Call to celebrate diversity

Lessons on unity in times of strife

By Dev Raj
  • Published 18.04.17
President Pranab Mukherjee and chief minister Nitish Kumar at Patna's SK Memorial Hall on Monday. Picture by Nagendra Kumar Singh

Amid growing incidents of intolerance and violence across the country, President Pranab Mukherjee on Monday asked people to celebrate diversity - which he described as a precious thing - to keep India united.

"To keep India united, we must celebrate diversity, something which is precious among the people here. We should make efforts to ensure that India reaches the rightful place in the comity of nations," Mukherjee said.

To drive home the point, the President pointed out that "over 200 languages are spoken daily across the country and all seven major religions of the world are practised here by the people".

"Caucasians, Dravidians and Mongoloids - all three races live here. Yet they are under one flag, one Constitution and one identity - which is ' Main ek Bharatiya hoon' (I am an Indian)," he added.

The President was in Patna as the chief guest at a function organised by the Bihar government to felicitate over 800 freedom fighters from all over the country as part of its ongoing centenary celebrations of the Champaran Satyagraha of Mahatma Gandhi.

Mukherjee felicitated 15 freedom fighters from different states.

Lauding chief minister Nitish Kumar's effort to organise such an event, Mukherjee said: "At a time when people are forgetting the history of India, Bihar is remembering the Champaran Satyagraha. We must know our roots."

The President pointed out that Mahatma Gandhi's experiments with "truth" and "satyagraha" were fulfilled in the laboratory of Champaran and later applied across the country.

Speaking on the occasion, Bihar governor Ram Nath Kovind said it was Champaran which turned Gandhi into a Mahatma and he openly challenged British Imperialism during the satyagraha there.

The chief minister seconded Mukherjee and stressed on the need to follow the path shown by Mahatma Gandhi.

"Gandhi's thoughts are relevant in this age, when an environment of intolerance is everywhere," Nitish said.

Taking potshots at the Centre, the chief minister said the need was to "have an environment of peace, love and tolerance to ensure development of the country. Just talking about development won't bring it. We need to develop a proper atmosphere for it".

Nitish, while delivering the welcome address, highlighted the conditions in which Mahatma Gandhi visited Bihar on the request of Rajkumar Shukla and others and said that the Champaran Satyagraha gave a new direction to the freedom movement by taking it to the masses. Previously, it was limited to the annual meetings of the Congress and could not become a mass movement, he added.

Nitish will be embarking on a walk in the footsteps of Gandhi on Tuesday morning from East Champaran, and will visit the village of Rajkumar Shukla in West Champaran district on April 27.

"Many of our freedom fighters are no more. We thought why not invite and honour those who are still with us. We invited them from all over the country because they have sacrificed for Independence," Nitish said.

The coordination was done by Akhil Bharatiya Swatantrata Senani Sangh headed by Satyanand Yaji on the request of the state government.

The chief minister asserted that the programmes being organised as part of the centenary celebrations were not symbolic. The government intended to take the thoughts and message of Gandhi to every nook and corner of the state.

"We will take the message of Bapu to every village, house and school through various programmes for the next one year. I believe even if 10 or 15 per cent people are attracted to his message, it will change the society," Nitish added.

Nitish also asserted that the state government would try to develop an educational system based on the thoughts and philosophy of Gandhi and run a permanent programme so that future generations benefit.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi focused on the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi and pointed out that he took three bullets on his chest for his efforts to unite Hindustan and its people.

"There could be difference between truth and power. It is not necessary that those who have power would have truth also with them. Gandhi showed this to the people and removed the fear of British rule from their minds by making them believe that they would win if they have truth on their side," Rahul said.

In a veiled reference to the BJP-led Union government, Rahul added: "If anybody has power and tries to spread hatred and fear, the people will not accept it."

Over 800 freedom fighters were invited to Bihar on the state government's expense. Those who could not come due to poor health or other reasons would be felicitated at their homes across the country.

Chaos reigned on major Patna roads, especially Bailey Road, because of President Pranab Mukherjee’s movement during his daylong visit to participate in the centenary celebrations of the Champaran Satyagraha at SK Memorial Hall. As the President’s cavalcade was crossing Bailey Road, commuters were stopped at entry points. Long queues of vehicles were seen at Beer Chand Patel Marg, as the road near Income Tax roundabout, leading to Bailey Road, was closed. Bailey Road had to be closed twice, once when the President’s cavalcade passed it on its way from the airport to SK Memorial Hall and the second time during his way to the airport. Vehicles were also seen trapped on Fraser Road. Anil Paswan, who was going to pick up his daughter from St Joseph’s Convent at Ashok Rajpath, had to wait for over half-an-hour on Fraser Road. “I had to pick up my daughter, but the police have stopped traffic for over an hour,” Paswan said. “It is only in India that traffic is stopped for the movement of the President, Prime Minister, chief minister, deputy chief minister and at times Union ministers and other VIPs. And who pays the price? The common man.” 

Text by Roshan Kumar, picture by Dinesh Kumar