Pranab Mukherjee: Ongoing protests will deepen our democratic roots

Ongoing protests will deepen our democratic roots, says Pranab Mukherjee

Mukherjee with CEC Sunil Arora (left) and EC Ashok Lavasa in Delhi. PTI

Consensus is the “lifeblood of democracy” and the “largely peaceful protests” over “the last few months”, especially by the young, will deepen the country’s democratic roots, former President Pranab Mukherjee said Thursday.

He also said that the youth’s “assertion and belief in the Constitution of India” is heartening. Democracy, he said, thrives on “listening, deliberating, discussing, arguing and even dissent”. Mukherjee was speaking at the first memorial lecture instituted by Election Commission (EC) in the name of India’s first Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sukumar Sen.

The former President’s remarks come against the backdrop of the nationwide protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, where the Constitution and the reading of the Preamble have been a common thread. Mukherjee is often praised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and was awarded the Bharat Ratna by the NDA government last year.

“Indian democracy has been tested time and again. The last few months have witnessed people come out on the streets in large numbers, particularly the young, to voice out their views on issues which in their opinions are important. Their assertion and belief in the Constitution of India is particularly heartening to see. Consensus is the lifeblood of democracy,” Mukherjee said.

“I believe the present wave of largely peaceful protests that have gripped the country shall once again enable the further deepening of our democratic roots,” he said.

Mukherjee listed out three challenges faced by the EC, even as he praised the panel for conducting the last Lok Sabha elections successfully. While the EC, he said, has served its purpose well,”any attempts at its denigration will amount to denigrating the electoral process itself”.

“People’s mandate is sacrosanct and has to be above any iota of reasonable doubt. A firm believer in our institutions, it is my considered opinion that it is the ‘workmen’ who decide how the institutional ‘tools’ perform. The onus of ensuring institutional integrity, in this case, lies with the Election Commission of India. They must do so and put any speculations to rest,” he said.

Among the challenges Mukherjee listed were the limits imposed on development work under the Model Code of Conduct. As a solution, he backed the idea of holding state and Lok Sabha polls simultaneously.

“Another alternate could be to amend the Model Code of Conduct appropriately and ensure that no developmental work is stopped simply because of the fact that elections are taking place. Ideally, it may be confined only to the elections to Lok Sabha which takes place all over the country and should be for a period of 3-4 weeks when the actual election process starts with the filing of nomination papers and ends with the casting of votes. It need not be applicable to election to the Assemblies of the States and Union Territories,” he said.

The former President also called for lifting the embargo on the number of seats in Parliament. The restriction, he said, has resulted in a large electorate in each Lok Sabha seat.

“With an average of 16-18 lakh people being represented by one member of the Parliament, how can we expect the representatives to be in touch with the electors? There is a strong case for removing the freeze on the number of seats in the delimitation exercise,” he said.

Mukherjee also advocated a Constitutional amendment to provide adequate representation of women in Parliament.