New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday described the constitution as his government's "only holy book" and India first its "only religion" as he sought to reach out to the opposition at the beginning of the crucial winter session of parliament.
"The Indian constitution is a binding force in a diverse country," Modi said while wrapping up a two-day debate to mark the 125th anniversary of Bhimrao Ambedkar, considered as the chief architect of the constitution. Modi said respect for politicians has come down over the years and it was a challenge.
However, he said the political class has taken several measures for self-restraint including a ceiling on election expenses and putting a ceiling on the number of ministers in a government. Modi cited a series of Sanskrit quotations including those on truth and non-violence as "Idea of India" and said there was need for people to pay attention to their duties and not merely their rights.
Modi said no one can think of altering the constitution and if anybody does so, it will amount to suicide. He said if Ambedkar had not laid stress on reservation, the plight of weaker sections would have been very bad. Modi steered clear of any direct reference to Congress' allegations concerning intolerance and praised India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru for his respect towards the opposition.
Modi said all governments and prime ministers have contributed to the country's progress. Referring to the government's decision to observe November 26 as 'Constitution Day' to mark the adoption of a draft statute on this day in 1949, he said every generation should learn about the constitution and suggested holding online and essay competitions.
He said there cannot be enough praise for the constitution. "Dignity of Indian and unity of India, it reflects this mantra," Modi said. Referring to India's diversity, he said India was a land of 12 religions, 122 languages originating from different sources and over 1,600 dialects.
"Making law for diverse country like India was a big task. How hard they (members of constituent assembly) would have worked," he said, adding that governments these days find it difficult to make one law perfectly and have to often go for rectifications.
He said political leaders of all shades quote Ambedkar to buttress their arguments. "This shows his vision. His words are useful for every generation, every section, every period of time." He quoted scholar Granville Austin's words that the Indian constitution was a social document. He said without Ambedkar, the constitution would have been a legal document and not a social document.
"How much atrocities and insults he faced in his life. If it was an ordinary individual he would have been bitter. But he showed greatness with no feeling of revenge. He attempted to connect everyone. The constitution is like nectar." Modi quoted Ambedkar emphasising on constitutional methods for achieving social and economic objectives and unconstitutional methods leading to anarchy.
He said Ambedkar had also stated that the purpose of the constitution was also to limit the authority of organs of the state. He referred to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and repeated her quotation of Ambedkar that however good a constitution, if those who implement it are bad it will turn out to be bad.
Modi said preserving the sanctity of the constitution was the duty of all elected representatives. "Democracy gets strengthened more when there is agreement. The way should be of agreement. Majority, minority is the last option," he said. Referred to the Vajpayee government losing the trust vote by one vote, Modi said it "accepted heights of democracy".
He said Indian society has an "auto-pilot arrangement" and reformers were born from time to time to rid society of its evils. He also referred to the work of Ambedkar in fixing working hours for labourers. Modi said a government has only one religion - India first - it has only one holy book - constitution of India.
He described Ambedkar as one of the great people of the country who helped draft such a "perfect constitution" which, after so many years, still fits the bill. He said the spirit of the parliamentary discussion was about "us" and not about "you" or "me". Modi also praised Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan for her speech at the start of the debate on Thursday.