President Ram Nath Kovind on Tuesday asserted that contentious issues and extraneous debates should not be allowed to distract us at a "pivotal moment" when the country is at the cusp of achieving many long-awaited goals.
In his televised address to the nation on the eve of India's 72nd Independence Day, Kovind recalled Mahatma Gandhi's "most noble mantra" on the power of ahinsa (non-violence) being far greater than the power of hinsa (violence), remarks that come against the backdrop of incidents of lynching and mob violence in some parts of the country.
"The power to stay your hand is far greater than the power to strike with your hand and 'hinsa' has no place in the society".
Touching upon a range of issues, the president also said women were entitled to a life of their choice and security to fulfil their potential, amid concerns over their privacy and safety.
"We are at a juncture in our history that is very different from any period we have so far experienced. We are at the cusp of achieving many of our long-awaited goals.
Universal access to electricity, the elimination of open defecation, the elimination of homelessness, the very elimination of extreme poverty is achievable and attainable. We are at a pivotal moment. Let contentious issues and extraneous debates not distract us," Kovind said.
The president said that every Indian who does not jump the queue and respects the civic space and rights of those ahead in the line lives up to the principles of the country’s freedom struggle.
"It's a very small gesture. Let us try and abide by it," Kovind said.
Highlighting the role of farmers in providing food security to fellow citizens and the contribution by the country’s armed and police forces in battling terrorism and ensuring law and order, he said every Indian who does his or her job with sincerity and commitment is upholding the principles of our freedom struggle.
He said the decisions the country takes today, the foundations we lay, the projects we undertake, the social and economic investments we make today – whether for the immediate future or for the medium term – will determine where we stand.
"The pace of change and development in our country is rapid and appreciable. And as per our civilisational traditions, it is driven by our people, by civil society and by a partnership between citizen and government. Its focus, again in keeping with the essence of Indian thought, is on a better life for the less fortunate," the president noted.
Stressing that women have a special role in the society, he said the expansion of freedom in our country in many senses amounts to the expansion of freedom for women in our country. "This is true whether we see them as mothers, sisters, daughters or simply as women who are entitled to a life of their choosing – and deserving of the opportunity and the security to fulfil their potential".
The president said women could do this as sheet-anchors of families or as absolutely critical entrants to institutions of higher learning and India’s workforce.
"The choice is theirs; as a nation and as a society we must ensure that they have the right and the ability to exercise that choice," the president said.
Kovind said the reality is that every Indian who does his or her job with sincerity and commitment, who contributes to society by being true to a professional ethic, be it the doctor’s ethic, the nurse’s ethic, the teacher’s ethic, the public servant’s ethic, the factory worker’s ethic, the business-person’s ethic, the ethic of those who have to care for ageing parents who brought them up with love and sacrifice –-each of these and many others are in their own way upholding the values of freedom.
He said Independence Day is always special, but this year there is an unusual significance attached to it as in a few weeks, on October 2, India will begin the commemoration of the 150th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi.
"Mahatma Gandhi Everywhere, across continents, Gandhiji is mentioned, cherished and remembered as an icon for all humanity. He is the embodiment of India," the president said.
Kovind said Gandhi spoke of swadeshi with an uncommon zeal and to him Indian civilisation was defined by open windows and not closed doors.
"This was his concept of swadeshi and it is still relevant to us as we engage with the world – whether for our economy, our health, education and social aspirations, or our policy choices," the president said, and asked all to adapt Gandhi’s ideas and maxim to everyday’s work to celebrate our freedom and Indianness.
He said this Indianness is not for us alone. "It is part of what our country and our civilisation bring to the global stage."
Kovind said the outcome of education is not merely a degree or a diploma, but the commitment to help improve the life of another in a way that is sustainable.
"This is empathy and fraternity in action. This is the Indian spirit. This is India, because India belongs to the people of India – not just to the government," he added.