Prime Minister’s Speech in Hyderabad
"I am delighted to be here today to participate in the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of your esteemed publication, Prajashakti. Twenty five years is not a long time in the life of a newspaper, although you have a much longer history before becoming a newspaper. I wish you a long future and many years of purposive and socially useful journalism. I compliment all those who have been associated with this newspaper on this occasion.
I must recall here the pioneering role and the intellectual leadership provided in the early years of Prajashakti’s publication by one of Andhra Pradesh’s greatest sons, a patriotic Indian, Comrade P Sundarayya. Under his towering intellect, and guided by his social commitment, Comrades Basavapunniah, Hanumantha Rao and Balagangadhar Rao shaped Prajashakti and through it influenced intellectual discourse in the State.
Andhra Pradesh has been fortunate to have had several generations of patriotic and forward-looking leadership both in Government and in Opposition. I have just unveiled the statue of our revered former Rashtrapathi, Shri Neelam Sanjiva Reddy. He was a freedom fighter, a political visionary, a keen administrator, a highly admired Parliamentarian and Speaker and a respected First Citizen. He showed his deep and abiding commitment to his people, especially the farming community, when he chose to return home to his native Kurnool district after completing his tenure as President. Till he breathed his last, he took keen interest in the welfare of farmers.
In celebrating the silver jubilee of your newspaper today you are focusing on the social responsibility of media. This is an extremely important issue, especially in a developing democracy like ours. I do believe that to be relevant and meaningful, any publication must have a social conscience. A newspaper without a conscience is like a human being without a soul.
As Indians we should feel proud of our vast, varied and vibrant media. This is a national asset and a pillar of strength for our democracy which has been made richer by the plurality of our free press. In a diverse nation of a billion people, there are bound to be differences in taste and opinion. Differences in attitude and ideology. Differences in linguistic and political preferences. The plurality of our society is reflected in the diversity of our media.
As my friend Amartya Sen has written in his new book on "The Argumentative Indian", skepticism and pluralism are two important defining elements of our national culture. The media must be imbued by both these characteristics. Scepticism is healthy as long as it does not breed cynicism but contributes to informed debate. Pluralism is intrinsically valuable because it breeds creativity by creating space for a contest of ideas.
I am aware that your publication takes a definite political view. That is the role of any publication associated with a political party or movement. Our democracy enables each one of us to hold an opinion and purvey it. Voltaire had said, "I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it." This is the essence of a liberal democracy. No other political system gives us this liberty. We must recognise this intrinsic value of democracy and preserve it with care. It is a tribute to our democracy that a partisan publication is in fact given the freedom to be partisan!
Although I do regard myself as a liberal in terms of social philosophy, I do recognize that Marxism captures two very important aspects for progress of a nation. Firstly, it attaches great importance to sustained and rapid accumulation of capital which is absolutely essential for tackling the problem of mass poverty in the framework of a rapidly expanding economy. Secondly, its commitment to social justice, particularly to ensuring that the fruits of growth are shared equitably and that the burden of socio-economic change is not placed disproportionately on the shoulders of those who do not have the necessary ability to bear it. These insights of Marxism must guide any development policy design.
I have always believed in the importance of a free press. It is the ultimate check against the tyranny of authority. More importantly, it is a mirror that enables people in authority to get a continuous reality check. This remains an important role for the media, despite the increasing pressures of commercialization. The fact that democratic India could avoid famines, Amartya Sen has suggested, was almost entirely due to the role of the media in sensitizing authorities to the urgency of providing relief. We have seen how the media continues to play this constructive and socially responsible role here in Andhra Pradesh, when it alerted the government to agricultural distress. Last year, when the tsunami struck our coastal regions, I had said that our free and energetic media is, in fact, our best early warning system.
I do sincerely believe that there is no grievance, howsoever extreme and desperate, that cannot be redressed through democratic means. I was recently heartened to hear the radical balladeer Gaddar say on a national television channel that the killing of innocent people does not help win a cause. This is an important liberal principle. Our democracy allows us the freedom to espouse our cause and win people over to our point of view.
I have said this to the Hurriyat in Kashmir and to the ULFA in Assam and I have said it to the Naxalites in Andhra Pradesh – that there is no grievance that cannot be redressed through democratic means and through dialogue. Every political group that claims to represent the interests of people, or of a section, must test its popularity at the hustings, in the polling booth. Go ask the people to vote for you and support you. Come to the legislature and enact the laws that you wish to see in place. By all means, use the media to convey your views. By all means, use the legislature to convert them into policies. In a democracy the power of the people flows through the ballot box, not from the barrel of a gun.
I do reiterate our commitment to providing a humane government. However, there will be some grievance or the other at all times. Our democracy gives everyone the right to articulate that grievance in a democratic manner. However, no civilized society can tolerate violence and extremism. No one has the right to take the law into their own hands. No society can pardon those who kill innocent people. Faced with such terror tactics, the Government will have no other option than to fight such groups and their ideology of hatred. Extremism of any form, based on any divisive ideology, cannot be tolerated in any civilized, democratic society.
I do recognise the need for humane and just governance, for honest, efficient and transparent governments. People must constantly renew their trust in our political, administrative, judicial and other institutions. The social compact between the people and those in authority must be constantly renewed. The reform of institutions of governance is an important means to enable such renewal of trust. I do wish to see a new wave of reforms in government, including in the functioning of our police and security forces and our judiciary.
Our Government is committed to such reforms. Our police and security forces are doing a valiant job in preserving law and order. However, mistakes are sometimes made. We have to ensure that our police machinery functions in a humane and just manner and with respect for human rights and values. I am happy to say that the Chief Justice of India and our senior judges are very supportive of a range of reforms in our judicial system. We are considering the introduction of Local Courts at the lowest level to ensure speedier dispensation of justice. Hearing in these courts will be as close to the cause of action as possible and their procedures will be simple. Local Courts will be an integral part of the judiciary at the lowest level and will help in delivering cost-effective, speedy justice. We are committed to bringing down the pendency of cases in courts and to reducing the time taken in deciding cases. A series of steps are proposed to be taken in this regard.
I do believe that the years ahead will be an exciting time to be in India, as we undertake the task of realizing the many commitments that we as a people have made to ourselves from the time of independence of our country. We have yet to fully realize our vast latent developmental potential. I now feel confident in asserting that we have never before been better poised to take advantage of our potential as a people.
At this historical juncture, when we seek to create a modern, progressive, inclusive and dynamic society, built on a rapidly growing economy, I venture to think that it is a good time to be in your profession. The media has a crucial role in tracking this process—and I dare say, guiding it as well, through your reportage and your criticisms. While politicians do not necessarily relish criticism and since we cannot do without the reportage, we look forward to the continued interaction between government and media that characterises a healthy democratic society.
I hope your newspaper will strengthen the processes of our democracy and empower our citizens so that they can take more informed decisions in life. But, the information and opinion you purvey should be credible, balanced and well researched. I also urge you to invest in your professional staff. Indian journalism must aspire to compete with the best in the world. Its professional standards must be benchmarked against the best in the world. I hope you will aim high. I wish you well in your endeavours."