Pranab gender-equality pitch

New Delhi, Jan. 25: On the eve of Republic Day, President Pranab Mukherjee asked the nation this evening to stay away from "cynicism" and said the country would be transformed in the next ten years.

One possible reason behind his remark could be concern at the repeated eruptions of popular anger over issues such as gender crimes and corruption.

"There may be some reason for concern, but none for despair. If India has changed more in six decades than in the six previous centuries, I promise you that it will change more in the next ten years than in the previous sixty. India's enduring vitality is at work," Mukherjee said in an address to the nation.

He stressed the generational changes that would bring the youth to the top and hoped that economic empowerment of the poor and weak would bridge the gap of social inequality.

The fatal bus gang rape in Delhi that triggered an unprecedented public outcry appeared to have unnerved the President.

"We wound the soul of our civilisation when we brutalise a woman," he said. "The time has now come to ensure gender equality. We can neither evade nor abandon this national commitment, for the price of neglect will be high. Vested interests do not surrender easily. The civil society and the government must work together to fulfil this national goal."

He added: "The brutal rape and murder of a young woman, a woman who was a symbol of all that new India strives to be, has left our hearts empty and our minds in turmoil. We lost more than a valuable life; we lost a dream. If today young Indians feel outraged, can we blame our youth?"

But the President cautioned against cynicism. "Cynicism is blind to morality. We must look deep into our conscience and find out where we have faltered," he said.

"The solutions to problems have to be found through discussion and conciliation of views. People must believe that governance is an instrument for good and for that, we must ensure good governance."

Mukherjee, who has himself been a systems man, has often expressed concern at the weakening of institutions and democratic processes ' a concern that has perhaps been deepened by street protests seeking instant solutions.

He said the youth were in the vanguard of change. "The future belongs to them. They are today troubled by a range of existential doubts. Does the system offer due reward for merit? Have the powerful lost their dharma in pursuit of greed? Has corruption overtaken morality in public life? Does our legislature reflect an emerging India or does it need radical reforms?" he said.

"These doubts have to be set at rest. The anxiety and restlessness of youth has to be channelled towards change with speed, dignity and order."

The President had a note of caution against reckless economic reforms too. "As we move ahead on the path of economic reforms, we must remain alive to the persisting problems of market-dependent economies," he said.

"Many rich nations are now trapped by a culture of entitlement without social obligations; we must avoid this trap. The results of our policies should be seen in our villages, farms and factories, schools and hospitals. We must act immediately; otherwise the current pockets of conflict, often described as 'Naxalite' violence, could acquire far more dangerous dimensions."

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