This is the third time in three weeks that the President has spoken out in support of tolerance and the right to dissent and against hate speech and divisiveness
New Delhi: Wading into a topic that has animated public discourse in India for several weeks now, President Pranab Mukherjee on Monday “expressed apprehension about whether tolerance and acceptance of dissent are on the wane” in the country.
The President expressed his concerns about a subject that has been animating writers and artists across India at a function organized by Nayaprajanma, a local weekly newspaper, and Suri Sabujer Abhijan, a cultural organization, in Birbhum district of West Bengal.
According to a Rashtrapati Bhavan release:
“The President reminded the audience of the teachings of Shri Ramakrishna Paramhansa ‘Jato Mat Tato Path’ . “As there are a number of beliefs, there are a number of ways.” He said humanism and pluralism should not be abandoned under any circumstance. Assimilation through receiving is a characteristic of Indian society. Our collective strength must to be harnessed to resist evil powers in society.
The President said Indian civilisation has survived for 5000 years because of its tolerance. It has always accepted dissent and differences. A large number of languages, 1600 dialects and 7 religions coexist in India. We have a Constitution that accommodates all these differences.”
Greeting all Indians on the eve of the Durga Puja celebrations, the President “expressed the hope that Mahamaya – the combination of all positive forces – would eliminate the Asuras or divisive forces.”
Third time in two weeks
While BJP leaders like Arun Jaitley have criticised the protesting writers and artists for engaging in a “manufactured revolt” and engaging in “politics by other means”, Pranab Mukherjee’s remarks on Monday are the third time in two weeks that he has spoken out in support of tolerance and the right to dissent and against hate speech and divisiveness.
On October 7, he told a gathering at Rashtrapati Bhavan that Indian “must remain true to its civilisational values.”
One day later, in an interview to a Jordanian newspaper [PDF] on the eve of his visit to Amman, the President said: “We should not permit religion to be used as a mask to satisfy hunger for power and control of some individuals. I completely agree that leaders of every country, every belief, every neighbourhood need to take a clear and public stand against intolerance of any kind.”
As the transcript of the interview makes clear, Pranab was not asked about what was happening in India. Nor was he asked a question about anything the Jordanian king had said. All that the editors of Al-Ghad newspaper wanted to know was: ‘How do you evaluate Jordan’s role in the war against extremism and against ISIS? And how Jordan is dealing with this war?’
In his reply, the President said he had “noted the speech made by His Majesty King Abdullah in the UN General Assembly on September 29 this year in which he has proposed seven steps to promote values of tolerance and co-existence in the face of extremism.”
He then went on the make several points:
“Tolerance and co-existence are basic tenets of our civilisation. We hold them very dear to our hearts. Our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru propounded the five principles of peaceful co-existence amongst nations. I agree with His Majesty King Abdullah that the world is confronted with a third world war to which we must respond with equal intensity. I also agree that we must go back to the essence of our respective faiths and creeds. Hate speech and fear mongering should come to an end. Our values should become part of our daily life. We must amplify the voice of moderation. We should not permit religion to be used as a mask to satisfy hunger for power and control of some individuals. I completely agree that leaders of every country, every belief, every neighbourhood need to take a clear and public stand against intolerance of any kind, as called for by His Majesty”.
Last week a group of more than 90 writers and intellectuals from West Bengal wrote to the President seeking his intervention in the wake of the Dadri incident in which a Muslims was lynched over suspicions that he had killed a cow, and the attack on rationalists in Maharashtra and Karnataka.
“We are horrified at the callous lack of support and apathy of the state in finding and bringing the culprits to justice. The stifling atmosphere of fear and uncertainty is fatal to the freedom of expression that is at the heart of our shared lives, and it is for the restoration of this common fabric that we urge you to intervene,” the letter said.
Among the 94 personalities who signed the letter were poets Sankha Ghosh, Nirendranath Chakraborty, economists Ashok Mitra and Amiya Bagchi, theatre and film actor Kaushik Sen, authors Nabaneeta Deb Sen, Bani Basu, Shirshendu Mukherjee, Samaresh Majumdar, theatre maestro Rudraprasad Sengupta and painter Wasim Kapoor.
“We appeal to you to take firm and immediate steps to combat this well-planned conspiracy to endanger Indian democracy,” they said in their letter.