successor Ram Nath Kovind, who is to take the oath of office on Tuesday.