In his last address to the nation as the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee said that the soul of country “resides in pluralism and tolerance.”
Over the years, the statesman has advocated tolerance for diverse ethnic, racial, religious and social groups within the society.
India, a secular nation, is home to 1.3 billion people. In the recent years, there have been frequent national discourses about whether or not the nation is truly “tolerant”. This is largely due to the attacks that have been mounted on Muslims who eat beef. The cow is considered sacred according to Hinduisim and over 80% of the Indian population are Hindus. Mobs have attacked and killed those who allegedly eat beef.
In June 2017, thousands of Indians took to the streets to protest the actions of the cow vigilante groups. The protests, which were called Not In My Name, also prompted a response by Prime Minister Modi. He publicly condemned the attacks and said that killing in the name of “Gau Rakshak” (cow protectors) is not acceptable.
In his final speech, Mukherjee reiterated the importance for tolerance. He said, “The soul of India resides in pluralism and tolerance…The multiplicity in culture, faith and language is what makes India special.” He also emphasized on the need for multiplicity of opinion.
Mukherjee joins a long list of world leaders and thinkers who called for pacifist approach to humanity.
Nelson Mandela, one of the most revered political figures underscored the importance to fight for everyone in the world to be free. He said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
India’s Mahatma Gandhi is seen as a flagbearer for tolerance. He said, “Tolerance is the only thing that will enable persons belonging to different religions to live as good neighbours and friends.”
Indian PM, Narendra Modi also has made the case for pluralism in the past. In 2015, he spoke at a function organized by a church in Delhi noting, “The world is increasingly witnessing division and hostility on religious lines. This has become a matter of global concern… Unity strengthens us. Division weakens us.”
Our assessment is that Mukherjee’s legacy lies is his staunch advocacy for tolerant discourse and existence.