President Pranab Mukherjee reminded the press of its role at the launch of a commemorative edition of the Congress party publication National Herald. The Rashtrapati Bhavan has carried only some excerpts from the opening part of the delivered speech.

Here’s the full text.

It is indeed a privilege for me to be present amongst you on this happy occasion and receive the first copy of the relaunched National Herald. Today a soldier and a witness to the national freedom struggle has risen again.

National Herald began its journey during the dark days of colonial years. That was an era where the subjects refused subjugation as their fate. They aspired to be free citizens of a free land; masters of their own fate.

National Herald gave voice to the freedom movement, but more than that it gave voice to the hope and aspirations of every Indian. They represented a cause, the cause of freedom. Commercial considerations were always secondary and almost non-existent.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, for every Indian from that era aspirations for freedom were not just about a change in the political stewardship, but aimed at creating a new India for every Indian.

Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad and many others, through the paper, gave a voice to the freedom struggle. The British shut the paper for three years on August 15, 1942, in the context of the Quit India movement, which was already launched by Indian National Congress on August 8, 1942.

The immediate cause and so called provocation for the rulers of that time to come heavily on National Herald was because of the editorial which appeared in the paper titled “Vande Mataram”. Its editor Rama Rao was imprisoned for writing against the inhuman conditions of the freedom fighters in prison.

It resumed it publication on November 11, 1955.

The paper marked its return with an editorial titled ‘Jai Hind’ written by Panditji himself. The editorial represented the yearning of every Indian to break free from the chains of slavery. Below the masthead of National Herald, Pandit Nehru had inscribed the words “Freedom is in peril, defend it with all your might”.

These words may have been written in 1939, but has its application and relevance for all times whenever freedom is in danger and truly in peril.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty and freedom and that vigilance can never be passive and active vigilance is the need of the hour. Our struggle for freedom was given by the Mahatma’s commitment to truth and non-violence. In a world where might was considered right, Mahatma told the world that the means was as important as the end.

Our struggle then was freedom against oppression from foreign rule. Our struggle today is to defeat the demons of poverty, hunger and disease, in line with the transformational characteristics of our Constitution, which was just launched. An instrument for administering the country, but which was the most significant magna carta of social economic transformation...

A secular, democratic Constitution

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, even as the Prime Minister, was in the habit of writing to his friends very frequently. In the course of correspondence, immediately after the completion of the drafts of the Constitution, where rights were granted to the people of India, his friend of Cambridge University, earlier the British foreign secretary, who later become the British Prime Minister, commented to him, “You are always a visionary, you always dream and we are afraid, your dream will come”.

Even in February 1952, in the Times in London, when the general elections were being held, the headline was “India took a giant leap?” – with a question mark. The same Sir Anthony Eden, who had written to Nehru in 1950 that “you are a dreamer”, later on described the Constitution as not just a document for transacting administrative business, but a magna carta of socio-economic transformation of a huge population that is called India.

What we have achieved in the last 70 years, surely, is not merely some steel plants or dams or some power houses, it is much more than that. When we adopted the Constitution – please shut your eyes, and keep in your memory when you are old enough, when you are young, please turn the pages of history – a blood bath was taking place, communal violence was on an unprecedented scale. Lord Mountbatten, the last governor general and viceroy, then of course, he ceased to be viceroy and was just a governor general, observed that:

“I have deployed 50,000 armed forces in the Western Border of India, partitioned India, but could not prevent the tremendous and fierce communal riot, but on the Eastern sector, I have peace because there is a one-man boundary force, Mahatma Gandhi, who is travelling in the villages of then East Bengal” (now Bangladesh). 

In that context, to have a secular democratic Constitution was not easy. It was not merely a theoretical proposition and Panditji, himself concurred. When he was once asked, after the general elections of 1957, that, “Mr Nehru, you have surpassed the average tenure of any British Prime Minister except Sir Robert Walpole, What do you feel has been the most challenging job to you in more than 10 years?” His reply was, “To convert a highly religious country into one with modern and secular beliefs.”

