In his first address to the new Parliament on Monday, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam delivered a speech which was drafted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s administration.
Kalam is the constitutional head of state but has little role in the running of government.
Singh became prime minister last month after his Congress Party ousted the Hindu nationalist-led government of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in April-May elections.
Kalam called the rise of religious divisions “a matter of serious concern” and said it had poisoned Indian society, “leading to the outbreak of riots, the most gruesome face of which was witnessed recently in Gujarat”.
Hindu-Muslim riots in the western state of Gujarat in 2002 killed more than 1000 people, mostly Muslims. The local government, run by Vajpayee’s Bharatia Janata Party, was accused by many residents of looking the other way.
“My government is determined to combat such forces,” Kalam told a joint sitting of both houses of Parliament – the Lok Sabha, or lower house, and the Rajya Sabha, or upper house. Ruling coalition members repeatedly applauded and thumped their desks.
“The outcome of these elections is indicative of people’s yearning for inclusiveness – economic, social and cultural – and their rejection of the forces of divisiveness and intolerance”A.P.J. Abdul Kalam,
Vajpayee’s government is credited with giving India’s economy one of the fastest growth rates in the world, but the boom bypassed tens of millions of people who live in rural villages and urban shanties. They voted Vajpayee out.
“The outcome of these elections is indicative of people’s yearning for inclusiveness – economic, social and cultural – and their rejection of the forces of divisiveness and intolerance,” Kalam said. “The verdict is for establishing the rule of law and repairing our secular fabric.”
While more than 80% of Indians are Hindu, their secular constitution provides equality for all religions and castes. Muslims are the largest minority, comprising about 12% of the population.
Kalam also said the government was “concerned about the misuse… in the recent past” of the tough Prevention of Terrorism Act passed by Vajpayee’s government.
Critics said the law was often used to target Muslims or poor people described as Maoist rebels or their supporters.
“While there can be no compromise on the fight against terrorism, the government is of the view that existing laws could adequately handle the menace of terrorism,” Kalam said. “The government, therefore, proposes to repeal POTA.”
Singh is credited with starting
Kalam promised the government would maintain 7% to 8% economic growth, encourage foreign investment and increase employment.
But the government’s compulsions were apparent in the address, which sought to please the government’s leftist allies by subsidising the poor and protecting workers and farmers.
The government has promised to sell off state enterprises that lose money, but not profit-making ones.
Kalam also promised the government would continue peace efforts with longtime rival Pakistan and strengthen ties with the United States.