On the eve of the 70th Independence Day, President Pranab Mukherjee addressed the entire nation for the fifth time since assuming office.
When India attained independence in 1947, he said, no one believed it to survive as a democracy yet, seven decades later, one and a quarter billion Indians with all their diversity have proved those forecasts wrong.
"The strong edifice of democracy built by our founding fathers on the four pillars of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity has withstood several threats from both within and without and has grown from strength to strength," he said.
The President said in the past four years, he has seen with some satisfaction a stable and progressive democracy in full play with peaceful transfer of power from one party to another, from one government to another, and from one generation to another.
"Notwithstanding the different hues of political thought, I have seen the ruling party and the opposition coming together in pursuit of national agenda of development, unity, integrity and security of the nation.
"In the just-concluded session of Parliament, the passage of the Constitution Amendment Bill for the introduction of GST amidst non-partisan and quality parliamentary deliberations is reason enough to celebrate our democratic maturity," he said.
Against the backdrop of attacks on Dalits and minorities, President Pranab Mukherjee said these incidents should be dealt with "firmly", calling the violence against "weaker sections" that militate against the national ethos as "aberrations".
Coming down heavily on forces of intolerance, Mukherjee cautioned against "unmindful pursuit" of a divisive political agenda and polarising debates by groups and individuals, saying they lead to institutional "travesty" and constitutional "subversion".
The President also made it clear that democracy was not just about exercising choice to elect government periodically.
In his address to the nation, the President asked authorities and Institutions of State Power to adhere to the "Maryada"(dignity) in discharge of their duties as established in this ancient Indian ethos.
"In these four years, I also saw with, some disquiet, forces of divisiveness and intolerance trying to raise their ugly head. Attacks on weaker sections that militate against our national ethos are aberrations that need to be dealt with firmly," he said.
The President said the collective wisdom of our society and our polity gave him the confidence that such forces will remain marginalised and India's remarkable growth story will continue uninterrupted.
"The great tree of liberty requires constant nourishment through the institutions of democracy. Disruptions, obstructionism and unmindful pursuit of a divisive political agenda by groups and individuals lead to nothing but institutional travesty and Constitutional subversion.
Polarising debates only deepen the fault lines in public discourse," he said.
Mukherjee said the Constitution has clearly defined the duties and responsibilities of every organ of the state.
"It has established the ancient Indian ethos of "Maryada"as far as Authorities and Institutions of State power are concerned. The spirit of the Constitution has to be upheld by adherence to this "Maryada" by the functionaries in the discharge of their duties," he said.
The President said India will grow, only when all of India grows.
"The excluded ones have to be included in the development process. The hurt and the alienated have to be brought back into the mainstream," he added.
The President said for all the challenges faced by the country, he has a great belief in our innate and inherent capacity as an ancient country whose soul and 'jijivisha- the will to live and excel' can never be suppressed.
"Various forces external as well as internal have tried to smother this soul of India over millennia but every time this soul has emerged more powerful and more glorious having neutralised, assimilated and incorporated every challenge that it faced," he said.
Making a plea for promoting scientific temper and questioning unscientific beliefs, the President said, "We must learn to challenge the status quo and refuse to accept inefficiency and slipshod work. In a competitive environment, a sense of immediacy and some impatience is a necessary virtue."
"We often celebrate the achievements of our ancient past but it would be wrong to rest on our laurels. It is much more important to look to the future. It is time to join hands to cooperate, innovate and advance," the President said.
Mukherjee said India's focus in foreign policy will remain on peaceful co-existence and harnessing technology and resources for its economic development.
"Recent initiatives have enhanced energy security, promoted food security, and created international partnerships to take our flagship development programmes forward," he said.
The President said there will be no stepping back on our "neighbourhood first policy".
"Close bonds of history, culture, civilisation and geography provide the people of South Asia with an extraordinary opportunity to carve out a common destiny and to march together towards prosperity. This opportunity must be without delay," he said.
Expressing concerns over global terror activities and radicalisation in the name of religion, the President said, "these forces apart from killing innocent people in the name of religion also threaten to disturb geopolitical divides, which could prove disastrous for world peace.
"The inhuman, mindless and barbaric modus operandi of such groups have been visible in France, Belgium, United States, Nigeria, Kenya and closer home in Afghanistan and Bangladesh recently," Mukherjee said.
He said these forces now pose a danger to the entire comity of nations and the world will have to fight them unconditionally and in one voice.
The President said our Constitution is not only a political or legal document but also an emotional, cultural and social contract.
Citing famous speech of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru "tryst with destiny", the President said it is true that in a nation's history, moments come when we step out from the old to the new, when the soul of a nation finds utterance.
"But it is also important to realise that such moments are not strokes of luck that come upon us by surprise. A nation can and must strive to create such a moment."
"We must take destiny in our own hands to build the India of our dreams. Backed by strong political will, we have to create a future which will economically empower six hundred million youth, build a digital India, a start-up India, and a skilled India.
"As we build an India of hundreds of smart cities, towns and villages, we must ensure that they are humane, hi-tech and happy places leading to the creation of a technology-driven but compassionate society," he said.
Mukherjee said in this machine age, the only way to survive this is to acquire knowledge and skills, and learn to innovate.
"We as a nation must nurture creativity, science and technology. Here, our schools and institutions of higher learning have a special responsibility," he said.
The President said India has had remarkable growth in recent times, often growing above eight percent per annum over the last decade.
Mukherjee said International agencies have acknowledged India's status as the fastest growing major economy in the world and recognised major improvements in indices of ease of doing business and logistics performance.
"The start-up movement and the innovative spirit of our young entrepreneurs have also attracted international attention. We must build on our strengths so that, this lead can be sustained and furthered. A normal monsoon this year gives us reason to cheer, unlike the past two years when below normal rains created agrarian distress," he said.
The President said the fact that despite two consecutive drought years, inflation has remained below six percent and agricultural output has been stable, is a testimony to our nation.
(With PTI inputs)