President's concern over cult of violence

NEW DELHI, JULY 12. The President, Mr. K. R. Narayanan, today called upon the Governors to become a source of ``moral influence'' and act as agents of harmony and tolerance in these troubled times of religious intolerance and sectarian violence.

Deploring the ``lowering of the tolerance level in society and emerging cult of violence,'' the President reminded the Governors that they had an obligation to uphold ``India's traditional heritage of a tolerant society''.

Mr. Narayanan was inaugurating a two-day conference of the Governors at Rashtrapati Bhavan. The gathering, taking place after a gap of about four years, has provided the Constitutional heads an opportunity to exchange views with the President, the Prime Minister and senior Ministers.

However, most of the Governors are believed to have come armed with briefs from their Chief Ministers; and, judging by today's deliberations, the Governors chose, by and large, to stick to the State Governments' political predilections.

The conference took up various themes such as law and order, with special emphasis on border management, welfare of tribals, disaster management and spread of religious fundamentalism.

Instead of each of the 24 Governors (the Mizoram Governor being on leave) and the three Lt. Governors being invited to present their States' problems, the format called for taking up one theme at a time with the Governors feeling free to state the nature of the problem; though the Prime Minister and senior Central Ministers were present, most of the time they were good listeners, with only the Home Minister, Mr. L. K. Advani, making brief explanatory remarks.

Contrary to the apprehension in certain quarters that the Rashtrapati Bhavan was trying to instigate the Governors against the Vajpayee Government, the tone and tenor of the discussion was positive and constructive. Given that the majority of the Governors are now appointees of the NDA Government, these dignitaries could not possibly take a contrary, leave alone confrontationist, stance.

The President's exhortation to the Governors to be watchdogs of tolerance came in the context of the growing reports of attacks on places of worship belonging to various minority communities. He referred to ``certain fissiparous and disharmonising forces that had crept into the system'' and wanted concerted efforts mounted to arrest these disturbing trends. However, the President's invitation to the Governors to discover the moral dimension of their office went largely unheeded. For instance, Mr. S. S. Bhandari, Governor of Gujarat, which has been a host to violence against Christians, trotted out the figures of his Government that all was well in his State. Referring to incidents of ``Christian-Hindu conflicts'', Mr. Bhandari predictably insisted that ``most of these are incidents of minor skirmishes which took place in the Dangs and Surat districts on disputes on the issues of conversions.''

In his opening remarks the President, while lauding the achievements in economic and technological areas, ``stressed that the fruits of development need to percolate down and reach the common man so as to promote the total good of society.'' Mr. Narayanan reminded the Governors of the ``special responsibilities'' entrusted to them by the Constitution to work for ``the upliftment of the disinherited and the poor''.