Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday “India first” was the government’s only religion and the Constitution was its scripture, but refrained from making a direct reference to the ‘intolerance’ issue in his Parliament speech.
He ruled out any review of the Constitution and reached out to the Opposition by saying that the ruling side does not believe in forcing decisions using its majority but in working through consensus.
The PM also praised Jawaharlal Nehru for his greatness in accepting a point made by an opponent during a Parliament debate and congratulated Congress chief Sonia Gandhi for her speech on the Constitution.
Speaking in the backdrop of the Opposition’s onslaught over ‘intolerance’, Modi said diversity was India’s strength and it needed to be nurtured.
“For the government, the only ‘dharma’ is ‘India first, the only ‘dharma granth’ (holy book) is the Constitution,” the Prime Minister said in his nearly 70-minute reply to the debate during which Opposition members raked up the issue of ‘intolerance’ and questioned his silence over the issue.
He said India was a diverse nation and the Constitution held the power to bind all its citizens. “Maintaining the sanctity of Constitution is the responsibility” he said.
Highlighting the importance of a healthy discussion in Parliament, Modi said the spirit of discussion in the Lok Sabha is “us” and not “me” or “you”.
Modi thanked everyone present in the House for the interest shown during the debate on the Constitution. “Some people have this wrong idea, maybe out of habit, that Prime Minister will respond to everything in the end. But I am speaking now, expressing my views, just as any other person here did,” he said.
He also praised Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan for her speech during the special sitting of the House to discuss commitment to the Constitution. “I believe your speech will be an inspirational document in parliamentary history. I congratulate you,” the PM said.
He was speaking during a discussion on commitment to the constitution as part of 125th birth anniversary celebrations of Bhim Rao Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Constitution.
“26 November (Constitution Day) celebration doesn’t reduce the importance of 26 January... Our constitution has dignity for Indian and unity for India,” Modi said in his speech. “Man cannot be immortal but constitution has to be,” he said quoting a framer of the American constitution.
On the first day of the winter session of Parliament on Thursday Modi had indicated that he will address the opposition’s concerns saying that the government is ready for debates but all parties must work for the nation.
“The bitterness today reminds how our great leaders worked together to make the constitution,” Modi said on Friday.
The month-long winter session is expected to see fireworks with the government determined to push through its ambitious legislative agenda of 38 bills – including the landmark goods and services tax reform.
But opposition parties are adamant on discussing a wide range of subjects like drought, price rise, declining industrial production and exports and especially use the growing chorus over rising intolerance to corner the government. Recent weeks have seen intense back-channel negotiations with several rounds of meetings between top leaders and exhortations by the Speaker to let the House run without disruptions.
The last monsoon session was washed out by a Congress-led Opposition demanding the resignation of senior BJP leaders mired in controversies and the government is keen to use this session to further its reform agenda.