Ladies and Gentlemen,
I deem it to be my privilege to address this august audience being concerned with peace, harmony and happiness of the humankind. I appreciate the Pranab Mukherjee Foundation and the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development for organizing this national conference on such an important theme which is not only having contemporary relevance but shall remain relevance for times to come. I learn that the organizers have decided to organize a series of such conferences across India. In my opinion, deliberation and debate on this theme was long overdue. In fact there is a strong need to build a movement around the theme of the conference. This would be possible only by bringing this theme into public debate and discourse.
It is often said that happiness is a state of mind and there are numerous anecdotes in history which support this viewpoint. However, the state of mind and happiness are not independent of the socio-cultural, religious, economic and political environment. In the Indian context it is all the more complex as India represents an ancient civilization and a composite culture. The very idea of India is revolving around ‘unity in diversity’ and ‘diversity in unity’. The Constitution of India binds the citizens of India into a secular, liberal and democratic value system. It guarantees equality, liberty and freedom to every citizen of the country. It should always be remembered that India is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual country. However, there are certain forces which are taking advantage of such diversity and pose a threat to the unity of the country.
In a multi-religious society, communal harmony is very important for citizens to lead a life free from fear, anxiety and uncertainty. It reminds me one of Rabindranath Tagore,s famous poem (‘Where the mind is without fear’) from Gitanjali in which he wished to have a truly free country where every person is fearless and has a sense of self dignity. Attempts at communal polarisation create an atmosphere of fear, anxiety and uncertainty. There are various types of economic and non-economic factors which give rise to fears, anxieties and uncertainties. We must diagnose the underlying reasons behind such a scenario and move forward to translate the conflict and anger into peace, harmony and happiness. That would require transparency, honesty, probity and truthfulness in public life.
Tagore wanted a nation where people are truthful. Significantly, truth is fundamental to all the religions. Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh Religion, says, “Truth is high but higher still is truthful living”. Mahatma Gandhi did not want any division among people based on their caste, creed, colour and religion or baseless superstitions. He firmly believed that communal harmony was essential for the freedom and growth of India. ‘Manas ki jaat sabhe eke pehchanbo’ is the underlying message of the Sikh religion.
Sir Muhammad Iqbal (widely known as Allama Iqbal) very aptly said, “Mazhab nahi sikhata aapas mein bair rakhna”. Mahatma Gandhi was convinced that masses do not want to fight, if the leaders do not. Unfortunately, the use of religion, caste and other such factors by the political parties to advance their political interests and capture power can create an atmosphere of hate and division among religious and caste groups. Such an environment poses a serious challenge to the peaceful transition and transformation. It is in this context that the saner elements in the society need to unite and counter the evil designs of those forces that are bent upon to disrupt the peace, harmony and happiness.
The well-functioning institutions of governance are a necessary condition to maintain peace and harmony. Besides, the institutions must be impartial, objective and should function for the benefit of all sections of society. Unfortunately, integrity of major institutions faces many challenges. The deterioration of the institutions adversely affects the functioning of various organs of the state and in eroding their credibility. Such a situation can create chaos in society, economy and polity. A nation without well-functioning institutions is bound to fail.
To maintain secular character of all the institutions (Judiciary, Executive and Legislatures) is a pre-requisite for peace and harmony and a violence free transition and transformation. Eventually, it is the responsibility of the political and religious leadership, civil society, intelligentsia and the media to uphold the Constitution and the integrity of institutions. When the institutions start deviating from a just discharge of their constitutional responsibilities and knowingly or unknowingly fall prey to the extra-constitutional powers and non-state actors then there is a danger of violence entering into the process of transition and transformation.
In fact equality, liberty, freedom, fraternity and secularism are the vital pillars of Indian democracy. The nurturing and strengthening of these pillars is the necessary condition even for imagining a peaceful and harmonious transition to transformation.
Indian society, economy and polity have experienced multidimensional tensions and strains since independence. The country has displayed a remarkable capacity to cope with these strains. The country is still grappling with multi-pronged socio-cultural and politico-economic challenges. Poverty, inequality, unemployment, illiteracy and malnutrition present serious challenges. It necessitates effective public policy interventions for the empowerment of the people for making them effective partners in development. This is because benefits of growth in a market driven economy do not trickle down automatically.
Economic growth and development is a necessary condition but not a sufficient one for having peace, harmony and happiness in the society. The problem arises when necessary condition has the seeds of promoting discontent and clash of interest among different socio-cultural and economic groups. Empowering the underprivileged and marginalized people with education, skill and good health is an important means to make the people partners in growth and development. This would require well-functioning public funded educational and health delivery systems. The government would also have to regulate privately owned educational and health delivery systems so that the benefits could reach to the people at the margin. This would have to be supplemented with effective public policies aiming at equitable distribution of benefits of growth and development.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Food Security Act and Right to Education Act are some of the initiatives taken by the government in the past for providing benefits to the people at the margin. More and more such measures, along with an effective implementation of policies and programmes are required so that the people at the margin could live a dignified and peaceful life. This would certainly improve their happiness index.
The sustainable development goals (SDGs), set by the UN for 2015-2030, are aimed at achieving peace, harmony and happiness for all and have a smooth transition to transformation. Happiness is the ultimate goal of mankind and it goes beyond the economic growth and development. The physical quality of life and UNDP’s human development index (HDI) is a reflection of this reality. It would be useful to prepare state wise indices of happiness in India.
Environment is another area which has a direct bearing on every aspect of life. However, the consumption-led growth model and ever-increasing human greed are giving rise to a reckless use and misuse of scarce natural resources. This, in turn, is posing a serious threat to environment and sustainability of growth and development and is resulting into an ever-increasing conflict between man and nature. The growing incidence of natural calamities and disasters and their lurking fear are a constant threat to the happiness of mankind as it can disturb peace of mind and harmony.
Let me conclude by saying that if we wish that India remains liveable for our future generations then transition to transformation would have to be equitable, peaceful and harmonious.