New Delhi: President Pranab Mukherjee on Friday warned that institutions of democracy were under stress and urged people and political parties to take correctives from within.
In his address to the nation on the eve of the 69th Independence Day, the president cautioned against vested interests chipping away at social harmony to erode many centuries of secularism and said the country's neighbours must ensure that their territory is not used by forces inimical to India.
The president said parliament has been converted into an arena of combat rather than debate and it was time for serious thinking by political parties.
"Our institutions of democracy are under stress. Parliament has been converted into an arena of combat rather than debate. If the institutions of democracy are under pressure, it is time for serious thinking by the people and their parties. The correctives must come from within," he said.
Mukherjee's remarks came against the backdrop of the washed out monsoon session of parliament that ended on Thursday. The session, which witnessed suspension of 25 Congress MPs for "wilfully obstructing the business of the house", was marked by acrimonious and personalised exchanges between members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress.
The president said the roots of democracy were deep but the leaves had begun wilting and it was time for renewal.
"On the fertile ground laid by our constitution, India has blossomed into a vibrant democracy. The roots are deep but the leaves are beginning to wilt. It is time for renewal," he said.
The president said questions have to be asked so that the country's finest inheritance is preserved.
"If we do not act now, will our successors seven decades hence remember us with the respect and admiration we have for those who shaped the Indian dream in 1947? The answer may not be comfortable, but the question has to be asked," he said.
In a veiled reference to Pakistan, he said India willingly offers its hand of friendship but it cannot stay blind to deliberate acts of provocation and a deteriorating security environment.
India, he said, was the target of vicious terrorist groups operating from across the borders.
"Except the language of violence and the cult of evil, these terrorists have no religion and adhere to no ideology. Our neighbours must ensure that their territory is not used by forces inimical to India," Mukherjee said.
The president said India's policy will remain that of zero tolerance for terrorism and it rejects any attempt to use terrorism as an instrument of state policy.
"Infiltration into our territory and attempts to create mayhem will be dealt with a strong hand," he said.
The president said the country's rise will be measured by the strength of its values, its economic growth and also equitable distribution of natural resources.
"Our economy promises much hope for the future. The new chapters of the 'India Story' are waiting to be written. 'Economic reforms' is a work in progress," he said.
Noting that the country has recovered to 7.3 percent growth in 2014-15, he said benefits of growth must reach the poorest of the poor much before they go to the rich.
"Our policies must be geared to meet the 'Zero Hunger' challenge in a foreseeable future," he said.
The president said India was a complex country of 1.3 billion people, 122 languages, 1,600 dialects and seven religions.
"Its strength lies in its unique capacity to blend apparent contradictions into positive affirmations," the president said.
The president said India's democracy was creative because it is plural, but diversity must be nourished with tolerance and patience. "In an age of instant communication through ever improving technology, we must remain vigilant to ensure that the devious designs of a few never overcome the essential oneness of our people," he said.
"For both government and people, the rule of law is sacrosanct, but society is also protected by something greater than law: humanity," he said.
Expressing concern over the quality of education, he said the "guru-shishya (teacher-pupil) tradition is recalled with legitimate pride.
"Why then have we abandoned the care, devotion and commitment that is at the heart of this relationship?" he asked.