Diversity can’t be wished away, tolerance a core philosophy: President

New Delhi, April 9 (IANS) Describing “pluralism and tolerance” as India’s core philosophy, President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday said diversity was a fact of life in the country that cannot be wished away by any whims.

Mukherjee said democracy was not merely about numbers but rather a phenomenon that calls for consensus building.

“Diversity is a fact in India. It cannot be turned into fiction by whims and caprices of few individuals,” he said delivering the first Arjun Singh memorial lecture here.

“Democracy is not all about numbers but it also calls for consensus building,” Mukherjee said and described “pluralism and tolerance as core philosophy” that must be continued undeterred.

“While we must wield no space to anarchy, efficient democratic machinery must have the means and wherewithal to absorb public opinion for formulation of sound policies,” the president said.

He said India’s cherished communal harmony might be often put to test by “vested interests” but maintained that “we must remain alert to communal tensions rearing its ugly head anywhere.

“Rule of law must form the sole basis for dealing with any challenging situation. It is our democratic underpinning that must prevail at all times.”

“The multiplicity in culture, faith and language is what makes India special. We derive our strength from tolerance. It has been part of our collective consciousness for centuries. It has worked well for us and it is the only way it will work for us,” he said.

“India is a multi-faceted nation of 1.3 billion people, 122 languages, 1,600 dialects and seven religions,” Mukherjee said at the function attended among others by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who speaking earlier, expressed “chinta” (concern) over the “increasing threat to the secular fabric of the country”.

The function was also attended by former prime minister Manmohan Singh, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah and Congress leaders Digvijay Singh, Kamal Nath, M.L. Fotedar and others.

Recalling her long association with former union minister Arjun Singh, Sonia Gandhi said he was a true symbol of commitment to secularism and to the cause of the poor.

Paying tributes to Arjun Singh’s commitment to secular values, Gandhi said that by looking at things happening in the society, “I feel there is need to have more people like Arjun Singh”.

The president spoke at length on Arjun Singh’s steering of the country’s education portfolio and said his former colleague holds the distinction of handling the responsibility for eight years — in two stints.

Arjun Singh held the human resource development ministry portfolio under P.V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh.

“This (eight years) was the longest stint by any education minister after Maulana Abul Kalam Azad,” the president said.

On the overall higher education front, Mukherjee lamented that for long no Indian university has given any Nobel laureate and pointed out that the likes of Amartya Sen and Har Gobind Khorana could not be retained by Indian universities.

There must be “serious scrutiny” over this, he said and asserted that this trend must change.

In terms of numbers, he said while India has over 730 universities and 35,000 colleges but “the quality of education is not up to international standards”.

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