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|July 25, 2002||
K R Narayanan
'The freedom to err and correct is the essence of democracy'
The President has been described as a part of Parliament. But my experience of Parliament is as a Member of Lok Sabha and as chairman of the Rajya Sabha. It was a thrilling experience, one of the most precious experiences of my life. It would have been impossible for me to discharge my duties as vice-president and then as President without the experience I gained in both Houses of Parliament. To be felicitated on this occasion by the Houses of Parliament is a unique experience for me. I am grateful for all this and the wonderful kindness shown me [by members] throughout my life as the President of the Republic.
Indian Parliament is a remarkable institution. The British never thought that we would ever be able to work a parliamentary institution. Lord Northbrooke, one of the great members of the House of Lords, said in the early 1930s, "To think that India with all its vastness and its differences in religion, languages and castes would ever able to work a parliamentary institution is the wildest of dreams that has entered the mind of man." It is this view of the British lord which you [members] have defied and this Parliament is an embodiment of the refutation of this principle that India is not able to work a parliamentary system. In fact, former prime minister of Britain Sir Anthony Eden had said later and I quote him, "Of all the experiments in government, which have been attempted since the beginning of time, I believe that the Indian venture into parliamentary government is the most exciting. A vast subcontinent is attempting to apply to its tens and thousands of millions a system of free democracy. It is a brave thing to try to do so. The Indian venture is not a pale imitation of our practice at home, but a magnified and multiplied reproduction on a scale we have never dreamt of. If it succeeds, its influence on Asia is incalculable for good. Whatever the outcome, we must honour those who attempt it."
This is a magnificent tribute by the British prime minister. We can be proud of this nation, our democracy and our Parliament. But that devolves upon us a heavy burden. Every Member of Parliament is a representative of this great institution and the great people embodying the aspirations and expectations of our people. Mahatma Gandhi as early as 1917 had said about Parliament of India. He asked, "What then would our Parliament do if we had one? When we have it, we have it, we would have a right to commit blunders and the freedom to err and the power to correct errors is one definition of swaraj." The freedom to err and to correct is the essence of democracy. But of course the errors would have a limit as the correction would have to be adequate.
We represent the people of India, most of whom are poor and illiterate and therefore while we sit in Parliament we have to ponder about our responsibilities and ensure that this Parliament has responded well to the aspirations of the people and the needs of our people. We are a democracy and our reputation in the world and our reputation with our own people lies in the fact that it has been possible for us to run a successful democracy. The essence of democracy is to be the welfare of the people and this Parliament has tried its best to do so.
I would like to quote Mahatma Gandhi again, part of the quotation which I have already read out. In 1917 he said that among all other corrections what we need is to clean our public life and, if you permit me to say, to give adequate representation to women in our legislatures. In fact, the cleaning of public life and representation of women in legislatures go hand in hand. This question of cleaning the public life has occupied the attention of this Parliament and I would appeal to you to carry this process forward so that the people's faith in Parliament is fortified. A bill is already before Parliament to give representation to women in the legislatures. I hope this will be dealt with expeditiously by you. The larger significance of this measure pointed by Mahatma Gandhi is worthwhile to bear in mind.
I recall when I was fighting for elections, the pathetic faith that the ordinary voter has placed in a Member of Parliament. It was really moving to see that, looking into their eyes, I could see that they were voting for someone from whom they have expected a lot. This expectation has to be fulfilled and how you behave in Parliament and what you say in Parliament would be noted by not only the millions of our people who are the voters but millions of people outside the country. Thus a heavy responsibility rests on every parliamentarian. Whatever they do, whatever they say would have an impact and in fact on the millions of our own people.
It has been a great honour to me to have been elected to the post of the President of India. On this occasion I should like to express my sincere thanks to you all for this faith you have reposed on me. I hope I have at least partially met your expectations. When I leave Rashtrapati Bhavan, I carry with me memories of not the life there, but of my interaction with the Members of Parliament and this great institution of people. What is most memorable to me is this interaction.
I once again thank you all for the affection and for the trust and faith you have placed in me and I wish you best of luck in fulfilling your duties to the people of India and this great nation.
Outgoing President K R Narayanan delivered this speech at the farewell function hosted by the speaker of the Lok Sabha in the Central Hall of Parliament on July 22.
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