President Pranab Mukherjee stressed on Friday the need to guard against “majoritarianism”, saying those in power must take the entire nation along at all times.
Also, he said disruptions in Parliament are unacceptable as nobody has the moral authority to postpone the business of the House.
“Consultation and consensus is the best and often the only way forward,” he said, lauding the speech of Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the 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,” he said at a conclave organised by India Today in Mumbai.
In the speech circulated at the function, the President chose to criticise frequent disruptions of Parliament.
“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.”
Mukherjee appealed to the political leadership across the spectrum to arrive at an agreement that all protests will be done in a way that doesn’t disrupt Parliament sessions.
The President pitched for values and principles enshrined in the Constitution, which must be respected by all, especially those in positions of authority and in public life.
“The tendency of individuals and groups to take the law into their own hands should be strongly resisted.”
In the wake of debates on social media about targeting individuals for having a different opinion, he said free speech and expression is not only guaranteed by the Constitution but has been “an important characteristic of our civilisation and tradition”.
Indians, he noted, are known to be argumentative, but never intolerant.
Mukherjee, whose five-year term comes to an end this July, spoke about the Prime Minister Modi and his predecessor Manmohan Singh.
“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. I have also been deeply impressed by the focused approach, energy and capacity for hard work of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” he said.
The President also extolled the “personal touch” former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee imparted to his interactions with opposition leaders.
Terming Vajpayee as a leader in the Nehruvian mould, the President said he had many sterling human qualities and always combined courtesy with political sagacity.
“He successfully led an NDA coalition comprising different parties with leaders holding divergent views as Prime Minister for over six years.”
Mukherjee recalled an incident when Vajpayee came over to him in Parliament and requested for going soft on defence minister George Fernandes, who was ailing.
“I was startled and told him, ‘Prime Minister, you could have sent a word to me. I would have come to you’. Atalji responded, ‘This is a small matter. We are all colleagues’.”
The President said he was touched by this personal gesture and concern for the welfare of Fernandes.
“I immediately stopped my attacks on the floor of the House.”
The President said it would not be wrong to credit India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru with establishing parliamentary system of governance in the country.
It was a “tremendous risk” to take any step in the circumstances prevailing then, but Nehru took the plunge and as a result India is a vibrant democracy today, he said.
Mukherjee noted that as a sign of vibrant Indian democracy, in the 2014 parliamentary elections, 66% of “800 million people of India voted to elect 543 members to the Lok Sabha”.
He said the Indian democratic process was still unfolding.
The former Congress veteran recalled another former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi.
“Indira Gandhi had a strong influence over me. The high point of her political career was her effective and almost decisive role in the liberation of Bangladesh. She was an effective Prime Minister who could utilise her power to further the principles she believed in,” he said.