Prez calls for guarding against majoritarianism
President Pranab Mukherjee. PTI File Photo
"Consultation and consensus is the best and often the only way forward," he said while lauding the speech of Prime Minister Narendra Modi after BJP scored landslide victories in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
"In a Parliamentary democracy, we must always guard against majoritarianism. Those in power must involve and take the entire nation along with them at all times," Mukherjee said in his speech at a conclave organised by India Toady here.
Appreciating Modi's felicitation speech following the resounding win, he said, "I was extremely happy to hear Prime Minister Modi speak about the need for humility in the aftermath of his party's victory in recent elections to Uttar Pradesh and other state assemblies.
"He asserted that while electoral verdicts are determined on the basis of 'Bahumat' (majority), the states will be governed on the principle of 'Sarvamat' (consensus). This is indeed India's tradition and what the large majority of our people desire to see in action."
In the speech circulated at the function, the President also chose to flag the issue of freequent disruption of Parliament, saying "I speak with some anguish because my entire public life has been defined by my role in Parliament."
"It is, therefore, difficult for me to stand and watch this fundamental pillar of Indian democracy being rendered ineffective.
"In my view, there is absolutely no justification for constant disruption of proceedings, low level of attendance, shrinking in number of days that the Parliament and state legislatures meet as well as the irresponsible manner in which important legislation, including the budget and financial proposals, get passed with hardly any discussion," he said.
Mukherjee said it was of benefit to both the ruling party and the opposition "to break this vicious cycle" of disruptions and disorderly behaviour and also made an appeal to political leadership across the spectrum to arrive at an agreement that all protests and airing of grievances will be undertaken in a manner that the functioning of Parliament and legislatures are not disrupted.
President Mukherjee also pitched strongly for values and principles enshrined in the Constitution which must be respected by all, especially those in positions of authority and in public life.
"Executive action and legislation must indeed conform to the Constitution, but going beyond that, day-to-day activities of political parties and all those associated with it must also conform to the Constitution and its provisions as interpreted by our judiciary.
"The tendency of individuals and groups taking the law into their own hands should be strongly resisted." he said.
The progress of a nation, he said, was not possible if it was not united.
"One of the principal lessons India's history teaches us is that united we stand, divided we fall," he said, citing instances from India's freedom struggle.
"It will be impossible for us to achieve the progress that we seek, if in our country man turns against man in the name of religion, caste or politics," the President said.
In the wake of debates on social media about targeting individuals for having a different opinion, the President said "Free speech and expression is not only guaranteed by our Constitution but has been an important characteristic of our civilisation and tradition."
Indians, he noted, are known to be argumentative, but never intolerant. In fact, a conclave such as this is one of the best examples of the free debate and discussion that should take place in our society, he said.
Mukherjee, whose five-year term comes to an end in July this year, spoke about the two Prime Ministers -- Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi-- with whom he had worked as the first citizen of the country.
"I have learnt a lot from the calm wisdom and great scholarship in the field of economics of Dr. Manmohan Singh, who has been a colleague and friend of long years. I have also been deeply impressed by the focused approach, energy and capacity for hard work of Prime Minister Narendra Modi," he said.
In his circulated speech, Mukherjee spoke about former prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi and also asked the political leaders to learn from strengths and mistakes of Gandhi, who he termed as his "mentor".
Addressing the India Today Conclave here, he said courage, fearlessness in action and boldness in decision making was the unique hallmark of her character.
Mukherjee said she fought relentlessly against communalism and rose above all divisions of religion, caste, community and creed during her entire life.
The President said 1971 Bangladesh war was a high point of her career as she demonstrated her leadership skills as well as ability to take tough decisions in the interest of the people and the nation.
Speaking on the topic "Such a Long Innings: Politics, Power, Office", he said excessive power and popularity led his "mentor" Indira Gandhi into making mistakes.
"The misadventure of Emergency is an example of this. It is also believed that the tendency to overcentralise decision making and the evolution of the Prime Minister's Office into a powerful centre of decision making, began from the tenure of Mrs Gandhi," he said.
The President said it would be wise for succeeding generations of leadership in India to learn from Gandhi's "strengths as well as her mistakes".
"Our system of governance is Parliamentary and not Presidential. In a Parliamentary system, all Ministers are collectively and severally responsible to the Parliament and through it, to the people.
Quoting Nehru, he said "the Prime Minister is 'Primus inter Pares' or first among equals. It is my belief that a country as complex and diverse as India can be administered only through delegation of authority."
He invited scholars and political scientists to analyse the consequences and long term implications of moving away from the classic tenets of a Parliamentary system.
Underlining the need for a strong opposition standing guard, the President quoted the first Prime Minister who had said, "I do not want India to be a country in which millions of people say 'yes' to one man, I want a strong opposition".
Mukherjee said Nehru strongly discouraged all forms of "hero worship" as he used to say "India is too large a country with too many legitimate diversities to permit any so-called 'strong man' to trample over people and their ideas."
"In Nehru's thinking, only a democratic structure which gave space to various cultural, political and socio-economic voices could hold India together. Nehru was unhappy with the banning of the Communist Party in 1948 by Dr B C Roy, then Chief Minister of West Bengal, even though he was against its policies," he said.
Mukherjee said despite the majority enjoyed by the Congress Party, he ensured that the Parliament always reflected the will of the entire people.
He said if India is today admired across the world as the largest functioning democracy, it is because of the strong leadership and liberal values provided by Nehru which enabled democracy take deep root in our country.