Rendered on August 8th 2013 in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
Text of the Speech:
To my countrymen, dignitaries…
This is not the first time I have had the good fortune of speaking about my country in a public forum like this; it’s always a humbling experience and, for that, I thank you.
What strikes me about India is not the diversity of our culture nor the extreme void between the rich and the poor, but it is is the vast deficit between the supreme nobility of character on the one hand and its complete degradation on the other.
To bridge this gap, above all, is my dream for India. My dream for India is not a material dream; our material destiny will take care of itself, I have no doubt about it.
Now you might dismiss my dream as wishful utopia. And in response to this, I will tell you, as Cromwell told his parliament, “To think in the bowels of Christ, you will be mistaken”. Amidst exclaiming acclamations parliament can say or do what it will, but the true glory of a nation, its real transformation, can only unfold within.
To accomplish this dream, I feel the most telling answer lies in one pursuit: the education of our masses. Through education comes faith in one’s own self, and through faith in one’s own self we remember that our aspirations, values and ambitions are one and the same. And I ask for education to be meted to all men and women, alike. For make no mistake, it is in the homes of educated and pious mothers that great men are born.
However, as Swami Vivekananda puts it, “Education is not the amount of information that is put into your brain and runs riot there, undigested, all your life.” What is the use of enforcing education if it does not uplift the collective moral spirit of a nation? “We must have life-building, man-making, character-making assimilation of ideas.” And to be firm with such a spiritual stamina, so to speak, is my dream for my country and my people.
Now, allow me to move to my final point. Over the last two years, we have seen a rising sense of rhetoric among civil society to uphold the fundamental rights of people. In Sanskrit — the language of ancient India — there is no equivalent for the word “rights”. The focus, in the days of yore, lay in the rightful practice of fundamental duties prescribed to each citizen, sultan and slave alike — in living by their “Dharma”. And as each citizen performed their duties, everyone got their rights (without even uttering the word “rights”).
In bringing back such a sense of personal responsibility, I dream of an India whose citizens act with iron courage, being true to their individual duties. This, in consequence, will give living momentum to the principles liberty and freedom that are the promise of our democracy.
To conclude, I am reminded of a verse from the Bhagavad Geeta; one that I have been chanting since my early childhood:
“Whatever a great Man does, all of mankind will emulate. The standards He sets in this world, will be followed by generations that come and pass.”
With this inspiration, let us manifest this dream in the bosom of our people. This is no new dream that needs to be realised. It is bred in our bones, woven in our culture. In awakening to make this dream a reality, we will be offering the greatest service not just to ourselves and to our country, but to all of mankind.
I will end with a prayer to the soil: Mother India, we have a great legacy to live up to; a legacy of great men and women who have led humanity through time, be it in Mahatma Gandhi or Gautama Buddha. We know our responsibilities. Give us the ability and courage to fulfill them.