President Mukherjee: “No room in India for the intolerant Indian”

President Pranab Mukherjee speaking in Kochi on Thursday made strong comments on protecting the right to freedom of speech and said that there must be space for legitimate criticism and dissent

Photo by Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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NH Web Desk

President Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday delivered the 6th Memorial Lecture in honour of eminent lawyer KS Rajamony, in Kochi, Kerala. President Mukherjee, among other topics, made strong comments on protecting the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by our Constitution, decried violence against women and said that there must be space for legitimate criticism and dissent. The President’s comments are significant in light of the current unrest in Delhi University, with several students protesting violence by the RSS-aligned Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad. Here follow some excerpts from the President’s speech. The full text of the President’s speech can be read here.


The most important legacy bequeathed to us by our founding fathers is our Constitution.


The Constitution enshrines certain timeless values that should never be compromised. It is against the touchstone of these values that we must constantly measure our performance.


The Preamble records the resolve of the people of India to secure to all citizens justice—social, economic and political as well as liberty, equality and fraternity. It also establishes the principle of secularism.


When India became independent, many in the world thought our democratic experiment would never succeed. They looked at our diversity, poverty as well as the lack of education of our people and predicted that India would lapse into authoritarian rule or military dictatorship. But, the people of India proved these prophets of doomsday wrong.


Yet, we must be conscious of the fact that our democracy requires constant nurturing. At no cost should we allow the exploitation of the fault lines. Those who spread violence must remember that Buddha, Ashoka and Akbar are remembered as heroes in history; not Hitler or Genghis Khan.


I do not consider a society or State to be civilised if its citizens’ behaviour towards women is uncivilised. When we brutalise a woman, we wound the soul of our civilisation. Not only does our Constitution guarantee equal rights to women but our culture and tradition also celebrate the feminine as divine. Protection and safety of our women and children must be a nationwide priority. The acid test of any society is its attitude towards women and children. India should not fail this test.

“Yet, we must be conscious of the fact that our democracy requires constant nurturing. At no cost should we allow the exploitation of the fault lines. Those who spread violence must remember that Buddha, Ashoka and Akbar are remembered as heroes in history; not Hitler or Genghis Khan.”
President Pranab Mukherjee

There should be no room in India for the intolerant Indian. India has been since ancient times a bastion of free thought, speech and expression. Our society has always been characterised by the open contestation of diverse schools of thought and debate as well as discussion. Freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution. There must be space for legitimate criticism and dissent.


India was a world leader in the field of education when our Universities like Nalanda and Takshshila were at the height of their glory. Nalanda and Takshshila are not mere geographical expressions but representations of the idea for free thought which flourished in these great Universities of the past. Our premier institutions of higher education are the vehicles on which India has to propel itself into a knowledge society. These temples of learning must resound with creativity and free thinking. Those in Universities must engage in reasoned discussion and debate rather than propagate a culture of unrest. It is tragic to see them caught in the vortex of violence and disquiet.


Our first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru believed that democracy was something deeper than voting, elections or a political form of government. He said "In the ultimate analysis, it is a manner of thinking, a manner of action, a manner of behaviour to your neighbour and to your adversary and opponent.”

“There should be no room in India for the intolerant Indian. India has been since ancient times a bastion of free thought, speech and expression. Our society has always been characterised by the open contestation of diverse schools of thought and debate as well as discussion. Freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution. There must be space for legitimate criticism and dissent.”
President Pranab Mukherjee

Let me read certain extracts from the well known speech made to a Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949 by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. He said and I quote:


"……however good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot. However bad a Constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those who are called to work it, happen to be a good lot. The working of a Constitution does not depend wholly upon the nature of the Constitution. The Constitution can provide only the organs of State such as the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. The factors on which the working of those organs of the State depend are the people and the political parties they will set up as their instruments to carry out their wishes and their politics.”


"Will Indians place the country above their creed or will they place creed above country? I do not know. But this much is certain that if the parties place creed above country, our independence will be put in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost forever. This eventuality we must all resolutely guard against.”


"…..If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. ……But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.” (Unquote)

“Our premier institutions of higher education are the vehicles on which India has to propel itself into a knowledge society. These temples of learning must resound with creativity and free thinking. Those in Universities must engage in reasoned discussion and debate rather than propagate a culture of unrest. It is tragic to see them caught in the vortex of violence and disquiet.”
President Pranab Mukherjee

The time has come for collective efforts to re-discover the sense of national purpose and patriotism that alone can lift our nation on to the road of sustained progress and prosperity. The nation and the people must always come first. Let us strive to arrest the moral decline in our society and ensure that our core civilisational values find firm root. Let us exert ourselves to strengthen India’s pluralism and diversity. Let us be uncompromising in rooting out violence, prejudice and hatred.

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