Days before Parliament is to hold its Winter Session, strong differences between the Government and the Opposition came to the fore when 14 Opposition parties boycotted the Constitution Day celebrations addressed by President Ram Nath Kovind in Parliament House.
Led by Congress, the Opposition parties criticized the Government’s policies and said there was a “growing” attack on Constitutional freedoms. They maintained the Centre was using Constitutional machinery to curtail their functioning.
Left parties, All India Trinamul Congress (TMC), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) were among the parties which stayed away from the Parliament House function.
In his speech, the President said that all Members of Parliament are defenders of the dignity of Parliament, whether they represent the ruling party or the Opposition.
Referring to the role of the Opposition, he said the Opposition is, in fact, the most important element of democracy. “Without an effective Opposition, democracy becomes ineffective,” he said.
“It is expected that the Government and the Opposition, despite their differences, continue to work together in the best interests of the citizens. Our constitution makers had envisioned this and it is also necessary for nation-building,” Kovind said.
Addressing the celebrations in the Central Hall of Parliament, he said that Parliament is at the apex of India’s democratic system. All MPs gather here to discuss issues related to public interest along with making laws.
“There may be differences of opinion, but no difference should be so great as to hinder the real purpose of public service,” he said.
The President said it is natural for members of the ruling party and the Opposition to compete, but this competition should be about being better representatives and doing better things for the public good.
“Only then will it be considered healthy competition. Competition in Parliament should not be confused with rivalry,” he said.
The President said “We all believe that our Parliament is a Temple of Democracy. Therefore, it becomes the responsibility of every parliamentarian to conduct themselves in this temple of democracy with the same spirit of reverence with which they do in their places of worship.”
Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Speaker Om Birla were present along with members of Parliament.
In a veiled attack on the Congress Party, Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to family-based parties and said “in the form of family-based parties, India is heading towards a kind of a crisis, which is a matter of concern for the people devoted to the Constitution, a matter of concern for those who believe in democracy.”
He said “more than one person from a family joining the party on the basis of merit does not make the party dynastic. Problems arise when a party is run by the same family, generation after generation.”
The Prime Minister lamented that the spirit of the Constitution is hurt, every section of the Constitution is also hurt, when political parties lose their democratic character themselves. “How can the parties which have lost their democratic character protect democracy?” he questioned.
Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, in his address, asserted that with the Constitution requiring the country to be a democratic republic, the legislatures of the country should be guided by ‘dialogue and debate’ and should not be rendered dysfunctional through persistent disruptions.
Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla said the Constitution of India is like a modern version of ‘The Gita’ that motivates people to work for the nation. “If each one of us commits to working for the country then we can build Ek Bharat, Shrestha Bharat,” he said.