NEW DELHI: The Indian Constitution represents the “hopes and aspirations of a billion people” and there has to be a balance between change and continuity, President Pranab Mukherjee told an audience of lawmakers who had gathered in Parliament’s Central Hall to bid him farewell this evening. The President, who quits the highest office of the country on July 25 as his successor Ram Nath Kovind formally takes over, was nostalgic about his nearly four-decade association with parliament. But his speech, along with praise for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also held important messages for the government and the opposition.
When the Constitution was framed, fraternity, the dignity of the individual and the unity of the nation, were the “lodestars of the modern Indian state,” President Mukherjee said. He underscored the importance of “debate, discussion and dissent,” and quoting India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, said there has to be a “balancing of change and continuity… If continuity is broken, we become rootless and the system of parliamentary democracy breaks down”.
During his five-year stint, President Mukherjee has repeatedly spoken his mind without overstepping the constitutional boundaries of his post. He had expressed his reservations over the government’s ordinance spree and spoken out against the repeated disruptions of parliament, that washed out several sessions over the last three years.
Today, he touched upon both these issues, reminding lawmakers that when the Parliament fails in its duty of legislation or “enacts laws without discussion”, “it breaches the trust of the people”. Driving home the message, he said the ordinance route should be adopted only in “compelling circumstances”. The President had expressed displeasure on the matter last year, when the government presented an ordinance on the Enemy Property Act for a record fifth time.
He had a message for the opposition too. Disruption, he said, “hurts the opposition more” since they fail to discharge their duty of highlighting the people’s concerns.
He, however, praised the passage of the government’s flagship Goods and Services Tax and called it a “shining example of cooperative federalism” that speaks volumes for the maturity of Parliament.
In his address, President Mukherjee also praised PM Modi — who attended the ceremony — for the “transformational changes he is driving in India”. “I will carry with me fond memories of our association and his warm and courteous behaviour,” he said.
Vice-President Hamid Ansari, who is also the Chairman of Rajya Sabha, said President Mukherjee’s views on national and international issues have “enhanced the stature of the top office”. Speaker Sumitra Mahajan it was a “solemn occasion for all members to express their profound respect”.
Over the last few days, the 82-year-old President had a grueling schedule, meeting ministers, lawmakers and various political leaders. He also attended separate farewell dinners hosted by PM Modi and the chiefs of the armed forces. On Monday, he will host a dinner for the council of ministers at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.