Constitution is our holy book: Modi

Updated - April 03, 2016 01:38 am IST

Published - November 28, 2015 02:03 am IST - NEW DELHI:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi: "The country will run by the Constitution and it should be run only by the Constitution."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi: "The country will run by the Constitution and it should be run only by the Constitution."

Asserting his government’s commitment to the Constitution, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Parliament on Friday that the religion of the government was “India first” and the Constitution its “holy book.”

Mr. Modi’s address in the Lok Sabha came as part of the commemoration of the Constitution to mark the 125th birth anniversary year of the chairman of its drafting committee Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and happened to coincide with a debate on “intolerance” and secularism outside Parliament.

Reaching out to the Opposition, Mr. Modi said consensus was more important than majority rule. The government is looking to pass crucial Bills like the Goods and Services Tax Bill – which requires a constitutional amendment – in the ongoing winter session of Parliament and needs to get a belligerent Opposition on board.

“In a democracy, true strength does not come from an assertion of numbers but from consensus, and only when attempts to do that fail, then as a last resort, a majority is asserted,” Mr. Modi said.

The Prime Minister, however, sought to answer critics of the government by underlining India’s civilisational values at a time when many – most recently film star Aamir Khan – have expressed fears of growing intolerance in the country today.

“We must not underestimate the inner energy of our society, and the values that are characteristic of our country. The idea of India is Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is my family), Ahimsa Parmo Dharma (non-violence is my paramount duty) and Satyameva Jayate (may truth prevail),” he said, citing Sanskrit sayings.

Months after the government faced criticism over the RSS chief’s call for a committee to look into who should have quotas and for how long, Mr. Modi said that it was “our duty” to assure the underprivileged of the opportunities the Constitution provided them.

Earlier, however, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley sought to turn the tables on those who were criticising the government over “intolerance.”

Speaking in the Rajya Sabha he commended the Janata government of Morarji Desai that succeeded Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime for making Article 21 – the Right to Life – “non-suspendable” during an Emergency. He said that the Indira government had during the Emergency convinced the Supreme Court that people had lost their right to life and liberty at that time. Mr. Jaitley added that while an irresponsible statement made on TV was now considered a sign of “intolerance”, the right to life was suspended during the Emergency and “those who now claim to swear by the Constitution supported this position.”

He detailed the steps taken by German dictator Adolf Hitler to acquire sweeping powers in the 1930s, which many read as oblique parallels drawn with the Emergency.

Picking holes in the present debate on secularism, Mr. Jaitley wondered that if the House had again become the Constituent Assembly and Dr. Ambedkar had proposed Articles 44 (uniform civil code) and Article 48 (ban on cow slaughter) today, “how would this House have reacted?” He added that the governments of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi had written to States to implement Article 48 and but for Kerala and West Bengal the others responded by banning cow slaughter.

Mr. Jaitley said that while Article 13 said that “no law can violate the Fundamental Rights,… we still have personal laws, across religions, which violate the Fundamental Rights.” He added: “...Are all of us ready to say that all personal laws must be compliant with the Constitution?”

He saw the embarrassment on Article 44 today as subversion of “our ideological thinking.” Later, in his answer, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad accused the government of trying to wipe out the memory of Nehru by discussing the objectives of the Constitution without mentioning him. He accused the government of trying to “usurp the Congress legacy.”

Mr. Jaitley called for a united voice against terrorism and quoted Dr. Ambedkar’s speech that India had lost its independence in medieval times because of the lack of unity during invasions. Mr. Azad later recalled that he had himself advocated a hard line against terror, but asked the government not to “go slow” on some terror cases like Samjhauta Express and speed up others. This was a tacit reference to allegations that the government was going slow on cases where Hindutva outfits were accused of terror.

Mr. Jaitley attacked the recommendations of the UPA-constituted Ranganath Mishra Commission that had recommended minority quotas. His logic: under the Constitution minorities got a package under Articles 29 and 30 – dealing with minority educational institutions and quotas therein – and SCs/STs and OBCs under Article 15, but the Commission’s recommendation amounted to a possibility to claim both if one “converted.”

Disagreeing with the judiciary’s opposition to the NJAC, Mr. Jaitley said Dr. Ambedkar had stood for a consultative mechanism involving both the executive and judiciary for the appointment of judges. He said that one aspect of the Constitution that had become increasingly relevant was federalism.

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