Therefore in these 70 years, as I was telling, the question is not merely economic development or regional prosperity or some statistical satisfaction from where have travelled to where, but it is much more, to my mind. As an ordinary man of this country, I feel a gigantic task has been achieved to handle a country of 1.3 billion people, when in your daily life 200 Indian languages and dialects are being used, in some part of the country or the other all the major religions of the world are being practised, in some part of this country, major ethnic groups in huge conglomeration – Dravidians, Caucasians, Mongoloids – are living in a single country under one Constitution, under one flag in peace and harmony.

Are we vigilant enough?

Therefore, we shall have to ponder over, pause and reflect when we read in the newspaper or see in the television screen that an individual is being lynched because of some alleged violation of law or not. When mob frenzy becomes so high and irrational and uncontrollable, we are to pause and reflect, are we vigilant enough? I am not talking of vigilantism. I am talking of: “are you vigilant enough, proactively, to save the basic tenets of our country”, because we cannot afford it. Posterity will demand an explanation from us – what have you done?

I have raised this question to myself when I read it in the pages of history as a young student as how is a battle which was sure to be won in Bengal – Battle of Plassey 1757 – was lost by traitors; and as a result 190 years of colonial rule was established on this country. It is a fact that after winning the battle of 1757 and a few battles in south, battle of Arcot – 1, 2 and 3 within 1774, around 17 years of Battle of Plassey – British power became truly paramount power in India and they ruled for 190 years. Therefore, I am not going to suggest that there is any apprehension of the old type of colonialism to come back, but the colonialism has always taken its different face with the change of history: Exploitation, dominance by one power to another power...

Why, in these 70 years India persistently – I am sorry, this is a forgotten word today, but during our days and I had that privilege of presiding that ministry twice – why Panditji spoke of non-alignment, Panchsheel, developmental co operation between south and south? Because in one of the recent publications of the United Nations developmental index, it is found that despite 22 years of signing WTO [World Trade Organisation] agreement, solemn commitment of the world leaders to bring trade equalisations and abolish non-trade barriers, there are 80 least-developed countries. Their indebtedness has increased – that was the rationality for which we talked of south-south cooperation, for which we talked of India must be on the right side of the people, of the awakening of new countries deserving freedom from the colonial rule and their exploitation.

How many years it took Namibia to be independent? How many years it took South Africa to be free from apartheid. I had the privilege of signing the agreement with the South Africa after Mandela came to power – and apartheid was abolished in the early 90s – as Commerce Minister of India because the government of India under Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, was the first country to stop international trade with South Africa at the cost of having a serious damage on our international trade account.

Therefore, these 70 years were eventful years for India. And as I believe and I am particularly glad to have opportunity to receive the re-launched National Herald because papers like this and almost every paper, when I see around, I find many distinguished editors and media persons. I would appeal to them: Your duty, your job has never come to an end and it will never come to an end. Because of you, democracy survives, people’s rights are preserved, human dignity is maintained, slavery is kept away, you will have to keep your vigilance. Sorry, I am using these words repeatedly but I do not find any alternative appropriate word because I do believe that citizen’s vigilance and intellectuals’ vigilance, newspapers’ and media’s vigilance can act as biggest deterrent to the forces of darkness and backwardness.

Ladies and gentlemen I would not like to take more of your time, I will just conclude by just repeating the history because very recently I had privilege and opportunity to speak in a function organised by the press club that is in Kolkata “on 200 years of India’s newspaper”. The first newspaper was published in any Indian language in Calcutta on June 15, 1817. Long before that first newspaper in India was published in 1780 from Calcutta.

And in these 200 years of Indian journalism, I found how with tremendous efforts, during those days whether it was Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s Kesri, Lala Lajpat Rai’s Tribune, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru’s National Herald, or Surendra Banarjee’s Nation – every newspaper, editor, journalists boldly faced oppression and whenever there was any attempt to curb the freedom they were the first to fight. Therefore, we shall have to keep in mind what was said by one eminent journalist that my motto is nothing but “Freedom first, freedom now and freedom for ever.”

Jai Hind!