New Delhi: In the backdrop of ongoing debate on alleged intolerance in the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday adopted a highly conciliatory approach towards the Opposition and said the government would rule by consensus and not force decisions through majority.
With his government under attack inside and outside Parliament over the issue of growing intolerance, the PM in the Lok Sabha said that 'India first' is the only religion and Constitution the only 'holy book' for his government which is committed to working for all sections and religions.
Replying to a two-day long debate in the Lok Sabha to commemorate the Constitution Day and the 125th birth anniversary of Dr BR Ambedkar, Modi also rejected the Congress contention that the NDA government was trying to deny credit to or was undermining the role of leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, to whom he paid rich tributes.
The House later unanimously adopted a resolution hailing the contribution of Ambedkar and other founding fathers of the Constitution.
Allaying apprehensions of the Opposition that the government may tamper with the Constitution, especially on use of terms like secular, Modi said "nobody can dare (such a course) as it will amount to suicide".
"Preserving the sanctity of the Constitution is the responsibility of all of us. The government may be formed on the basis of majority but decisions have to be taken on the basis of consensus," he said.
"There should be consensus, at least efforts should be made for consensus. And if these fail, then the issue of majority-minority would come in. In this House, we are not going to force any decision but make efforts for consensus... If nothing helps then the ultimate is majority-minority," the Prime Minister said.
"For us, the Constitution assumes more importance. India is full of is so much of diversity and there are different aspirations and it is our responsibility to fulfil them," he said.
Modi asserted that diversity is the strength of India and it needs to be nurtured.
"For the government, the only 'dharma' is 'India first, the only 'dharma granth' (holy book) is the Constitution," the Prime Minister asserted in his 70-minute reply to the debate during which opposition members and questioned his "silence" over the issue.
However, Modi did not specifically refer to any recent incidents arising out of intolerance or nor did he touch on the debate that is raging in the country over it.
"The country will run by the Constitution and it should be run only by the Constitution. India has fundamentally grown on this ideology. The country has the internal energy amassed over thousands of years which gives it the stimulus and capacity to deal with crises," Modi said.
In a rare gesture, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader praised Nehru, India's first prime minister, for his role in the Constituent Assembly and for his ability to concede other points of view.
He cited an incident when socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia quoted statistics to tell Nehru that his government's policy was wrong.
"Nehru said I cannot refute your statistics," Modi went on. "He (Nehru) showed greatness."
Modi lauded the role Ambedkar played in framing the Indian Constitution without any bias although he suffering indignities because he was a Dalit.
"It was a tribute to Ambedkar's personality that he bore all humiliation but there was no sense of revenge in him; the no sense of revenge is reflected in the constitution.
"To frame the Constitution of a country like India, it is not easy."
But Modi quickly pointed out that other leaders too played a key role in framing the Constitution, which he described as "a binding force in a diverse country".
And the spirit of the parliamentary discussion today was about "us" and not about "you" or "me".
Invoking Mahatma Gandhi, BR Ambedkar and Nehru repeatedly, he underlined that the 'Idea of India' is reflected by the aspects like 'Ahinsa Parmo Dharma (non-violence is supreme duty), 'Sarv Dharma Sambhav' (equal respect to all religions) and 'Vasudev Kutumbakam' (entire world is a family).
"Our country has been there for thousands of years. Shortcomings do come. Even vices do crop up. But there is something that keeps us going. Even when vices come up, solutions also emerge from within the society....It is like an 'auto pilot corrective arrangement and this is our strength," the Prime Minister.
Asserting that the thrust of his government is on 'sab ka sath' (cooperation from all), he said, "no section of the society should lag behind. If any part of the body is paralysed, the body cannot be called healthy. We have to empower people from all sections, be it any community, region or language."
Noting that India has 12 religions, 122 languages and 1600 dialects and comprises people who are believers in God as well as athiests, he said, "all should get justice. There should be harmony."
Once the debate ended, Modi -- for the first time since taking office in May 2014 -- invited and met both his predecessor Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi at his house and discussed the contentious GST.
A second meeting is expected after the Congress holds discussions within on the Goods and Services Tax.
Earlier in the day, the Congress and the BJP sparred in the Rajya Sabha.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley referred to the subversion of the constitution by Hitler, making a not-so-subtle link to the imposition of Emergency by Indira Gandhi in 1975.
"Fundamental rights were snatched during the Emergency," he said, and pointed out that "you imposed Emergency, detained opposition leaders, censored newspapers".
Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad accused the Modi government of "manufacturing" intolerance, and said it was trying to "re-write history" by not crediting Nehru for the constitution's preamble.
"We didn't speak about Pandit Nehru even once. How is it possible that we are discussing the objectives of the constitution and we don't mention Nehru.
"Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Sardar (Vallabhbhai) Patel are being pitted against each other even though they aren't alive. This is what is called intolerance.
"The atmosphere in the country in the last one-and-a-half years is against the Constitution of India."
Jaitley interrupted Azad by asking: "Why do you have so much grudge against Ambedkar?"
The Congress leader retorted: "You can talk about Hitler, and we cannot even talk about our first prime minister? This is intolerance."
During the debate yesterday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said secularism is the "most misused" word in Indian politics and sought an end to its abuse.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi hit back at the government, saying the ideals of Constitution were under attack now and it was a "joke" that those who had no role in the making of the Constitution were now discussing it and demanding a review.
(With Agency inputs)