Dignitaries lighting the ceremonial lamp to inaugurate the Foundation Day lecture of North East Institute of Advanced Studies Credit: EastMojo image

Guwahati: Former President Pranab Mukherjee pressed on the importance of dialogue in a democracy like India while delivering the North East Institute of Advanced Studies Foundation Day lecture in memory of Justice (Retd) KN Saikia in Guwahati, Assam on Tuesday.

The former President of India, who could not be present in person due to health issues, delivered the lecture on ‘Tolerance in Indian society’ through a recorded video. “India, the largest democracy of the world…is built on the pillars of three ‘D’s — debate, discussion and dissent. And it is my firm belief that dialogue is an equally essential part of realizing this democracy and not disruption, under any circumstance,” he said.

Advocating dialogue, he said: “In a democracy, informed and reasoned public engagement on all issues of national importance is essential. A dialogue is necessary not only to balance the competing interests but also to reconcile them. Divergent strands in public discourse have to be recognised. We may argue, we may agree, or we may not agree. But we cannot deny the essential prevalence of multiplicity of opinion. Only through a dialogue can we develop the understanding to solve complex problems without an unhealthy strife within our polity.”

Mukherjee stated that the soul of India resides in pluralism and celebration of its diversity. “India’s nationhood is not one language, one religion, one enemy. It is the ‘perennial universalism’ of 1.3 billion people who use more than 122 languages and 1,600 dialects in their everyday lives, practice seven major religions, belong to three major ethnic groups — Caucasians, Mongoloids, and Dravidians live under one system, one flag and one identity of being Indian or bhartiya and have no enemies. That is what makes Bharat a diverse and united nation,” he stated.

Denouncing the growing instances of violence, he suggested: “We must free our public discourse from all forms of violence, physical as well as verbal. Only a non-violent society can ensure the participation of all sections of people in the democratic process, especially the marginalised and the dispossessed.”

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Mukherjee defined tolerance as “a state of mind”. He believed that it is a manifestation of our age-old belief in ahimsa, which has been the core of Indian ethos.

Remembering the Father of our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, the former President said that he was one of the most vocal apostle of “ahimsa”. “And today, more than ever, we need to remind ourselves of that unfettering faith the Father of our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi had in Ahimsa and not just tolerance, but mutual respect,” he added.

On a concluding note, Mukherjee said, “The ideals that Gandhiji espoused are part of our collective living heritage. This heritage is deeply imbued with the idea of being ‘one people.’ It is a celebration of our diversity, our plural culture, our many languages, religions and different modes of life.”

The Foundation Day celebration was inaugurated with the lighting of the ceremonial lamp. The event was opened by the founder of NE-IAS Keshav Das who spoke about the institute’s vision to produce at least 1,000 youths from Assam.

Senior judge Justice NK Singh spoke on the life and significant legislations of Justice (Retd) KN Saikia, and Justice Rumi Kumari Phukan also spoke on the occasion.

Several dignitaries including former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi were present on the occasion.

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