President Kovind hails new citizenship law, calls it 'historic'; slams violence in name of protests

New Delhi, Jan 31 (PTI) Hailing the new Citizenship law as 'historic' and a fulfilment of Mahatma Gandhi's wish, President Ram Nath Kovind on Friday deprecated any kind of violence in the name of protests, saying it weakened the society and the nation, remarks that came amid protests against the contentious law.

The President's glowing reference to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in his address to a joint sitting of Parliament drew protests from opposition members, many of whom wore black bands, with some shouting 'shame shame' while BJP MPs thumped benches in support. The issue of atrocities against minorities in Pakistan was also brought up by the President.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi and the party's leader in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad sat in the back rows in the Central Hall of Parliament instead of the front seats allotted to them to mark their protest against the law.

Delivering his 70-minute address in Hindi which marks the start of the Parliament's Budget session, Kovind pointed out that mutual discussions and debates strengthen democracy. He also called for making this decade 'India's decade' and this century 'India's century'.

'At the same time, any kind of violence in the name of protests weakens the society and the nation.' he said without directly referring to the anti-CAA protests in the country some of which have witnessed violence.

Kovind said India has always believed in the principle of equal respect for all faiths. But at the time of Partition, 'this very belief of India and of its people came under the most severe attack.' He said Mahatma Gandhi had said that Hindus and Sikhs of Pakistan, who do not wish to live there, can come to India and it is the duty of the Indian government to ensure a normal life for them.

'It is our responsibility to honour this wish of the founding fathers of our nation. I am happy that both the Houses of Parliament have fulfilled this wish, by enacting the Citizenship Amendment Act. At a time when the country is celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhiji, all of you have given paramount consideration to this sentiment,' Kovind said.

Referring to atrocities on minorities in Pakistan, the President said, 'We have all seen what happened in Nankana Sahib recently. It is the responsibility of all of us to bring the atrocities being committed in Pakistan to the notice of the global community.' The Nankana Sahib gurudwara in Pakistan was attacked by a mob earlier this month.

'While condemning the atrocities on the minorities in Pakistan, I urge the world community to take cognizance of it and take necessary steps in this regard,' he said.

On economic issues, Kovind exhorted people to use locally manufactured products for a 'better tomorrow', as he reiterated the government's commitment to make India a USD 5 trillion economy.

The President also said that fundamentals of the Indian economy were strong and the foreign exchange reserves were at a record high.

Touching upon the Supreme Court's Ayodhya judgment, he said the faith reposed by the people of India in democratic institutions strengthens the foundation of our democracy.

'The maturity displayed by the countrymen after the Supreme Court’s verdict on Ram Janmabhoomi is also laudable,' he said.

Kovind also said there is happiness among people of India that people in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh have got rights on par with the rest of the country, and referred to Shyama Prasad Mukherjee's remarks in the Lok Sabha that in a democratic federal state, the fundamental rights of the citizens of one constituent unit cannot vary vis-à-vis the citizens of another unit.

'Today, after seven decades, the whole country is happy that the dream of crores of freedom fighters including Dr Mukherjee has come true and the people of Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh, the dalits and women from that area have also got the same rights as the people in the rest of the country.

'The abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution by two-thirds majority in both the Houses of Parliament is not only historic but has also paved the way for equitable development of Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh.' Urging people to remember their fundamental duties, the President said in addition to protecting the rights of every citizen of our country, our Constitution makes the citizens of the country mindful of their duties.

'We should all strive to make every citizen conscious of and dedicated to his duties in the national interest, and ensure that this sense of responsibility becomes the guiding principle of our civic life. Come, let us together make this decade of 2020 the decade of fulfilling our duties.' Kovind said Parliament has created a record in the first seven months of the new government headed by Narendra Modi by enacting several landmark legislations.

'My government is taking strong steps for making this decade as India's decade and this century as India's century,' he said.

The President said the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff and the Department of Military Affairs will bring synergy among three services of the armed forces and speed up their modernisation.

On steps to tackle terrorism, he said the Modi government has given a free hand to security forces to curb the menace.

Kovind also said the government was working for security of women and will set up over 1,000 fast track courts to dispose of cases of crime against women.PTI PR KPM CS KR ACB NAB GSN KR GSN GSN