While asserting that India had demonstrated its intent and capability to strike at terrorist hideouts across the border, President Ram Nath Kovind declared on Thursday that the country would take all possible steps for its national security in future too.
He was addressing a joint sitting of the two Houses in the Central Hall, marking the beginning of the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha.
The President said, “India has amply demonstrated both her intent and capabilities, first through surgical strikes and then through air strikes on terrorist hideouts across the border after the Pulwama attack. In future too, all possible steps will be taken to ensure our security.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ministers thumped their desks in response to the President’s remarks, and Congress Parliamentary Party leader Sonia Gandhi joined them. Congress president Rahul Gandhi, seated next to her, was on his cell phone.
Later, when the President referred to the Rafale deal and the delivery schedule of the Apache attack helicopters, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was seen smiling and thumping the desk along with other NDA members.
Regarding Jammu and Kashmir, the President said the government was making efforts “to provide a safe and peaceful environment for residents of Jammu and Kashmir”, but there was neither any reference to Article 370 and Section 35-A, nor assembly polls.
The election manifesto of the BJP had promised an “abrogation of Article 370”, while “committing” itself to “annulling Article 35-A”.
The President categorically stated that the government had “decided to implement the process of National Register of Citizens on priority basis in areas affected by infiltration”. He said “efforts will be made to amend the Citizenship Act while protecting the linguistic, cultural and social identities.” Illegal infiltrators, he maintained, posed a major threat to national security.
President’s speech reflects BJP priorities
The Presidential Address to a joint sitting of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha at the Central Hall is a customary exercise at the start of the first session of Parliament after general elections. The customary speech delivered by the President spells out the broad gamut of government priorities and policies. The references to the airstrike, triple talaq, National Register of Citizens, amendments in the Citizenship Act among many others in the speech on Thursday echoed the BJP’s election campaign themes, underlining the imprint of the ruling party’s agenda in the government.
The President further said, “To secure equal rights for every sister and daughter in the country, eradication of social evils like ‘Triple Talaq’ and ‘Nikah-Halala’ is imperative.”
The BJP manifesto had stated that it will legislate a Bill to “prohibit and eliminate practices such as Triple Talaq and Nikah Halala”.
The President pushed for simultaneous elections in the country, describing it as “need of the hour.”
Frequent elections, he said, impacted the pace of development programmes.
“I urge all members of Parliament to seriously ponder over this development-oriented proposal of One Nation- Simultaneous Elections,” he said.
The President’s suggestion came a day after the Prime Ministers held deliberations with presidents of 21 political parties over the issue.
He announced that “a new industrial policy will be announced shortly”.
The President said the creation of the ‘Jal Shakti’ ministry was a decisive step towards water conservation and management. The government, he announced, will also work to make rivers like Cauvery, Periyar, Mahanadi, Narmada and Godavari pollution-free. DMK members briefly waved placards and raised slogans over the Cauvery river water issue the moment the President began his address.
After his speech, the President and Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu walked up to the first row where Prime Minister Narendra Modi, senior ministers and leaders of Opposition parties were sitting. He shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with all of them, including Rahul Gandhi.
On her way out of the Central Hall, Sonia found herself face-to-face with Union Minister Smriti Irani. Both greeted each other.