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March 25, 1998


President's address promises a new India, appeals for consensus in governance

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The new government at the Centre will make all efforts to build a new India -- free from the triple curse of insecurity, hunger and corruption, illiteracy and unemployment and, above all, ''an India where every citizen, irrespective of his caste, creed or faith, feels proud to be an Indian.''

Addressing the first session of both Houses of Parliament after the 12th Lok Sabha election, President K R Narayanan said after the mid-term election, the nation now looks forward to a government that will get down to business. This is precisely what the new government proposes to do.

The President said parliamentary arithmetic alone cannot provide the key to good governance. "That key lies in the willingness of all to rise above notions of parliamentary majority and minority and work in a spirit of co-operation, conciliation and consensus. My government, imbued with this spirit, will chart a new course in governance that seeks to unify and not divide. Dialogue, debate and discussion will replace the narrow antagonisms of the past."

The President noted with satisfaction that the just-concluded elections reflected ''the firm conviction of our people in the democratic process of change". Contrary to forecasts that the turnout would be low, in fact, nearly 62 per cent of the electorate exercised their franchise. The results are indicative of regional aspirations seeking a place in the national perspective. "My government will ensure the fulfillment of these aspirations even while looking after national interests," he said.

The President said the new government will strive for evolving a consensus mode of governance as far as practicable. Some of the issues on which a national consensus is most urgently called for are electoral reforms, Centre-state relations, population policy, empowerment of women by legislating 33 per cent reservation for them in all elected bodies, resolution of inter-state water disputes, environmental protection and effective institutional guarantee for the welfare of the weaker sections while pursuing economic reforms.

"You have the rare privilege of contributing constructively to this process of consensus-building on which the future of our great nation depends critically in the 21st century and the coming millennium," the President said.

The President said the government's solemn commitment is to provide the people of India with good governance. "This can be possible only when government rests on the foundation of morality and ethics. All around us today we find increasing cynicism towards morality in politics and ethics in governance. This has severely eroded faith in the State," he said with great concern.

Narayanan said 50 years after independence, "the time has come to rejuvenate our institutions so that they are strong enough to meet the challenges of the future". The government proposes to do so, as well as appoint a commission to review the Constitution and make recommendations so that anomalous experiences of the past are not repeated in the future.

Stressing that consensus-building is an essential part of nation-building, the President said cooperation for the larger good of society has been the cornerstone of our civilisation. "Ours is a multi-party democracy in which constructive dialogue, consultation and cooperation between the ruling and opposition parties are essential for evolving a broad platform of national consensus."

The President reminded the members that the year is significant in more ways than one. It is the golden jubilee of India's independence. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Mahatma Gandhi. ''We are the inheritors of the fruits of the sacrifices made by the Mahatma and other freedom-fighters. We have the responsibility to live up to their dreams and ideals."

Declaring that secularism is integral to India's traditions, the President said, "The government is unequivocally committed to upholding our secular values."

The government's top priority will be to reach out to the underprivileged and the unempowered. "More than a third of our people live below poverty line. An even larger number does not have the access to basic education and health care facilities. This vast multitude must be facilitated to obtain its meaningful share in national prosperity."

Further elaborating, the President said the government proposes to accomplish this through the three-fold strategy of ensuring food security to every household by better targeting of the public distribution system, accelerating generation of employment opportunities in every sector of the economy and providing shelter to the largest possible number.

Outlining the priorities, the President said the pending legislation seeking to reserve 33 per cent seats for women in Parliament and state assemblies will be taken up immediately. A development bank, the first of its kind, will be set up for women entrepreneurs.

On the crucial issue of Centre-state relations, the President declared that the government will immediately act on the Sarkaria Commission's recommendations as well as seek ways and means for greater devolution of powers up to the panchayat level. ''The governor's office has often been the centre of unseemly controversy. Raj Bhavan will not be used for securing political objectives'', the President asserted.

Declaring that security of the nation and its citizens is paramount, the President reasserted that the government will not compromise on the issue and said the nation's sovereignty and territorial integrity will be protected at all costs. ''We will not bow to any pressure on this front. The government joins the country in saluting the bravery of the personnel of our armed forces who are ever prepared to make sacrifices for the defence of the nation.''

On the economic front, Narayanan made it clear that the government is pledged to investing larger resources in social infrastructure. The commitment to progressively step up spending on education to six per cent of the Gross Domestic Product will be fulfilled. Every effort shall be made to provide basic health facilities to all. Simultaneously, potable drinking water shall be made available in every village and habitat, within a specified time-frame.

The President said foreign direct investment will be encouraged in the core sector of the economy and the physical infrastructure development.

Expressing concern, the President said one of the causes of corruption and erosion of values in our polity as well as criminalisation of politics, stems from flaws in the electoral process. To ensure free, fair and fearless elections and to prevent the use of money and muscle power, the government will introduce a comprehensive electoral reforms bill for which considerable ground work has already been done.

On foreign policy, the President said one of the urgent issues before the world comunity is the restructuring of the United Nations and its organs in order to make it more democratic and more representative of the contemporary world. "Our views on the restructuring of the UN have already been projected before the world comunity and we will pursue our objective with vigour. As a founder-member of the Non-Aligned Movement, we, along with fellow members, share the responsibility for ensuring a fair treatment for the developing countries and we will work together to attain this goal. Economic cooperation among developing countries is another priority of the NAM which will seek to promote."

The government will evolve a national media policy which will integrate the advances in various visual, audio and print media in order to bring about cohesiveness of purpose, keeping in view our societal needs and cultural values.

Agriculture has suffered on account of declining investment. The government will halt this decline and earmark up to 60 per cent of plan funds for this crucial segment of the economy. Subsidies will continue but they will be better targeted. The government is committed to re-establish farmers as a strong and self-confident community enjoying the fruits of prosperity, the President said.

The government will also cushion farmers from unforeseen natural calamities by introducing effective crop insurance policies. All efforts will be made for rapid rural industrialisation, with special emphasis on agro-based industry.

The government will ensure to make labour an equal partner in national reconstruction. Special care will be taken to look after the interests of agricultural labour who are largely unorganised.

Narayanan said a national water policy which will provide for effective and prompt settlement of disputes and their time-bound implementation will be evolved.

The government will set up a committee to study the feasibility of treating all the 18 languages included in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution as official languages.

The government will initiate institutional measures to ensure that all development programmes are in conformity with the principles of sustainable development.

The President reaffirmed India's commitment to peace among all nations, to the prosperity of the peoples of the world and to enhance its role in the international arena. "We will strive for Asian solidarity and enhanced regional cooperation."

The President said renewed efforts will be made to improve bilateral relationship with neighbouring countries without any third party mediation or interference.


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