New Delhi, Oct. 7: President Pranab Mukherjee today cautioned against deviation from "the core values of our civilisation" that celebrate diversity and advocate plurality - a statement that stood out against the backdrop of the Dadri lynching and the Prime Minister's silence on the matter.
"I firmly believe that we cannot allow the core values of our civilisation to be wasted and the core values are what over the years the civilisation celebrated, promoted and advocated: diversity, tolerance, endurance and plurality," the President said in the presence of home minister Rajnath Singh who had earlier described Mukherjee as a symbol of Indianness and nationalism.
"These core civilisation values keep us together over centuries. Many ancient civilisations have fallen. But (despite) aggression after aggression, long foreign rule, India's civilisation has survived because of its core civilisational values and adherence to them. We must keep that in mind. And if we keep those core values in mind, nothing can prevent our democracy from moving on," the President added.
Mukherjee was speaking at a book launch. Also present were Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah and Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Yesterday, Nayantara Sahgal, the niece of India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, said she would return her Sahitya Akademi award to protest the general air of intolerance and the silence of the Prime Minister who " dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology".
On the night of September 28, Mohammad Akhlaque was lynched by a mob in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, over unsubstantiated claims of cow slaughter.
Several BJP leaders, including Union ministers Mahesh Sharma and Sanjeev Balyan, had termed the incident an "accident".
Ashok Vajpeyi, a former Union culture secretary, today renounced his Sahitya Akademi award to protest "the PM's silence on statements by his ministers that belittle our multicultural fabric".
Vajpeyi wields considerable clout in the visual arts and Hindi literary circles in northern India. He won the award in 1994 for a collection of poems.
"I am doing this to take a stand against the murders of writers and rationalists," Vajpeyi said. "Ms Sahgal and others (who have offered to return their awards) are right. We are living in a country where the culture minister (Mahesh Sharma is the junior culture minister) says President Kalam was nationalist despite being Muslim. And the PM who is known for his speeches doesn't say a word."
He said the murders of Karnataka-based rationalist and academic M.M. Kalburgi and rationalist Govind Pansare in Maharashtra have "shaken us up". "I have to do this because the Sahitya Akademi has not spoken out against these incidents."
The Sahitya Akademi would examine the requests for return of awards when its executive board meets in December, its president V.P. Tiwari said.
"As an autonomous body, we have no role in condemning or praising anybody. Police are probing these cases. The executive board issues condolence messages for eminent writers of all Indian languages during its meetings twice a year," he said.