GUWAHATI, March 31 - Glorifying the plural nature of Indian society, President Pranab Mukherjee today asserted that Indians may be �argumentative� but had never been �intolerant�.
�I may believe if someone says Indians are argumentative. But I refuse to believe if anyone says Indians are intolerant. Our traditions, including the teachings of Assam�s great scholar and social reformer Sankaradeva never allowed the practice of intolerance,� Mukherjee said inaugurating the five-day Namami Brahmaputra festival on the banks of the river at Kachamarighat here this afternoon.
Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, Assam Governor Banwarilal Purohit, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and other dignitaries attended the inaugural function of the festival.
Referring to the diverse and distinctive culture of Assam, the President said India�s strength was its ability to manage diversity and forge unity in divergence. It was not just the elites but also the common people who were firmly committed to trust, mutual understanding and harmony, he said.
The President pointed that despite a population of 1.3 million people, with all seven major religions of the world practised and 200 languages used in daily activities, India is the only country in the world that has �one flag, one Constitution�.
Highlighting Assam�s immense potential, the President said Assam is emerging as an economic hub of East India and Southeast Asia and is the gateway and most effective location to put into effect the Prime Minister�s Act East policy.
�The State is rich in natural resources and its people are hard working. What is needed is a strong drive, right policies and effective implementation backed by modern technologies,� he said, adding that Southeast Asia is emerging as an important destination for India�s investment and trade.
The President said Brahmaputra river is the lifeline of Assam and the region. It is intertwined into the economy, culture and day-to-day life of the people of the area through which it flows.
The President, praising the efforts of the Assam Government to showcase the Brahmaputra at the global arena, highlighted how rivers have been carriers of civilisations. �The Brahmaputra has also witnessed many occurrences, rise and fall of mighty empires and itself shown heroism and lent indomitable spirit to men and women,� he said.
Recounting his innumerable visits to all parts of the State during his political career and never encountering any problem even during times of turmoil, the President also lauded the people of Assam for always �resisting aggression of land as well as mind.�
Thanking the Bhutan Prime Minister for his presence, Mukherjee said the world stands to learn from this Himalayan nation�s practice of quantifying its progress in terms of happiness of its people rather that applying materialistic yardsticks.
Earlier, Tobgay, in his speech, dwelt on the historic ties of Bhutan and India, especially Assam with which his country shares a 699-km-long boundary. He highlighted that not just Bhutan, but all neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, stood to gain due to economic development of Assam and north eastern region of India.
�This festival is a recognition of the economic potential of the Brahmaputra that has benefitted countless people since centuries and this region. Neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Bhutan will benefit from Assam�s progress,� he said, referring to the fact that ten rivers of Bhutan flow into the Brahmaputra.
Tobgay particularly stressed on the close ties with Assam, pointing how Bhutan operates the lone international flight from Guwahati airport and has been requesting the Government of India permission to open its consulate in Guwahati.
He said the Namami Brahmaputra festival should not only be the �biggest river festival� but also the �most powerful� river festival.
In his speech, Governor Purohit referred to the unique culture of Assam and the hospitality he found here which is �unmatched�.
Chief Minister Sonowal described the day as historic, particularly for the people living on both the banks of the Brahmaputra and appreciated the enthusiasm among the people regarding the festival.
Transport Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary gave the opening remarks while Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma delivered the vote of thanks in the hour-long opening ceremony.
The festival, which is being held at 27 venues in the 21 districts of the State through which the Brahmaputra flows, is an endeavour to showcase the rich potential and resource of the Brahmaputra.