Text of PM’s speech at National Integration Council meeting

October 13th, 2008 - 2:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi, Oct 13 (IANS) Following is the text of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s speech at the 14th National Integration Council meeting here Monday: We are meeting at a time when our nation is facing many and simultaneous challenges. Responding to challenges, at best of times, is a very complex exercise. It gets even more complicated when the security calculus is a matrix of many imponderable factors.

Throughout India’s modern history, our country has seen many challenges, challenges that would have fragmented nations of lesser intrinsic strength or lesser will. I have, therefore, no fear of our ability to withstand the current challenges. I do believe, however, that it is important at times like this to look within ourselves, and draw upon our national genius to overcome problems that appear at times to overwhelm us.

There are a number of issues that need strong reaffirmation in today’s context. One, we must be conscious that in seeking short-term remedies the fundamental underpinnings of our inclusive society are not undermined. Another, is to maintain a strong sense of nationhood.

In the recent past we are witnessing signs of increasing fissiparous tendencies specially in areas like the North East, in Jammu & Kashmir, in Orissa and Karnataka, in Assam and some other parts of our country. Third, sometimes the situation is aggravated by external interests that wish to de-rail the essential unity of India. Further, as witnessed recently in Orissa, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Assam we see ethnicity and religion being used as arguments to stir divisions.

We have defence mechanisms to prevent such divisive trends from spreading as also the necessary instruments to overcome them. We need, nevertheless, to be subtle in the manner in which these are employed. It is a tribute to our political process that over the 60 years and more since Independence, we have successfully met the challenges without in any way undermining our social fabric and tradition.

We can take pride in our inheritance of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-caste society. We must not, however, ignore the fact that there is need for utmost vigilance and caution to sustain such an inheritance. The chief characteristic of our civilization has been unity in diversity. We have never attempted to impose uniformity or dilute diversity. We have believed in a composite culture where, while individual identities are retained, traits are shared. The continuity and strength of our civilizational process depends on this implicit recognition of our ancient value system.

Central to this, is a recognition of the futility of violence and of the need for reconciliation, specially of all those caught up in the vortex of to-day’s conflicts. I am stressing this point since violence seems to be permeating society to day, across the length and breadth of our country - whether it be terrorist violence, whether it is violence with an ideological veneer such as that adopted by the Left Wing Extremists or Communal violence. We need to meet to-day’s mindless violence with the requisite amount of force, but must also ensure that this is tempered by reason and justice, which is the normal order of governance.

Terrorism and terrorist acts undoubtedly present us with a serious dilemma. Terrorism is the major scourge the world faces to-day. Several individuals are being inveigled into participating in terrorist acts by projecting a sense of real or perceived grievance. The use of violent methods by those embracing terrorism is abhorrent to any society. There can be no compromise with terrorism and terrorists have to be dealt with firmly. At the same time it is important that in trying to counter terrorism among wrong methods and means are not adopted. Any impression that any community, or sections amongst them, are being targeted, or that some kind of profiling is being attempted should be avoided. The means are as important as the ends. This is vital, as otherwise it could lead to a major polarization of society.

In dealing with Left Wing Extremist violence, one must recognize that many of those who are being encouraged to take to violence have suffered from years, and sometimes generations, of violence at the hands of exploiters and unscrupulous elements. Many of those involved are amongst the ‘poorest of the poor’ and are merely demanding a place in the sun they have been denied so far.

Yet we cannot ignore the reality that today’s Naxalites are armed with sophisticated weapons, and adept at guerilla warfare techniques and have caused the death of many innocent people and members of the security forces. A proper distinction has, hence, to be made so that while there is no attempt made to minimize the threat posed by them and to deal effectively with the problem, the poor tribals and others should not be made to suffer needlessly at the hands of the authorities as well.

Perhaps, the most disturbing and dangerous aspect to-day is the assault on our composite culture. Ethnic and religious communities have lived together peacefully during the past millennium. We take pride in the fact that people of all castes, communities, religions and languages live together peacefully, and our culture imbibes the best from each one of them. Yet to-day, we see fault-lines developing between, and among, communities. Recent tragic events in Orissa, Karnataka, and Assam have pained all right thinking persons.

There are clashes between Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Tribal groups. An atmosphere of hatred and violence is being artificially generated. There are forces deliberately encouraging such tendencies and also spawning militant outfits who engage in irrational violence. These need to be firmly dealt with. There is, at the same time, real need for better understanding of the forces at work. There is need for better intelligence about such elements; our investigation methods need to be further refined. The process of governance needs to be strengthened and the rule of law maintained, but in a manner that brings hope and succour to the poor and the needy.

