Ahmedabad: In the middle of a debate on perceived "intolerance" in the country, President Pranab Mukherjee today delivered a sharp message on "cleansing India of divisive thoughts" and said: "The real dirt of India lies not on the streets but in our minds."
Speaking at a function in Mahatma Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, Mr Mukherjee also commented on "our unwillingness to let go of views that divide society into them and us."
He praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Swachch Bharat" or Clean India mission but commented that "this also must be seen as just the beginning of a much larger and intense effort to cleanse minds and fulfil Gandhiji's vision in all its aspects."
Mr Mukherjee cited Gandhiji's vision of India as an inclusive nation where everyone is equal.
"Every day, we see unprecedented violence all around us. At the heart of this violence is darkness, fear and mistrust. While we invent new modes of combating this ever spiraling violence, we must not forget the power of non-violence, dialogue and reason," he said.
The President has repeatedly spoken against "intolerance", linked to incidents like the mob killing in September of a Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh's Dadri over rumours that he had eaten beef.
"We must free our public discourse of all forms of violence, physical as well as verbal. Only a non-violent society can ensure the participation of all sections of the people, especially the marginalised and the dispossessed in our democratic process," Mr Mukherjee said.
He added: "Only those who are confident of their conviction, secure in their faith and rooted in their culture can hope to live in an open house, an open society. If we close ourselves in, seek to be immune from other influences, it shows that we are prepared to live in a house that is devoid of fresh breeze."
The President also said the "capacity for compassion and empathy is the true foundation of our civilization."