NEW DELHI: Amidst a wave of incidents of intolerance, President Pranab Mukherjee on Monday expressed serious apprehension over whether ‘tolerance and acceptance of dissent are on the wane’ in the country.
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“Humanism and pluralism should not be abandoned under any circumstance. Assimilation through receiving is a characteristic of Indian society. Our collective strength must be harnessed to resist evil powers in society,” he said at function in Birbhum district of West Bengal.
The President had made his first appeal for tolerance on October 7, while speaking at the launch of ‘The Nationalist President’, a coffee-table biography on him by Express Editorial Director Prabhu Chawla. Mukherjee had then said, “Over the years, our civilisation has celebrated diversity, plurality and promoted and advocated tolerance. These values have kept us together over centuries.” He pointed out that “many civilisations have collapsed but the Indian civilisation survived because of its core values and adherence to them.’’ He said “if we keep them (the core values) in mind, nothing can prevent our nation from forging ahead”.
Coming in the backdrop of the mob violence in Dadri, UP, the outcome of a rumour that left a Muslim villager dead and his son severely injured, the President’s remarks at the book launch were seen as an address to the nation.
However on Monday, addressing a gathering organised by Nayaprajanma, a local weekly in Birbhum, the President expressed apprehension about “whether tolerance and acceptance of dissent are on the wane?” He reminded the audience of the teachings of Ramakrishna Paramhansa Jato Mat Tato Path (as there are a number of beliefs, there are a number of ways).
“Indian civilisation has survived for 5,000 years because of its tolerance. It has always accepted dissent and differences. A large number of languages, 1,600 dialects and seven religions coexist in India. We have a Constitution that accommodates all these differences,” the President said.
The President’s strong words on the need to maintain pluralism and dissent in the society come against the backdrop of a series of hate incidents, including in Mumbai where BJP ally Shiv Sena forced cancellation of a music concert by Pakistani legend Ghulam Ali and talks between Indian and Pakistani cricket board chiefs and blackened the face of Sudheendra Kulkarni.
Incidentally, the President’s strong condemnation came on a day when independent MLA from Jammu and Kashmir Sheikh Abdul Rashid was the target of a fringe Hindu outfit which threw ink and mobil oil on him at the Press Club in Delhi protesting the beef party he had hosted in Srinagar earlier in October. He was also beaten up in the State Assembly by BJP MLAs.
Greeting people on the eve of Durga Puja celebrations, Mukherjee expressed hope that “Mahamaya — the combination of all positive forces would eliminate the Asuras or divisive forces.”