15th August 1997 - Telegraph
Or here for 14 August 1997
No icons, only their echoes
President appeals for people’s crusade against corruption
Assam rebels strike again

New Delhi, Aug. 14 

The differences stood out in stark contrast. As India awakened to its second tryst with destiny, commemorating the golden jubilee of the first, it was obvious that beneath the facade of the midnight function in Parliament’s Central Hall, everything else had changed beyond recognition.

“A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends...”, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had said at the same place at precisely the same time 50 years ago and was repeated in a taped extract last night for midnight’s children and those born thereafter.

But as members of both houses of Parliament, the new President of the republic, former MPs, survivors of the Constituent Assembly, distinguished guests from abroad, ambassadors and high commissioners resident in New Delhi and a host of others who have influenced India’s destiny for half a century gathered last night in the circular hall where the Constitution was framed, it was not an occasion to step out from the old to the new.

Nor was it an end of another age, as Nehru had described the dawn of August 15, 1947. The new had already replaced the old so thoroughly and nowhere was it as obvious as in the Central Hall where President K.R. Narayanan, addressed the commemorative gathering.

It is wrong to describe the midnight gathering in Parliament as a re-enactment of the session in the Central Hall which ushered in freedom for India.

The golden jubilee session was held in thrall by the voices of two men who were not present at India’s tryst with destiny — Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. It was the relay of Netaji’s message to the nation which drew the largest and the most spontaneous applause from those gathered in the Central Hall. It was clear the vast majority of new generation MPs were hearing Netaji for the first time: even when they were not clapping, they vigorously responded in body language to what he was enunciating.

Freedom fighters naturally dominated the midnight session in 1947. Rajendra Prasad, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee...their list is long.

There were freedom fighters among those in the Central Hall tonight. But nothing underscored the change that had overcome India’s political landscape as their complete absence from the podium.

It was also a sign of the times that Narayanan’s pointed references to corruption were received by those gathered in the Central Hall like water off a duck’s back. But the President’s references to Ambedkar drew loud applause.

At the end of it all, only one ritual had not changed: the rendering of Sare Jahan Se Achcha and the national anthem. It was Sucheta Kripalani who sang these 50 years ago. This time it was Lata Mangeshkar’s turn to recall Iqbal’s tribute to the nation.    

New Delhi, Aug. 14 

At the stroke of the midnight hour fifty years on, President K.R. Narayanan set up the nation for another tryst: with a destiny free of corruption.

“It seems the people have to be in the forefront of the fight against corruption....A social movement or a widespread national movement is needed to cleanse the system,” the President said, addressing the historic midnight special session of Parliament to mark the golden jubilee celebrations of Independence.

A full house of MPs listened poker-faced as the President opened fire on the “sheer opportunism and valueless power politics” that had displaced “principles and idealism” and the “criminalisation of politics”.

Choosing this momentous occasion to voice his feelings on the kind of politics being practised in the country, Narayanan said: “I am painfully aware of the deterioration that has taken place in our country and in our society in recent times. The traditional cultural and spiritual values which have been the mainstay of our civilisation seem to be losing their grip over society and politics”.

The words he chose to describe the degree of corruption that pervaded political activity were telling. He said: “Corruption is corroding the vitals of our politics and our society.”

The President’s outburst comes at a time when politicians are enraged over increasing instances of judicial activism. Only yesterday, MPs had come to blows in the Lok Sabha over the Patna High Court’s observation that the situation in Bihar merited imposition of President’s rule.

Narayanan’s comments also come after several politicians have been linked to scams over the past two years and the high drama in Bihar over Laloo Yadav’s refusal to quit. Political observers described the speech as one which has not evaded the single most important issue facing the nation and has confronted it directly.

The speech must have had the endorsement of the Prime Minister, who himself translated Narayanan’s speech into Hindi. I.K. Gujral could not have translated the speech unless he agreed with Narayanan’s outburst against corruption. Narayanan quoted Mahatma Gandhi to drive home his point: “Corruption will be out one day, howeversomuch one may try to conceal it: and the public can, as it is its right and duty, in every case of justifiable suspicion, call its servants to strict account, dismiss them, sue them in a law court, or appoint an arbitrator or inspector to scrutinise their conduct as it likes.” Narayanan explained that the kind of social movement he envisaged need not be negative.    

Guwahati, Aug. 14 

Assam militants again targeted the railways to strike terror on the eve of Independence Day, killing seven train passengers in a bomb blast and cutting off North-east’s rail links with the rest of the country.

Two coaches of the passenger train were blown up in North Lakhimpur district this morning, when extremists detonated a remote-controlled bomb. Seven persons were also injured in the blast on the metre-gauge line at Chumoni, 12 km from the Salonibari railway station. There are several defence units near the blast site.

A Northeast Frontier Railway spokesperson said the two rear coaches of the Rangapara-Murkongselek local took the impact of the blast. The victims were in the last coach.

The bomb attack came hours after 15 wagons of a cargo train carrying oil derailed on the sabotaged tracks between Dangtol and Basugaon in Kokrajhar district. The incident cut off North-east’s rail links with the rest of the country. On Monday, passengers of the Guwahati-Delhi Rajdhani Express had a narrow escape, when a blast missed the train by barely five seconds.

After today’s incident, chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta requested the Union railway ministry to increase the strength of the Railway Protection Force (RPF) in the state. He felt “additional RPF personnel were required to protect the tracks”.    


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