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Modi’s ‘mother of democracy’ comment sparks debate, but he’s not the first Indian PM to say so

PM Modi made the comment at the UN, but Morarji Desai, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and P.V. Narasimha Rao have all expressed similar thoughts in the past.

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New Delhi: In his Saturday address to the 76th United Nations General Assembly in New York, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he represents a country that is proud to be the “mother of democracy”.

“I represent a country that is proud to be known as the mother of democracy. On 15 August this year, India entered the 75th year of its independence,” he said.

While External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar led several Twitter handles in lauding Modi’s speech, another section questioned the PM’s comment, pointing to the commonly accepted belief that the ancient Greeks were behind the first democratic institutions in the world.

“Representing the Mother of Democracy and based on his own experiences, PM affirms that democracy can deliver, democracy has delivered,” Jaishankar wrote in his tweet, alluding to Modi’s rise from a tea-seller to prime minister.

Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri too referred to the PM’s remark, and tweeted, “PM underlines India’s strong & robust tradition of democracy which has drawn strength from our nation’s diversity.”

But other users questioned the accuracy of Modi’s statement.

Also read: Pakistan on Modi’s mind: PM ‘calls out’ neighbour in talks with Biden, hints at it in UN speech

Morarji, Vajpayee, Rao said it too

Constantino Xavier, fellow at the Centre for Social and Economic Progress, pointed out in a tweet thread that the notion of “native Indian democracy” had also been brought up by other prime ministers, including Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Morarji Desai.

In an interview clip that has been widely shared over the years, Morarji Desai can be heard saying, “People forget that democracy is more natural to India than any other country. Because there was democracy in India before any other country in the world even dreamt of it. It is there in the Vedas, described so fully and firmly”.

The interviewer then prods Desai, saying that many in Britain believed democracy to be their gift to India, to which he replies, “If it pleases their vanity, I have no quarrel about it. But we had republics — fully, fairly elected — 2,500 years ago, much earlier than even Greece had its own kind of democracy.”

Later, in 2003, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, at the International Parliamentary Conference to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Parliament of India, said, “Democracy has deep roots in India’s national ethos and our ancient culture, which teaches respect for divergent and even dissenting points of view.”

Xavier also highlighted a 1990 remark by P.V. Narasimha Rao, then external affairs minister, during a visit to Nepal, where he had talked about “democratic republics that existed in this part of the world when Buddha was born and preached”.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: Does India matter? Yes, Kamala Harris’s ‘sermon’ to Modi reminds him why


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