Message on the occasion of the Republic Day Celebrations - 29 January 1999

I bring to you the greetings and best wishes of the Government and the people of India on the occasion of the Republic Day of India. Ambassador Naresh Chandra, who is away in India, also sends you his greetings.


Today, as we celebrate the 49th Anniversary of the Indian Republic at Martin's Crosswinds, India is indeed at the crossroads as Congressman Gary Ackerman has just said. In many ways, this Republic Day is unique for India and for Indo-US relations. The Constitution of India which gave the people of India a democratic, secular state, is entering its 50th year of existence. During this half a century, the constitution withstood many challenges as the values of an ancient civilization found expression in the words and deeds of a modern nation. The constitution remained flexible to accommodate the changes that the people of India desired, but it also remained steadfast in its fundamentals. The constitution is our anchor that keeps us steady in times of turbulence, our lodestar as we explore new horizons. We must bow our heads in obeisance to those who gave India such a resilient and vibrant constitution.


Today, we are also on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Mahatma Gandhi. In a few hours from now, the world will once again reverberate with the words the Mahatma uttered as he fell to an assassin's bullets - "Hey Ram". Mahatma Gandhi's life and teachings have a particular poignancy this year as on his day of martyrdom this year, a serving Prime Minister of India, for the first time in history, will observe a fast, the most potent technique that Mahatma Gandhi used, in a symbolic gesture to restore peace and communal harmony in India. I am sure that Indians and friends of India will join the Prime Minister in this fast to express our solidarity with him. As a nation, we 'in India are ashamed of what the President of India called "a monumental aberration" from the traditions of tolerance and humanity of India, the murder of a Missionary who worked for the sick and the poor in India and his minor children. Gladys Steins spoke like Christ himself when she sought God's forgiveness for the criminals and pledged to continue the work her husband had begun. We have a duty and a responsibility to help her to complete the task that her husband left unfinished. We cannot do less on this day of Mahatma Gandhi's martyrdom. Let me assure you, however, that these stray incidents do not detract from India's secularism just as criminal incidents in other countries do not detract from their integrity and democratic identity. I hope our friends will see these events in their proper perspective.


Today has yet another significance. We are right in the middle of crucial talks between India and the United States on the nuclear issue which brought Indo-US relations to a new low last year. Just this morning, President Clinton spoke to Prime Minister Vajpayee on phone 'in this connection. We need to wish both sides well as they seek to harmonize India's security needs with the non-proliferation concerns of the US. This is no occasion for a discussion on the nuclear issue. But it must be stated that a billion people cannot be denied forever the level of nuclear technology necessary for their security when others in happier circumstances and friendlier neighborhoods consider it essential to maintain numerous nuclear warheads for their own security. The people of India must feel secure that their sovereignty, territorial integrity and liberty are safe. We seek nothing more, nothing less.


I should note that these celebrations today are entirely at the initiative of the Indian American community. You have brought to this hospitable land the essence of an ancient civilization and the aspirations of a modem nation. Your future lies here and the sweat of your brow shall secure for yourselves prosperity, liberty and equality for all time to come. Just as your life and work in the US enhance the prestige of India and Indo-US relations, a positive image of India in the US and cordial Indo-US relations contribute to your own standing in this country. A distinguished Indian American physician, Dr. Raj Bothra was honored with the award of Padma Shri by the Government of India this year. Dr. Bothra is representative of a large number of Indian Americans who combine in themselves exceptional abilities and extreme compassion for the less fortunate in India.


The presence among us of the Chairman of the India Caucus in the US Congress, Congressman Gary Ackerman and other members of the Caucus, is testimony to the significant role the Indian community plays in this country. I take this opportunity to congratulate Congressman Ackerman once again on his election as the Chairman of the India Caucus. He is one of India's best friends on the Hill. He has tirelessly worked for the cause of India and the Indian Americans and has made a major contribution to Indo-US relations. I have no doubt that the Caucus will flourish under his dynamic leadership. The Embassy will work with him and his colleague Congressman Jim Greenwood. He may find us lacking in diplomacy but not in sincerity and commitment. Let me also thank Senator Paul Sarbanes, Congressman Albert Wynn and Delegate Kumar Barve and others for their presence here and for their goodwill for India.


1998 has been a difficult year for Indo-US relations. At the same time, the year brought home to us the truth that there is no alternative to the two democracies working in unison for the sake of global security and prosperity. Given our shared ideals and aspirations there is a certain 'inevitability about improvement in Indo-US cooperation. The current review of the fundamentals of that cooperation should lead to a new stage, a new threshold, to the benefit of all of us.


Jai Hind.