“My dear young friends,
I am delighted to be with all of you today to share with you a vision for India for the coming decade, 2020 to 2030. I am glad to be amidst the finest brains in our country at this eminent institution that has made an immense contribution to the country through its pioneering research and innovation.
My dear young friends,
The coming decade is a crucial one for India. It is in many ways your decade. The decade of the youth.
Let me remind you that India’s population is among the youngest in an ageing world.
By 2022, the median age in India will be 28 years. Our strategy and vision for education for the coming decade will decide how successful we will be in converting our demographic advantage into a rich dividend.
The coming decade is also a crucial one for the world. It is a decade that will have to see a lot more acceleration on the development front in order to meet the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
India has also made the achievement of the SDGs a priority.
We are making steady progress on several fronts.
But we have a long road ahead of us.
Each one of us must decide what kind of journey we wish to undertake. We must ask ourselves what our vision for the coming decade is.
In a large measure, it is your vision, the vision of the youth, the millennials, that will drive India’s growth and development.
India of today is a resurgent India driven by your dreams and aspirations. It is shaped by your actions and initiatives.
We can collectively build an India we can be proud of. An India that is prosperous, inclusive, peaceful and harmonious. A country that would play a central leadership role in world affairs because of its cultural capital and economic strength. An India that revitalizes itself and proves to be an oasis of human values, a guiding light or ‘Vishwaguru’ to the world.
The path to this grand dream however, is full of challenges.
There is still quite a sizeable gap between urban and rural areas. There is income inequality, illiteracy, poverty and gender discrimination in some regions.
But India of today is also a land of unprecedented opportunities.
More children than ever before are attending school. Access to higher education has increased. The Skill India and Start Up India initiatives are opening up new possibilities.
We must now turn our attention to the quality dimension.
Good quality education is a powerful determinant of the progress of any nation.
There is a pressing need to improve our education system along the crucial dimensions of quality, accessibility, affordability, inclusiveness, equity and gender parity so that we do not lose the competitive edge that our demography gives us.
It is equally important to skill our youngsters, not just job-skills but also life-skills.
The world of work is changing very fast. New ways of working, new ways of collaborating, new ways of measuring success are emerging.
In this world of rapid transformation, we must be agile. We must be eager to learn. We must be ready to absorb, adapt and innovate.
Our education must be holistic integrating different disciplines. Our world view must be based on India’s timeless values we have inherited – of empathy, harmony, tolerance, non-violence and peaceful co-existence.
We have to keep our windows and doors open, as Mahatma Gandhi had said. We should welcome fresh ideas from across the world but we should refuse to be blown off our feet. And we have a strong, universal culture that has been nurtured over the last few millennia. We have a firm ground to stay on.
Along with rootedness and drawing sustenance from the best in the Indian tradition, you must reach out for the stars. You should not be complacent. You should not settle for mediocrity.
You should make the pursuit of excellence a daily effort in whatever you do.
India, as a nation has had a long tradition of excellence, excellence in literature, in art, in architecture, in administration, in education.
You are the inheritors of this grand legacy and you must take this forward.
India’s beloved former President, Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam once said that “excellence is a continuous process and not an accident”.
Mediocrity is no longer an option here. The Fundamental Duties, which I believe is one of the most important components of our Constitution, requires citizens “to strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavor and achievement”.
The pursuit of excellence requires discipline, commitment, equanimity, focus, courage and constant self-evaluation and course-correction.
I believe that pursuit of excellence and utmost dedication and devotion to one’s duties and responsibilities is the highest form of patriotism.
Being students of IIT Madras which has a reputation for excellence, each one of you must make it your personal goal to achieve excellence in whatever you do and promote excellence in the workplace you might be contributing to.
As scholars who have received intellectual nourishment from the portals of this sanctuary of scientific and technological endeavor, you must also make innovation your mantra.
