President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to the joint session of Parliament steered clear of the controversies that have dogged the NDA government in recent times. As he was speaking, scores of students from across the country were gathered at Jantar Mantar, barely a kilometer away, seeking justice for Rohith Vemula, the Hyderabad university dalit research scholar who committed suicide.
Among them were many students from Jawaharlal Nehru University, who have been agitating against the arrest of their students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar on sedition charges.
These incidents have triggered a national-versus-anti-national debate in the country. The Presidential speech, which is drafted and vetted by the government, made no direct or indirect reference to it.
Mukherjee ended his speech saying how the nation owes a great debt to freedom fighters. He quoted Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose as saying that “nationalism” is inspired by the highest ideals of the human race, Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram”.
“Let us embrace those ideals as we stake our claim on the future,” he said. The sudden citation of Netaji’s words on nationalism, however, left his audience guessing about the context.
There was no reference either to the raging controversy over the issue of reservation or discrimination against dalits, though Mukherjee did speak of the government’s focus on “the poor and the backward” and how it was celebrating Dr BR Ambedkar’s birth anniversary.
Referring to the NDA government’s motto of sabka vikas, he stressed that backward sections of the society are “equally valued” and are genuine stakeholders in the country’s progress.
The President urged lawmakers to adopt the “spirit of cooperation and accommodation” but his speech skipped any mention of contentious legislations such as the Constitution (Amendment) Bill to enable the rollout of the goods and services tax (GST). In his address to the joint session of Parliament last year, Mukherjee had referred to the introduction of this bill stating that it would simplify the indirect tax regime and broaden the tax base.
The NDA government is expected to make a renewed thrust on reforms-related legislations in the Budget session, but the Presidential address was silent on this issue.