New Delhi: Deprecating "endemic" protests against corruption, President Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday warned that the country would be "flirting with chaos" if its democratic institutions come under an assault.
In the backdrop of anti-corruption protests of Anna Hazare and Ramdev, the new President minced no words in underlining the dangers of undermining institutions like Parliament which he described as "the soul of the people, the `Atman` of India".
Addressing the nation on the eve of 66th Independence Day, Mukherjee said, "anger against the bitter pandemic of corruption is legitimate, as is the protest against the plague that is eroding the capability and potential of our nation.
"There are times when people lose their patience but it cannot become an excuse for an assault on our democratic institutions," he said without referring to either Hazare or Ramdev.
The President, a veteran parliamentarian, said the institutions were the visible pillars of the Constitution and if they crack, then the idealism of the Constitution cannot hold.
"They are the interface between principles and the people. Our institutions may have suffered the weariness of time; the answer is not to destroy what has been built, but to re-engineer them so that they become stronger than before. Institutions are the guardians of our liberty," he said.
Asserting that legislation cannot be taken away from legislature, Mukherjee said the people have a right to express their discontent.
"But we must also understand that legislation cannot be wrenched away from the legislature or justice from the judiciary.
He said when authority becomes authoritarian, democracy suffers; "but when protest becomes endemic, we are flirting with chaos."
"Democracy is a shared process. We all win or lose together. Democratic temper calls for dignity of behaviour and tolerance of contrary views. Parliament will live by its own calendar and rhythm.
"Sometimes that rhythm sounds a bit atonal; but in a democracy there is always judgement day, an election. Parliament is the soul of the people, the `Atman` of India. We challenge its rights and duties at our peril," Mukherjee said.
He said he was saying this not in a spirit of admonition but as plea for greater understanding of existential issues that lurk behind the mask of the mundane.
"Democracy is blessed with a unique opportunity for redress of grievance through the great institutions of accountability -- free elections," Mukherjee said.
Calling for vigilance on the frontiers that has to be matched with vigilance within, Mukherjee said "we must restore the credibility of those areas of our polity, judiciary, executive and legislature where complacency, exhaustion or malfeasance may have clogged delivery."
Referring to economy, he said from an annual growth average of one per cent in 1947, it has climbed to eight per cent over last seven years.
"If our economy has achieved critical mass, then it must become a launching pad for the next leap. We need a second freedom struggle; this time to ensure that India is free for ever from hunger, disease and poverty," he said.
He quoted his pre-eminent predecessor Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan to say "Economic progress is one of the tests of democracy."
Talking about the present spell of drought and floods, the President said inflation, particularly food inflation, remained a cause of worry.
"While our food availability remains healthy, we cannot forget the plight of those who made this possible even in a lean year; our farmers. They have stood by the nation in its need; the nation must stand by them in their distress," he said.
The President also touched upon the importance of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in his speech and said this forum, created 27 years ago, is an apt answer for fighting against terrorists.
"...SAARC must acquire vigour to fulfil its mandate," he said and added that it should also act as a major instrument in the common war against terrorists.
"Great success is possible by international cooperation. All SAARC nations must cooperate to bring to justice those who believe in mayhem against innocents. There is no other way towards peace on the subcontinent," he said.