|Madam Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak on this auspicious occasion.
Sixty-five years ago, at Independence, India awakened "to life and freedom" with a bold and ambitious vision – a vision to build a legislature on the basis of universal adult franchise. At one stroke, millions of our poor and illiterate, men and women, were given the power to change their destiny.
Let us not forget those troubled days and months and the numerous challenges the country faced then. Millions of refugees were homeless. Communal tension was rife. Destitution was rampant. Borders were tense. Resources were scarce. The very idea of India, let alone the idea of a democratic India, was being ridiculed in many quarters. When far older democracies had achieved universal adult franchise in a gradual process and after long decades of struggle, how could it become a reality in a new nation beset with such problems?
To their eternal credit and our undying gratitude, our founding fathers persisted. The poor and illiterate masses of this country have turned out to be amazingly skilled and sophisticated. Again and again, they have voted with wisdom and purpose, sometimes reaffirming their faith in those who govern them, sometimes voting them out. If there is one thread running through these past six decades, it is that people's power is felt constantly at the highest levels of governance. The aam admi has become the heart and soul of our democracy and has made it our greatest triumph.
India’s freedom struggle reinvented the idea of democracy. "My notion of democracy", said Gandhiji, the Father of our nation and the leader of our freedom struggle, "is that under it the weakest should have the same opportunity as the stronges".
It is this revolutionary idea that opened the doors of our legislatures to them and began to transform the Indian state and society. It has done so in a peaceful and evolutionary manner, founded on the time-tested principles of secularism and social justice.
Madam Speaker, we can say with pride that India’s parliament, elected by the largest electorate in the world and reflecting the aspirations of some 1.2 billion people, has grown into a great representative political institution.
I pay my deepest tribute to the Mahatma. He was no longer living when this House first met, yet he was the guiding light that made it all possible. Leading a life of spartan simplicity he dedicated himself to the last and the least. He taught us the power of love and compassion.
I pay homage to Jawaharlal Nehru, his comrades-in-arms and political colleagues too numerous to mention, whose profound belief and single-minded determination gave spirit and substance to the idea, the functioning and the nurturing of our Parliament through its formative stages.
I pay homage to Dr. BR Ambedkar who accomplished an immensely difficult task to create the constitutional frame on which our democracy stands.
I pay tribute to the peerless giants, the legendary figures, who have graced our Parliament. They built great parliamentary traditions and endowed the nation with vision and direction. Their wit and wisdom reverberate to us through the ages. As long as we keep their words and their example in mind, while facing new challenges, we will remain true to our great heritage.
We take pride in the extraordinary range and content of the laws enacted by our Parliament over the last sixty years. They give force to the Constitutional vision of change in our society. They created new rights and remedies for all our citizens and have especially protected the excluded and the marginalized. Indian social legislation has today emerged as a global benchmark.
We also gratefully acknowledge the contribution of thousands of hard working staff in Parliament who have toiled tirelessly to keep the wheels of this great institution moving efficiently.
And, we pay humble tribute today to the memory of those courageous heroes who laid down their lives in 2001 when Parliament came under attack by forces that seek to undermine our Constitutional democracy.
Madam Speaker, the journey of our great Parliament has not always been smooth or without challenge. Nor did we expect it to be. An anniversary is also a moment for reflection, to consider our role and place in the rich fabric of our nation’s life and history.
The integrity and independence of Parliament must be preserved and protected at all cost, with no room for compromise. Our conduct must rise to the highest ethical standards that were followed and demanded by the founding fathers of our nation.
It should be our resolve in the years to come to make sure that this great institution embraces not only the triumphs and joys of this land, but rids our people of the sorrows and sufferings that still blight their lives. This great institution must be not only a source of law and power, but also of justice and compassion.
Three simple words spoken by Jawaharlal Nehru encapsulate the mighty mission of this great republic –"Swaraj for all". Let us, each of us, gear ourselves up for the tasks ahead, renew and redouble our commitment and our pledge to fulfill our historic duty.