After an acrimonious electoral battle in Bihar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday made a visible effort to reach out over the deep political divide to the Opposition, saying that forging a consensus was more important in a democracy than majority rule by the logic of numbers. Less than an hour after winding up his speech in the Lok Sabha, the Prime Minister also met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and former PM Manmohan Singh at his residence in a bid to break the legislative logjam.
HIGHLIGHTS: Winter Session of Parliament – Day 2
Aware that the gridlock threatened to affect the NDA government’s image and reforms agenda, Modi adopted a conciliatory tone towards the Opposition saying in the Lok Sabha that “India first” was the only religion and that the Constitution “the only holy book” for his government. He made no reference to any controversy — be it Dadri, artists returning awards or remarks by stars Shah Rukh or Aamir Khan — but in a significant departure from precedent, Modi praised Jawaharlal Nehru in his 70-minute speech. He quoted Sonia Gandhi’s speech on Thursday and referred to Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad’s remarks to highlight that all parties work “like a family” in Parliament.
Rejecting the Congress contention that the NDA government was trying to deny credit or undermine the role of leaders like Nehru, Modi said they were held in such high esteem that it makes no difference to their stature even if credit is not given to them.
Wrapping up a two-day debate on India’s commitment to the Constitution, on the 125th birth anniversary of its key architect B R Ambedkar, Modi said: “The country will be run by the Constitution and it should be run by the Constitution. India has grown fundamentally on this ideology. The country has internal energy amassed over thousands of years which gives it the stimulus and capacity to deal with crises.”
He added: “The sanctity of the Constitution is our responsibility… Democracy is strengthened when there is a consensus, which should come through a bipartisan approach. The numbers game is the last option. In this House, we are not going to force any decision but make efforts for consensus…If nothing helps, then the ultimate is majority-minority.”
The Prime Minister also sought to dispel fears that the Constitution would be tinkered with, saying that any one trying to do so would be akin to “committing suicide”. “Implementing (the Constitution) in its true spirit is our responsibility,” he said.
During the speech, Modi invoked Mahatma Gandhi, Ambedkar and Nehru repeatedly and stressed that the “Idea of India” is reflected in the tenets of “ahimsa parmo dharma (non-violence is the supreme duty)”, “sarv dharma sambhav (equal respect to all religions)” and “vasudeva kutumbakam (the world is a family)”.
“Shortcomings do come. Even vices do crop up. But there is something that keeps us going. Even when vices come up, solutions emerge from within the society…. It is like an ‘auto pilot corrective arrangement’ and this is our strength,” the Prime Minister said without directly referring to any recent controversy.
Modi also reiterated his Government’s commitment on “sab ka saath”. “No section of society should lag behind. If any part of the body is paralysed, the body cannot be called healthy. We have to empower people from all sections, be it any community, region or language,” said the Prime Minister.
Modi also urged citizens to give up the “mera kya, mujhe kya” attitude. “Time has come for putting the emphasis on responsibility rather than just on rights,” he said.
The BJP-led ruling coalition’s attempts to mend the rift assume significance, given the repeated face-offs between the Government and the Opposition on various issues that have stalled the last two Parliament sessions. The conciliatory tone was reflected even in the Prime Minister’s demeanor, as he sat through the discussions attentively, and actively interacted with Cabinet colleagues.
That the Government wanted to mend fences became clear earlier in the day when the draft of a resolution, to be read out by Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, was handed over to the Congress side by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu.
Senior leader Anand Sharma went through the draft and suggested three changes, all of which were accepted. Sharma and Congress chief whip in Lok Sabha Jyotiraditya Scindia were later closeted with Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad’s chamber to finalise the additions. CPM’s Sitaram Yechury, too, walked in and went through the draft. Scindia then read out the changes to party chief Sonia Gandhi, who was at her residence, over the telephone.
Sources said the changes mainly referred to the inclusion of the names of Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in the resolution, recalling their monumental contributions to the making of the Constitution. The draft circulated did not have the words “socialist” and “secular” and merely talked about democratic character of the country. The Congress got these inserted.
Besides, a mention was made at the beginning about Mahatma Gandhi at the Congress’s insistence.