A number of problems that India faces today need creative, innovative, out-of-box solutions. The need for continuous innovation is very well reflected in government’s constant efforts to create an innovation-friendly atmosphere in the country through programs like the Atal Innovation Mission.
There is a need to develop a culture of constant innovation in this country.
Disruptive but affordable solutions using Artificial Intelligence for agriculture and healthcare, drones to coordinate disaster management and relief work, water conservation, water treatment and recycling technologies are needed and must emerge from institutions like yours.
Innovation is intrinsically linked to Research and Development Activities.
Indian universities need to focus more sharply on constantly enriching the research culture.
A sector that urgently needs innovation today is agriculture. I was born in a farming household myself and therefore it is a subject that is very close to my heart.
We have to make agriculture in our country profitable and sustainable.
The rural transformation we are waiting for is slow in coming. We must accelerate it. We cannot have inclusive growth if rural areas are neglected or the rural farmers and artisans are famished.
We need to come up with realistic, cost-effective and efficient solutions.
India is very well known for resourceful, intelligent, low-cost, hyper-local innovations. Agricultural scientists and technology experts must work with the farmers to evolve new solutions to improve the farmers’ quality of life.
Another area that needs innovations is environmental conservation.
Our cities are slowly becoming unlivable due to congestion and pollution, our water bodies are contaminated and our natural resources are steadily depleting due to thoughtless, reckless exploitation.
We must apply all our knowledge resources to ensure a clean India and provide affordable and clean energy, encourage responsible consumption and production and take concrete steps towards climate action.
My dear young friends,
Growth and development are important. As we move steadily by strengthening our economic fundamentals towards a higher GDP, mere economic power cannot create a world we want.
We must have a focus on protecting the planet and the environment as I just mentioned.
In addition, there has to be a focus on shaping a responsible citizenry and develop a deep sense of humanism in our thoughts and actions. We must focus on being better human beings.
We must draw inspiration from our ancient cultural heritage that has celebrated diversity, embraced plurality and stood for inclusivity. Share and care have been the core of Indian philosophy.
Let me stress here today that quantitative growth in terms of GDP is meaningful only if we can make every citizen a partner, a stakeholder and a beneficiary of the development process.
The government’s mantra of ‘Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas’ is indeed a clarion call to usher in a new era of inclusive development.
Poverty and deprivation anywhere is a threat, an affront, to prosperity everywhere.
We must bridge the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and create a nation where everyone has the opportunity to lead prosperous, peaceful lives and reach their full potential.
We must also learn to celebrate India’s greatest asset, its tremendous diversity.
Deeply rooted in this great diversity are time-tested bonds of unity.
We must keep these bonds strong so that we may preserve India’s unique identity and show the world the path towards harmonious co-existence and celebration of differences.
Swami Vivekananda said, "A brave, frank, clean-hearted, courageous and aspiring youth is the only foundation on which the future nation can be built".
My dear young friends,
Before I conclude, let me point out an advantage that you all have which makes you uniquely equipped to lead India into a new era of transformation.
You have grown up in a world where technologies have revolutionized the way we communicate, the way we interact with each other and the way we respond to events.
The speed and the reach have increased phenomenally.
We can reach out to more people very swiftly.
The world is therefore shrinking bringing us closer. But some lament that we are not doing enough to give the essential human touch to our relationships. There is also a growing tendency to use technology irresponsibly spreading fake information or hate messages.
The moral compass of our society that is essential to enhance common good and well being seems some times to be losing relevance. We have to resurrect our foundational values and try to become better human beings who care about our fellow beings and contribute to our own welfare and the welfare of others around us.
I do hope you will be able to bring about this synthesis between a fine appreciation of India’s past and a forward-looking dynamism to be global leaders.
I hope you will script a growth story in the coming decade that will have the best elements from our own heritage and world’s heritage. After all, that’s what the ancient sages have said in the Vedas: “Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides”.
I wish you all the very best in your future endeavours- academic, professional and personal.