Presidential Elections 2002

Statement by Dr. (Capt.) Lakshmi Sahgal

I have accepted the request of the Left parties and allies to contest the election to the office of the President of India. I consider this election to be a political contest, taking place at a very critical juncture of our great country’s history.

I firmly believe that our freedom struggle became a mighty peoples’ movement because it was able to unite people with diverse religious, linguistic, caste backgrounds. My personal experience with the INA under the slogan "Unity, Faith and Sacrifice" confirms this. Unfortunately, such unity today appears more fragile. Our dreams of the freedom struggle remain unfulfilled in many aspects as a result. I have joined this political contest to make my contribution to reforge such unity and carry forward the struggle that I have waged all through my life.

The President of India is vested with the executive power of the union to be exercised in accordance with our Constitution. The Indian Constitution provides to the President authority that has to be exercised and executed in consonance of the decisions of the Union Cabinet. It shall be my endeavour to urge the government of the day to uphold the sanctity of the Constitution and to translate its lofty ideals into practice.

For many of us in my generation which fought for the country’s freedom and independence, the Indian Constitution reflects the encapsulated vision of a secular democratic republic. Today, all the four foundational pillars of our Constitution, viz., secular democracy, economic self-reliance, federalism and social justice — are severely stressed. All patriots are called upon to meet these challenges.

The recent happenings in Gujarat have numbed the nation. It shall be my endeavour within the framework of our Constitution to protect its secular democratic foundation. Secularism for us in India is no western concept borrowed in modern times. Way back in the 3rd century B.C, Emperor Asoka commanded in his edicts, "Whosoever honours one’s own sect and condemns other sects, out of devotion to one’s own sect, intending to glorify it, in acting thus injures his own sect the more."

Federalism is the key feature of our Constitution designed to strengthen the unity and integrity of India. In the past, there had been several complaints about the erosion of this federal spirit and essence of our Constitution, concretely, the misuse of Article 356. It shall be my endeavour to safeguard the federal content of the Constitution and prevent the misuse of this provision which is now subject to judicial scrutiny.

Our people’s victory against colonial rule and consequent independence raised high hopes and expectations. During the course of half a century of freedom, we as a country, have made many advances and achieved many successes. But the pace and depth of these have been halting and at time inadequate to meet the needs of our billion-strong population. The fruits of development and of scientific and technological advances have benefitted few and deprived many. Serious problems such as poverty, illiteracy, lack of access to potable drinking water continue to plague us. Some of us, even after attaining freedom continued the struggle for achieving our economic self-reliance which is endangered by recent policies.

Likewise, the goal of social justice, despite many advances, still eludes us. The obnoxious practices of caste oppression continues in many parts The battles against social oppression needs to be strengthened. As well as the struggle against gender oppression and for the empowerment of women.

The Indian Constitution, defines the oath that the President will take on assuming office. It states, "….and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law and that I will devote myself to the service and well being of the people of India."

Indeed, to the best of my ability I shall live up to this solemn pledge.

I am seeking the support of the electoral college at a time when a grave situation has arisen in the country on all fronts. Like we fought for India’s freedom, a different but equally important effort is required, synergising our pluralistic society of rich diversity to rise in unison to meet the challenges and to safeguard and strengthen what we, the people of India, have built and achieved since independence.