Rashtrapati Bhavan, August 14, 2018
Dear Fellow Citizens
1. My greetings to you as we complete 71 years as an independent nation. Tomorrow we will commemorate our 72nd Independence Day. For every Indian, whether living at home or anywhere else in the world, August 15 is sacred. It is marked on our calendars as a celebration of our sovereignty. We unfurl our national
flag with great joy and enthusiasm in workplaces, municipalities, panchayats, colleges, schools, homes and neighbourhoods. Our Tricolour is a symbol of our national
pride. It is a constant reminder of our striving and our self-belief. It is a day to look back with satisfaction and gratitude for what we have been able to achieve due to the efforts of successive generations of our elders. And it is a day to renew our resolve to fill the gaps that still remain in our nation building project – gaps that our talented young people will no doubt fill.
2. Freedom came to our country on the Midnight of August 14-15, 1947. It was the result of years and decades and centuries of sacrifice and valour on the part of our ancestors and our revered freedom fighters. These were men and women of rare courage and foresight. They came from all regions of the country, all sections of society, all communities and all social and economic groups. They could easily have compromised and settled for some personal benefit, but they did not. Their commitment to India – to a free, sovereign, plural and egalitarian India – was absolute. It was my privilege to honour these freedom fighters on the anniversary of ‘Quit India Day’ on 9th August in Rashtrapati Bhavan.
3. We are fortunate that we have inherited the legacy of such remarkable patriots. They left us with a free India, but they also left us with unfinished tasks for the development of our society, for the empowerment of the proverbial last person, for their liberation from poverty, and social and economic inequality. Every breath in our collective life as a nation is a tribute to our freedom fighters – and a commitment to accomplish whatever is still unaccomplished.
4. If we define freedom in narrow, political terms, then August 15, 1947, marks a closure. It was the day the political struggle against an imperial power culminated in success and in our Independence Day. But freedom is a broader concept. It is not fixed and finite. Freedom is a constant and relentless endeavour. Even decades after 1947, each one of us can contribute in the manner of a freedom fighter. We can do so if we expand the frontiers of freedom and of opportunity for our fellow Indians and our beloved India.
5. Our farmers grow food for tens of thousands of fellow citizens whom they have not individually met and will never meet. They are upholding our freedom by ensuring food security and nutrition for our children. As we assist our farmers by providing access to technology and other facilities for enhanced productivity and enhanced incomes, we live up to the principles of our freedom struggle.
6. Our Armed Forces stand guard valiantly on our borders, up in the cruel climate of the mountains or under the blazing sun, or in the skies or at sea. They are upholding our freedom by ensuring security from external threats. As we give them better weapons and equipment, build supply chains for such equipment in India itself, or ensure welfare benefits for our soldiers, we live up to the principles of our freedom struggle.
7. Our police and paramilitary forces take on a variety of challenges. In battling terrorism, in fighting crime and law and order disturbances, or even in helping ordinary citizens by holding their hands while they cross a flooded street. In doing this, they are upholding our civic freedom. As we improve their professional and personal conditions, we live up to the principles of our freedom struggle.
8. Women have a special role in our society. 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. They could do this as sheet-anchors of our families or as absolutely critical entrants to our institutions of higher learning and our 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.
9. As we take this process further, by facilitating credit for women-run enterprises and start-ups or by easier availability of LPG in millions of kitchens and millions of homes, we live up to the principles of our freedom struggle.
10. Our young people, both boys and girls, represent the hope and optimism of India. Our freedom struggle saw the active participation of the young and the old, but its energy was provided by the young. They chose different modes or activism in their quest for liberty – but their resolve and their idealism, their passion for a free India, for a better India, for a more equal India, was nonnegotiable.
11. Today, as we ignite the fire within our youth, by building capacities for skilling and scholarship; for technology, engineering and entrepreneurship; for creativity and crafts; for playing music and producing mobile apps, for excelling in sports, we are harnessing the unlimited human capital of our youth. In doing so, we live up to the principles of our freedom struggle.
12. I have given only a few examples; there could be many more. 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. They are providing the fruits and goods and services of freedom to fellow citizens. Every citizen of India who does his or her duty sincerely, fulfils a personal and professional obligation and keeps to a given word is, at a fundamental level, upholding the principles of our freedom struggle. I would argue that every Indian who does not jump the queue and respects the civic space and rights of those ahead in the line also lives up to the principles of our freedom struggle. It’s a very small gesture. Let us try and abide by it.
Dear Fellow Citizens
13. You may wonder if what I have said so far would not have held true in the years gone by, maybe 10 or 20 years ago or even earlier. To some extent, it certainly would. Even so, 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.
14. After four years, we will be marking the 75th anniversary of Independence. In less than 30 years, our people will celebrate the 100th anniversary of India as a free nation. The decisions we take today, the foundations we lay today, the projects we undertake today, 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.