Message for greater tolerance
Without directly referring to the raging controversy surrounding religious conversions and reported hate speeches being made by our leaders time and again, President Pranab Mukerjee passed on a strong message for religious tolerance in his Republic Day address to the nation. Invoking the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Mukerjee made constant references to how ‘religion is a force for unity’ and that ‘we cannot make it a cause of conflict’. By using Gandhi’s teachings as a relevant conduit to transfer messages of religious tolerance, Mukherjee invoked the larger national ethos of ‘establishing unity in strength’. Though the freedom ‘inherent in democracy (can) sometimes generate an unhappy by-product when political discourse becomes a competition in hysteria that is abhorrent to our national ethos’, Mukherjee‘s clamour for greater tolerance in many ways is a stern message for the present dispensation. Although the President took no names, the implicit warning to the current dispensation lies in his statements surrounding its decision to promulgate one ordinance after another, without adequately addressing the faults of its reactionary allies. Warning against the use of the ordinance method, Mukherjee argued that enacting laws without discussions ‘breaches the trust’ reposed by its people and is not good for democracy. After three decades, he argued, the people of India had voted a single party to majority for having a stable government. History, one can argue, does provide us with adequate examples of what India represents to its discerning citizen. In 1949, the much-maligned former Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, overruled members of the Hindu right in the Congress, led by Sardar Patel and SP Mukherjee, who wanted to a forced communal exchange of populations to bring closure to communal violence that broke out in West Bengal. In overruling members of his own party, Nehru ensured that Muslims in Bengal were not denied natural citizenship based on religion. Religious intolerance, therefore, goes against the very grain of what it means to be an Indian citizen.