In India, President Pranab Mukherjee lauds pluralism and diversity as nation’s greatest strength
By Geeta Goindi
Washington, DC, January 26, 2017 – On a winter morning which felt more like Spring, over 200 members of the diaspora, Indian embassy personnel and their families packed the Chancery to celebrate the sixty-eighth Republic Day of India.
Ambassador Navtej Sarna led the program by first paying a floral tribute to an awe-inspiring statue of Mahatma Gandhi, founder and father of the Indian nation, which sits outside the embassy in Washington. He then hoisted the tricolor as the gathering joined in rendering the Indian national anthem. It was a patriotic sight with uniformed officers of the Indian armed forces – army, navy and air force – in attendance, along with community activists and children dressed in traditional attire waving Indian flags.
Once inside the Chancery, Ambassador Sarna welcomed the gathering and proceeded to read excerpts from President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to the Indian nation on the eve of Republic Day.
“It is a great honor for me to greet this very successful Indian-American community on the occasion of our sixty-eighth Republic Day”, the envoy told us. “It’s a very proud day for India. This is a time to celebrate our achievements and to also introspect about the challenges that lie ahead. In this journey, the Indian-American community is playing a very important role”, he said.
Delhi’s top diplomat noted that the government of India has made it a point to reach out to members of the diaspora, “to engage them and I think together, we have a lot to achieve and I’m sure we will”, he said.
The program also featured a stirring song in the melodious voice of Krishnapriya, a student of Chinmaya Mission, Frederick, Maryland. Adding to the patriotic spirit were two acclaimed documentaries, ‘A Day in the Life of India’ and ‘Indian Army: An Instrument of National Power’, projected on prominently placed screens.
In a candid address to the Indian nation on the eve of Republic Day, President Pranab Mukherjee lauded India’s pluralism and social, cultural, linguistic and religious diversity which, he believed, are it’s “greatest strength. Our tradition has always celebrated the argumentative Indian, not the intolerant Indian”, he said. Noting that “multiple views, thoughts and philosophies have competed with each other peacefully for centuries” in India, he believed, “More than the unison of ideas, a healthy democracy calls for conformity to the values of tolerance, patience and respect for others”.
The president underscored the need “to work harder” on many fronts including:
– Waging a war on poverty. The economy, he pointed out, is yet to grow at 10 percent in order to make a significant dent on poverty. “Gandhiji’s mission to wipe every tear from every eye still remains unfulfilled”, he lamented;
– Ensuring the safety and security of women and children;
– Tackling the menace of terrorism. “The forces inimical to our interests cannot be allowed to grow”, he affirmed;
– Protecting and preserving the environment by changing consumption patterns;
– Providing food security and making the agricultural sector resilient to the vagaries of nature;
– Increasing employment opportunities for youth by creating world-class manufacturing and services sectors.
President Mukherjee also spoke in favor of: electoral reform – returning to a system when elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies are held simultaneously; and demonetization which, he believed, would make the economy more transparent in the long-run.