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In farewell speech, President Pranab Mukherjee hails democracy, urges leaders to discuss and dissent

Pranab Mukherjee, the 13th president of India, leaves the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Monday, making way for his successor Ram Nath Kovind.

india Updated: Jul 23, 2017 23:21 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Pranab Mukherjee,President of India,Ram Nath Kovind
President Pranab Mukherjee being welcomed by vice president Hamid Ansari on his arrival at Parliament for his farewell ceremony in New Delhi on Sunday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan are also seen in this photograph. (PTI)

President Pranab Mukherjee hailed on Sunday India’s democracy and Parliament in particular, delivering an emotional farewell speech at the Central Hall where he urged lawmakers to “debate, discuss and dissent” but not disrupt. (President’s speech: Full text)

Mukherjee, the 13th President of India, will leave the Rashtrapati Bhawan on Tuesday when his successor Ram Nath Kovind is sworn in.

“I strived to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, not just in word but also in spirit,” Mukherjee said, reflecting upon his time as India’s titular head of state that began in 2012.

The President has raised eyebrows last year when he ordered the dismissal of the Uttarakhand government.

Mukherjee spent 37 years as a Congress member in Parliament, where, he said on Sunday, “realised how disruption hurts the opposition more than the government as it denies them the opportunity to raise the concerns of the people,” the President said.

The monsoon session of Parliament currently underway has seen repeated adjournments, costing of time and money for the House. Both Houses of Parliament have often been marred by protests that have delayed the rollout of key legislation.

“When Parliament fails to discharge its lawmaking role or enacts laws without discussion, I feel it breaches the trust reposed in it by the people of this great country,” he said.

In addition to disruptions, the President spoke out about Ordinances in particular, calling it a tool that “should be used only in compelling circumstances”.

Mukherjee shared a story about his mentor, late PM Indira Gandhi, on the importance of “self-correction”. After the Congress’s poll defeat following the Emergency, Gandhi and Mukherjee were in London in 1978 and faced journalists, he said. “The first question that was flung at her was, ‘What have been your gains from the Emergency?’ Looking at the journalist squarely in the eye, Indira Gandhi replied, ‘In those 21 months, we comprehensively managed to alienate all sections of Indian people.’ I learnt an early lesson of acknowledging my mistakes and rectifying them. Self-correction in such situations is always a better option than self-justification,” Mukherjee said.

Earlier, vice president Hamid Ansari recalled how Mukherjee spoke about nurturing pluralism and diversity. He quoted Mukherjee to add that there is room for Argumentative Indian but not intolerant Indian. Ansari said “these messages are important in our troubled times”. The President too, spoke about the diversity of the country of 130 crore people who, he said, belonged to three major ethnic groups, practicing seven major religions and speaking 122 languages in daily lives.

“Not a single part of this vast territory of 3.3 million square kilometers of landmass and islands is unrepresented in the Parliament. Each of the 788 voices of MPs is important,” said Mukherjee. His comment assumes significance in the wake of the rise of smaller parties in Parliament.

Mukherjee spoke about his association with PV Narsimha Rao, remember former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee for his oration, Manmohan Singh for his “calming presence”, and recalled how LK Advani gave him mature advice and Sonia Gandhi was a passionate supporter of social legislations.

In the closing parts of his speech, he praised Prime Minister Modi and said: “I’ll carry with me fond memories of association with PM Narendra Modi and remember his warm behaviour towards me”. He praised the PM for advice and co-operation “at every step” and added that the BJP leader is working “with passion and energy, he is driving transformational changes.”

“It will be with a tinge of sadness and a rainbow of memories that I will be leaving this building today... I leave with a sense of fulfilment and happiness of having served the country,” he said, before finishing his speech with “Jai Hind”.

Mukherjee will address the nation tomorrow before he demits office.

First Published: Jul 23, 2017 18:41 IST