Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday lavished praise on Jawaharlal Nehru and hailed all previous governments as he struck a conciliatory note after two days of debate on B.R. Ambedkar that saw sparks fly between the opposition and treasury benches.
Ending two days of discussions in parliament on the 125th birth anniversary of Ambedkar, widely seen as the architect of the constitution, Modi reached out to the opposition while underlining the diverse nature of the country.
Once the debate ended, Modi — for the first time since taking office in May 2014 — invited and met both his predecessor Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi at his house and discussed the contentious GST.
A second meeting is expected after the Congress holds discussions within on the Goods and Services Tax.
In parliament, Modi made it clear that all governments had contributed in building India.
“No one can say that the earlier governments have not done anything for this country,” Modi said, looking at opposition MPs. “I am not saying this today. I have said this from the Red Fort.”
And in a rare gesture, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader praised Nehru, India’s first prime minister, for his role in the constituent assembly and for his ability to concede other points of view.
He cited an incident when socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia quoted statistics to tell Nehru that his government’s policy was wrong.
“Nehru said I cannot refute your statistics,” Modi went on. “He (Nehru)showed greatness.”
The prime minister’s tribute to Nehru was in contrast to the earlier sparring between Congress and BJP leaders over the legacy of Nehru and Ambedkar.
Modi lauded the role Ambedkar played in framing the Indian constitution without any bias although he suffering indignities because he was a Dalit.
“It was a tribute to Ambedkar’s personality that he bore all humiliation but there was no sense of revenge in him; the no sense of revenge is reflected in the constitution.
“To frame the constitution of a country like India, it is not easy.”
But Modi quickly pointed out that other leaders too played a key role in framing the constitution, which he described as “a binding force in a diverse country”.
And the spirit of the parliamentary discussion today was about “us” and not about “you” or “me”.
Earlier, the Congress and the BJP sparred in the Rajya Sabha.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley referred to the subversion of the constitution by Hitler, making a not-so-subtle link to the imposition of Emergency by Indira Gandhi in 1975.
“Fundamental rights were snatched during the Emergency,” he said, and pointed out that “you imposed Emergency, detained opposition leaders, censored newspapers”.
Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad accused the Modi government of “manufacturing” intolerance, and said it was trying to “re-write history” by not crediting Nehru for the constitution’s preamble.
“We didn’t speak about Pandit Nehru even once. How is it possible that we are discussing the objectives of the constitution and we don’t mention Nehru.
“Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Sardar (Vallabhbhai) Patel are being pitted against each other even though they aren’t alive. This is what is called intolerance.
“The atmosphere in the country in the last one-and-a-half years is against the constitution of India.”
Jaitley interrupted Azad by asking: “Why do you have so much grudge against Ambedkar?”
The Congress leader retorted: “You can talk about Hitler, and we cannot even talk about our first prime minister? This is intolerance.”