Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday termed incidents of “atrocity” as “a blot” on the nation and said no questions can be raised over the patriotism of 125 crore Indians in remarks that came amid a raging debate over intolerance in the country.
In a broad-brush speech covering a range of issues, Modi also struck a conciliatory note in the Rajya Sabha by acknowledging the role of Congress leaders in drafting the Constitution and quoted India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru while calling for “harmony” between the two Houses.
His pitch for unity and an end to “atrocities” came against the backdrop of a Muslim man being killed in Uttar Pradesh over cow slaughter rumours, two Dalit children being burnt alive in Haryana and actor Aamir Khan facing flak for comments on intolerance.
Incidentally, the Lok Sabha was witnessing a discussion on intolerance when Modi was replying to the debate on the Constitution in the Rajya Sabha.
“Nobody can raise questions over the patriotism of 125 crore citizens of the country,” he said in reply to a debate on “Commitment to Constitution” in the Rajya Sabha. “Nobody needs to produce a certificate of patriotism again and again.”
The PM’s comments came a day after a group of people were told to leave a cinema hall in Mumbai for failing to stand up for the national anthem , an incident that stoked the heated debate over intolerance with many artists and intellectuals joining in.
“If there is any incident of atrocity against anybody, it is a blot on all of us, for the society as well as the nation,” said Modi. “We should feel the pain and use it to ensure such things do not happen.”
The opposition has been trying to corner the government on the issue of intolerance in the Parliament’s winter session following episodes of violence in parts of the country over cow slaughter and attacks on rationalists who questioned religious doctrines.
People must rise above issues of religion and sects, Modi said, while he paid homage to the Constitution makers and assured that his government was committed to the ideals of Dr BR Ambedkar.
“The mantra of unity should be in focus...There are many excuses to be divided, but we must look for opportunities to be united,” he said.
Modi peppered his 40-minute reply to the debate with quotes of philosophers, statesmen and leaders including former President S Radhakrishnan, Max Mueller, Edmund Burke and US author Granville Austin.
Calling for cooperation between the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, Modi invoked Gopalaswami Ayyangar, a member of the Constitution drafting committee and leader of Rajya Sabha, to highlight that in case of a dispute the view of the lower House will prevail.
Quoting Ayyangar, the PM said “the other House (Rajya Sabha) should not be an obstruction in the way of framing laws. There cannot be any bigger guide for this House (Rajya Sabha).”
With several key legislation like the GST bill stuck in the Rajya Sabha where the ruling NDA is in a minority, the Prime Minister reached out to its members saying the upper House should work by rising above the question of partiality.
“I give more importance to Rajya Sabha, the House of Elders,” he said. “There cannot be any discussion where there are no Elders and Rajya Sabha has its own unique role.”
Modi said even Nehru had advocated harmony between the two Houses. “It is important on how we should run this House... It is very important. The nation is looking at us.”
Underscoring the strength of the Indian Constitution drafted by Ambedkar, the PM said it has been the guiding spirit for the nation which keeps India bound together.
He also shared with the Rajya Sabha members his idea to strengthen the unity of the country through a scheme, “Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat”.
“Enough fighting has already taken place, even between regions,” he said.