The passage of a few days may have diminished the “newsworthiness” of President Ram Nath Kovind’s address to the nation on the eve of Republic Day ~ but not the deep significance of his message. Such occasions are never used to send out political signals, yet their corrective nature should never be ignored by the national leadership or deemed a mere philosophic homily. For, as was the case last week, the nation’s first citizen subtly articulated the concerns of his people in the run-up to what could be a bitter election: yet he did so without compromising the grace and dignity of his high office or by pointing any accusing fingers. It was a presentation (not the clumsy Doordarshan production) in keeping with the standard set by his just Bharat Ratna-conferred predecessor, the venerable Pranab Mukherjee. While, as was only to be expected, Mr Kovind highlighted the achievements of the government he nominally heads, he steered clear of the ugly, exaggerated, comparisons which the Prime Minister so relishes. It was the generally positive nature of the language he used that actually highlighted the negative aspects of the current political discourse. Though “development” is stressed by the Modi government, Mr Kovind firmly reminded the people that development cannot be attained without a salute to the spirit of “inclusiveness and pluralism” which rests on a “tripod of diversity, democracy and development”. It was more than reassuring that he stressed that “this country belongs to each of us and to all of us, every group and every community, every region and every identity…. India’s pluralism is its greatest strength”. Was that not cocking a snook at polarisiation, and a slap in the face of those (ministers included) who keep insisting that those who think differently should “go to Pakistan”.
Demanding that people perform their sacred duty of voting a few months hence, he said “our country is at a key juncture. In some respects it is as critical and formative a period as the late 1940s and early 1950s. Decisions and actions of today will shape the India of the remainder of the 21st century. As such, this “ is not a once-in-a-generation moment, it is a once in a century moment”, and he reminded those who insist that achche din have dawned that “there are still waters to cover, still gaps to fill and still tears to wipe.” During an election year every Presidential utterance is scrutinised for “loaded” comments but on January 25 Mr Ram Nath Kovind confirmed he had “graduated” to the palace on the hill. Later this week critics might take a contrary position after the President launches the budget session of Parliament: they would do well to note that the Presidential address to the apex legislature are government-drafted documents ~ on the eve of Independence Day and Republic Day Rashtrapatiji “speaks for himself”.