New Delhi: Describing listening, arguing and dissent as essence of democracy, former president Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday said he believes that the present wave of largely peaceful protests that have "gripped" the country will once again enable the deepening of India's democratic roots.
He also cautioned that while India's tryst with democracy is a story which needs to be told time and again, "complacency enables authoritarian tendencies to gain ground".
Mukherjee pointed out that in the last few months people, particularly the youth, come out on the streets in large numbers to voice their views on issues "which in their view are important".
"Their assertion and belief in the Constitution of India is particularly heartening to see," he said at the first Sukumar Sen memorial lecture organised by the Election Commission here.
Indian democracy has been tested time and again, he said, adding that consensus is the lifeblood of democracy.
In an apparent reference to protests in parts of the country against the amended Citizenship Act and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the veteran leader said, "The last few months have witnessed people come out on the streets in large numbers, particularly the young, to voice their views on issues which in the opinion are important."
Their assertion and belief in the Constitution is particularly "heartening", he noted.
Democracy, he said, thrives on listening, deliberating, discussing, arguing and even dissent, he said in his address.
"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 also cautioned that any attempt to denigrate the Election Commission, which has served its purpose well, will amount to denigrating the electoral process itself. As a firm believer in India's institutions, he said, it is his considered opinion that it is the 'workmen' who decide how an institutional tool performs.
"The onus of ensuring institutional integrity in this case lies with the Election Commission of India. They must do so and put any speculation to rest," he said.
Institutions like the CAG, RBI, UPSC, Planning Commission (now Niti Aayog) spearheaded India's socio-economic and political resurgence, he said.
"The Election Commission, like its peers in other fields, has served its purpose accordingly well and any attempt at its denigration will amount to denigrating the electoral process itself," he said.
Mukherjee said there can be no room for speculation that challenges the very basis of our democracy. "People's mandate is sacrosanct and has to be above any iota of reasonable doubt," he said.
In his address, the veteran leader also flagged that the "model code puts brakes" on day-to-day administration. He said holding of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies was a possible solution but it requires consensus and constitutional amendments.
Another alternative, he suggested, was to amend the model code to ensure that development works do not stop due to the Lok Sabha or assembly polls. The model code was derived after EC and political parties held long consultations on ways to make polls a level playing field for all stakeholders.