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The Rediff Special/President K R Narayanan

'The greatest achievement of India since Independence has been the establishment of a democratic system of government and politics'

President K R Narayanan's address to the special midnight session of Parliament:

K R Narayanan This midnight hour, thronged with memories of the past and throbbing with significance for the future, is a golden moment in the history of India and the world. Fifty years ago at this very moment a new age of freedom dawned for India, and as Jawaharlal Nehru put it, ''the soul of a nation, long suppressed, found utterance.''

On the fiftieth anniversary of this historic event, it is my privilege to extend to all Indians throughout the length and breadth of the motherland, and to all Indian nationals living abroad, my heartiest greetings and felicitations. I also send my greetings to the brave soldiers of our armed forces who stand guard over the remote frontiers of our land. At this moment of midnight, let us bow our heads to Bharat Mata, whose children we are, and take a vow to serve her and the people of India regardless of caste, class or creed, religion, language or region.

On this solemn occasion we remember the countless men and women, the peasants, workers and the youth of India, who suffered untold hardships and sacrificed, their careers and even their lives for the freedom and Independence of the nation. We pay our homage to Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army and the great men like Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and a galaxy of others.

We also remember and pay our tribute to the founding fathers of our Constitution and the chairman of its drafting committee, Babasaheb Dr B R Ambedkar, who championed the cause of the down-trodden and the most exploited classes of people in our society, and who reminded us in the Constituent Assembly that ''social and economic democracy are the tissue and the fibre of political democracy.''

At this moment we cannot forget the tragedy and the trauma of Partition that cast a shadow on the first Independence celebrations, but as Nehru said on the occasion ''...The past is over and it is the future that beckons to us now.'' That future seems to have now arrived with India playing its part in co-operation systems in South Asia, Asia and the world.

It is pertinent to reflect and ask on this occasion what we have achieved as a nation during the half century of our Independence, and what have been our short-comings and failures. I have no hesitation in telling you, my fellow citizens, that our achievements have succeeded in maintaining the unity of the nation and kept this vast country together.

It is for the first time in our history that we have been able to put an economic content into the dream of unity that has haunted the mind of India over the ages and establish economic ties of inter-dependence between the diverse parts of the country. It is by clinging to our cultural values and our traditions of tolerance, to our composite culture and secularism, and to our economic and social development programmes, that we can maintain our unity. It is from this domestic base that our armed forces defended with valour the territorial integrity of the country during the last five decades.

The greatest achievement of India since Independence has been the establishment of a democratic system of government and politics. Indian democracy is the product of a complexity of factors. Several strands of thought and experience have gone into it: Western liberal and parliamentary ideas, socialist concepts, the deeply rooted traditions of India both Hindu and Buddhist, and the ideas and methods propagated by Mahatma Gandhi like the panchayat system and democratic decentralisation.

In the inter-play and inter- penetration of these ideas and methods a distinctly Indian variety of democracy has been in the making that is not only important to India but relevant to the new world of pluralism that is emerging.

Besides, the revolutionary implications of universal adult suffrage that we adopted are unfolding themselves today. The lower and poorer sections of society and the women are being drawn into the political system as active players. The time is overdue for meeting the aspirations of these sections of society, particularly the women, for their economic and political empowerment.

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