Dear graduating students, I congratulate you on your successful completion of this degree. You are among the small number of privileged students to have received your education from a university in India. This is the time to use that education to make India a better country for every citizen.
As I stand here, I see an extraordinary India. Never before in the last several hundred years did India receive respect from the world community like she does today. Never before did the world think India had something to contribute to the global community other than spices.
Our economy is growing at 6% to 7% this year. India has become the software development centre of the world. Our foreign exchange reserve has crossed the $400 billion. Investor confidence is at a historic high. Portfolio investments from abroad and foreign direct investment into India are growing faster than ever. Our entrepreneurs are receiving huge funding from venture capitalists. Our stock exchanges are doing pretty well. According to the Forbes magazine, the number of billionaires in India is increasing.
All these look fine. However, we have another India steeped in deep poverty, illiteracy, ill health and malnutrition, and without hope and confidence in the future, for no fault of hers. We have the largest mass of illiterates in the world. About 350 million Indians cannot read or write. More than 200 million Indians do not have access to safe drinking water. About 750 million Indians do not have access to sanitation facilities that you and I are used to. We have consistently been among the lowly-ranked nations in the HDI (Human Development Index). Not surprisingly, we rank high on corruption. Our record in primary and higher education is not very good.
I can go on and on. Worst of all, we have created an environment where bright, idealistic and confident youngsters who are ready to take on the world in their twenties become despondent, diffident, self-seeking and unhappy individuals by the time they reach 40. My young friends, this is not how a great nation is built. Maintaining the idealism, confidence, hope, energy and enthusiasm of every Indian is mandatory if we have to make good on the dreams of the founders of this nation.
Be that as it may, there is hope, today, for us to solve these problems. For the first time in 300 years, we have an economic environment that engenders confidence that we can indeed overcome our poverty and create a better future for every Indian. If we try hard, we can wipe the tears off the eyes of the poorest of poor child, as Mahatma Gandhi wanted. I do see significant changes around me that tell me that the youngsters of today will dispel the darkness around us and make this a better country for every one of us – the urban and the rural, the rich and the poor, and the educated and the not-so-well-educated.
A rare opportunity
I have the hope that, 30 years from now, this country will have a set of 50-60 year-olds who will be different from the current 74 year-olds like me. They will be full of confidence, hope and faith in the country. They will create a developed India, an India without problems of poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and sicknesses. They will get respect wherever they go for their accomplishments and for the accomplishments of this country. At that time, every nation would want to trade with us. Foreigners would come to study here.
Let me warn you that such a transformation will not be an easy task. However, that rare opportunity has been given to you. We were not given such opportunities when we were students in the 1960s.
Coach Kabir Khan and those wonderful women hockey players in the movie Chak De India provided the recipe for bringing such a glory to India. The recipe is simple to enunciate but hard to follow. We have to identify as Indians first, and rise above our affiliations with our states, religions and castes. We have to raise the confidence of every Indian by aggressively working towards freedom of faith, freedom of expression, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. We must accept meritocracy and enthusiastically play the role we are best suited to. We must embrace discipline to strictly follow every step required for success.
Such adherence to discipline in following processes is what will lead to consistency in success. We have to put the interest of our nation ahead of our personal interests, subordinating our egos and biases. We have to constantly compare ourselves with countries better than us and learn from them. We have to shun apathy and become proactive in solving the problems of our society rather than expecting others to do it.
Our governments have to become more citizen-friendly and remove all obstacles to entrepreneurs to create larger and larger number of jobs. Our economic policies have to be less populist and more based on expertise. We have to shun jingoism. Finally, we have to put in tremendous hard work and make short-term sacrifices for long-term glory. We have to be optimistic and courageous. Leading by example is the most powerful advice you can give to anybody.
While it is easy to drape ourselves in our national flag and shout “Mera Bharat Mahaan” or “Jai Ho”, it is difficult to practise the values I have described. This is what patriotism is and what will bring the best out of every citizen.
I have immense faith and optimism in every one of you – the youth of this country. I pray that God gives you the strength, resolve and most importantly, character, to make India succeed. The hope of this nation rests on you. It is unlikely that we will get such a fantastic opportunity any time in the foreseeable future again. Please seize it and succeed. Have fun. A happy mind will achieve great things.