There has been considerable debate in our country on how to handle these issues of sectarian and communal violence. There cannot be two views on the fact that such attempts must be thwarted with the full power of a state that is intent on protecting its democratic foundations. Those who threaten our communal harmony, integrity and peaceful coexistence deserve very deterrent punishment.

In doing so, we need to be bound by the framework of our Constitution and the political democratic process that enables us to reconcile differences through dialogue. We should not be provoked to suspend or subvert a democratic process in the search for solutions. A democracy has a special onus in that it has to ensure protection of civil liberties even as it seeks to enforce law and order. It has also to be done in a manner that respects the Constitutional bounds of a federal polity. This creates the complexity that we need to collectively address and resolve and I urge you honorable members to put forward your suggestions on how this may be done.

It is not by accident that these incidents are increasing in our society. As members of the National Integration Council, we need to collectively consider whether short-term narrow political ends are driving some of us to encourage forces of divisiveness that are today threatening the unity of our people. A country like ours which is defined by co-existence of different ethnic groups and religions and cemented by an acceptance of a pluralistic and tolerant framework cannot afford the promotion of such divisiveness for narrow partisan ends.

There is no politics that has a right to assert over the rights of the common man or the integrity of our nation. The responsibility of the political leadership is to preserve and promote this pluralistic and democratic framework. I would like to appeal to all political parties to bear in mind this fundamental political responsibility that enjoins on each one of us to ensure that we not only preserve but promote this unique confluence of cultures that India has become for the many past centuries.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, when he convened the National Integration Conference in 1961, wanted to find ways to respond to the evils of communalism, casteism and other forms of regional, linguistic and sectarian divides. It was this Conference that set up the National Integration Council and adopted as its charter the need to maintain the pluralistic ethos of India.

I feel it appropriate to quote the declarations of objectives adopted by the Council in 1968 “the foundations of our national life is common citizenship, unity in diversity, freedom of religions, secularism, equality, justice - social, economic and political, and fraternity among all communities. The National Integration Council reiterates its faith in these values and dedicates itself to their achievement”. It is these very goals dear members that we set for ourselves as a nation, and which the National Integration Council is committed to further, and these are the values which have come under stress.

This is a time therefore, that calls upon each one of us to collectively reassert our identity as a pluralistic, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-linguistic country, whose Constitution respects and upholds the freedom of all religions. We must thwart all efforts to create divisiveness in our polity to further sectarian interests. If we do not do this, we would be failing in our duty towards the toiling masses of our country who struggle every day for economic betterment and a life of dignity. We would also be failing in our duty to build an India that provides our children the opportunities to realize their dreams.

As people engaged in public life, all of us are aware that there are multiple deprivations in our country that can be manipulated, perhaps cynically manipulated, to promote divisions in our society. Our task of nation building is still work-in-progress. Our energies ought to be singularly focused in ensuring that the commitment we made at the time of our independence “to remove poverty, disease, ignorance and the inequality of opportunity” is fully met for all our people.

We are at a point in history where the world is looking at India as a country which is successfully transforming its economy in the context of a functioning working democracy. Our economic transformation is all the more exciting because it is happening through political dialogue engendered in a democracy, where contending views clash and reconcile. The process of economic development itself has a way of creating winners and losers and it is only a democratic framework that ensures equalizing opportunities and justice for all side. Our government has sought to create a framework of inclusive development that can structurally address the divides in our society.

We have also sought to address the root causes of left extremism resulting from alienation of tribal communities through the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 and which has sought to ensure also a right to work through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.

The fast rate of economic development that we are witnessing would in itself become an antidote to several forces of sectarianism that we are witnessing today when inequality of economic opportunities become the fodder for divisive politics. At the same time, determined efforts have to be made to empower the marginalized sections to lead a life of dignity and self respect so that we become effective partners in processes of development.

The National Integration Council provides a forum where we should find the strength to rise above narrow partisanship and divisive politics. The Council needs to exert its immense moral authority on the nation collectively to ensure that the pluralistic and secular foundations of our country are nourished maintained and strengthen.

We need to isolate and fight those who promote divisiveness. The common citizen in this country wants peace and harmony in society. The common citizen of this country is not bigoted but generous and compassionate and nurtured in a tradition of tolerance intrinsic to all faiths that nourish our composite cultures. Let us collectively endeavour to preserve these values which the people of our country cherish.

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