A govt of Gandhi-bhakts
President Ram Nath Kovind read out a government-drafted speech in Parliament on Friday saying the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which omits only Muslims, had been enacted to honour the wish of the Father of the Nation.
“In the environment prevailing in the aftermath of Partition, the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi had said: ‘Hindus and Sikhs of Pakistan, who do not wish to live there, can come to India. It is the duty of the Government of India to ensure a normal life for them’,” President Kovind read out, triggering prolonged thumping of desks by ruling MPs and protests by the Opposition.
The President was addressing a joint sitting of both Houses to mark the start of the budget session. The speech drafted by the Narendra Modi government for the President quoted Gandhi selectively. From The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, some of his views that did not find mention in the President’s speech follow:
Mahatma Gandhi, July 10, 1947, prayer meeting: “But if people do leave their houses in Sind and other places and come to India, must we drive them out? If we do that, how can we call ourselves Indians? With what face can we shout ‘Jai Hind’?
For what had Netaji fought? We are all Indians, whether living in Delhi or Gujarat. They will be our guests. We shall welcome them saying that India is their country as much as Pakistan. If nationalist Muslims also have to leave Pakistan, we shall welcome them here. As Indians we all have the same status.”
Mahatma Gandhi, July 25, 1947, prayer meeting: “There are Muslims, Parsis, Christians and other religious groups here. The assumption of the Hindus that India now has become the land of the Hindus is erroneous. India belongs to all who live here.”
(The following two quotes from Gandhi resonate at a time Muslims are feeling besieged in India.)
Mahatma Gandhi to communist leader P.C. Joshi on September 9, 1947: “It is a matter of shame for us that the Mussalmans in the Union should feel downcast.”
Mahatma Gandhi, August 25, 1947, prayer meeting: “The minorities must be made to realise that they are as much valued citizens of the State they live in, as the majority.”
Mahatma Gandhi, September 26, 1947, prayer meeting: “If we regard all the Muslims as fifth-columnists, will not the Hindus and the Sikhs in Pakistan be also considered fifth-columnists? That would not do. The Hindus and the Sikhs staying there can come here by all means if they do not wish to continue staying there. In that case, it is the first duty of the Indian government to give them jobs and make their lives comfortable. But they cannot continue to stay there and become petty spies and work for us and not for Pakistan. Such a thing cannot be done and I would not be a party to it.”
The speech read out by the President did not make any mention of the fear stalking Muslims in India but flagged the atrocities against minorities in Pakistan.
“While condemning the atrocities on the minorities in Pakistan, I urge the world community to take cognisance of it and take necessary steps in this regard,” Kovind said.
Unlike last year, the President’s speech made no mention of the National Register of Citizens.
The President’s speech said that in a democracy, the mandate of the people was sacred and that his government had the people’s mandate to build a “new India”.
“In a democracy, nothing is more sacred than the mandate given by the people. The people of the country have given this mandate to my government for the making of a new India,” Kovind said. “A new India which takes pride in the glory of our ancient culture and which enriches the 21st-century world with the power of its knowledge.”
Kovind said that “national interest” was “paramount” and that the members of both the Houses should frame the “necessary laws” keeping this in mind. This seemed to be aimed at underlining that the CAA had been enacted in the national interest.
The President’s speech sought to give more importance to “duties” than the “rights” granted by the Constitution. “In addition to protecting the rights of every citizen of our country, our Constitution makes the citizens of the country mindful of their duties,” the speech said.
Some Opposition members wore black bands on their arms in protest against the contentious law. Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and some other senior Congress members chose to sit at the back as a mark of protest. Only former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in the front row.
The Trinamul Congress, seeking to separate itself from the Congress and the Left, protested much later, silently holding up pieces of white cloth on which were scrawled in red slogans like “No CAA”, “No NPR” and “No NRC”.
The Trinamul members were seated far from the rest of the Opposition. After displaying the slogans for a couple of minutes while the President spoke, they sat down quietly.