The four milestones covered in President Pranab Mukherjee’s “hourlong class” on India’s political history on the eve of Teachers’ Day were the Constituent Assembly, Jan Lokpal, economic liberalisation of 1991 and the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme. Mukherjee walked into Dr Rajendra Prasad Sarvodaya Vidyalaya at President’s Estate on Friday morning at the invitation of the Delhi government and started off with a breezy remark: “I will be very happy if you call me Mukherjee Sir.”
He then spoke of former PM Rajiv Gandhi’s decision to decrease the voting age from 21 to 18 years, about the decision to increase foodgrain production, liberalisation of the economy by Manmohan Singh and P V Narsimha Rao and how civil society, with the aid of social media, has become a potent player in governance.
The President also recalled the agitation led by Anna Hazare and referred to the joint drafting committee for Jan Lokpal of which he was the chairman.
“The job guarantee scheme NREGA, which is now named after Mahatma Gandhi, ensured purchasing power for people. The new dimension of development in the Indian democracy is to empower people through entitlements backed by legislation,” he said.
Mukherjee went on to compare the drafting of the Indian Constitution with the signing of the Magna Carta in 1250 and stated how the French revolution and the Suffragettes of early 20th century England essentially demanded the same rights as enshrined in the Indian Constitution — liberty, equality, justice et al.
He spoke of the controversial 42nd amendment to the Constitution that brought in the words secular and socialist, but not the circumstances under which it was brought in. The 42nd amendment was enacted during the Emergency.
“If people feel MPs are not doing their jobs, governments are not doing their jobs, the law which is required, they (people) cannot simply sit idle and they have no way to express their views… through media… the social media, Twitter, Facebook. These are powerful mechanisms of conveying, creating public opinion. All these are offshoots and outcome of our healthy democratic development,” he said.
Mukherjee’s class comprised students of Classes XI and XII, mostly from science and commerce streams. He also spoke of his own “naughty” childhood. His story of walking 5 km to school through waterlogged fields during monsoons, with his books tied up in a bundle, was an instant hit with the students.