Spiritualism is rooted in the heritage of India. Indian saints and Greek sages had intellectual and spiritual exchanges thousands of years ago. India’s openness to new ideas is evident in the Rig Veda: “Aano bhadraha kratvo yantu vishvataha (Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides)”. This philosophy has guided our intellectual discourse since time immemorial. Mother India gave birth to many religious and spiritual currents. Some of them have even traveled beyond the borders of India.
The tradition of welcoming, respecting and honoring all religions is as old as India itself. As Swami Vivekananda said, “We not only believe in universal tolerance, but we accept all religions as true”. What Swami Vivekananda said a century ago is valid and will remain valid forever, not only for this nation but also for this government or, for that matter, any government in India led by any political party. This principle of equal respect and treatment for all faiths has been part of the philosophy of India for thousands of years. And that is how it became part of the Constitution of India. Our Constitution did not evolve in a vacuum. It has its roots in the ancient cultural traditions of India.
Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore had inspired us to dream of a country where the spirit is fearless and the head held high. It is this paradise of freedom that we have a duty to create and preserve. We believe that there is truth in every religion — ekam sat vipr bahudha vadanti.
Let me now address the issue that is central and critical to peace and harmony in the contemporary world. The world is increasingly witnessing division and hostility on religious grounds. It has become a matter of global concern. In this context, India’s ancient plea for mutual respect for all religions is now beginning to manifest itself in global discourse.
This long-felt need and urgency for mutually respectful relationships led to the interfaith conference on “Faith in Human Rights” in The Hague on December 10, 2008. It was also coincidentally the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations. .
Faith leaders representing all of the world’s major religions – Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Baha’i Faith, Buddhism, Islam, Taoism and indigenous religions – met, discussed and pledged to uphold the Universal Declaration and freedom of religion or belief. In their landmark declaration, they defined what constitutes freedom of religion and how it should be safeguarded.
We view the freedom to have, maintain and adopt a religion or belief as a personal choice of a citizen. The world is at a crossroads which, if not traversed correctly, can send us back to the dark days of bigotry, fanaticism and bloodshed. This harmonious convergence between religions could not be achieved even when the world entered the third millennium. And now it has been. This shows that the rest of the world is also moving in the direction of ancient India.
Speaking on behalf of India and my government, I declare that my government stands by every word of the above statement. My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of religion and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of their choice without coercion or undue influence. My government will not allow any religious group, majority or minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly. Mine will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions.
India is the country of Buddha and Gandhi. Equal respect for all religions must be in the DNA of every Indian. We cannot accept violence against any religion under any pretext and I strongly condemn such violence. My government will act firmly in this regard.
With this commitment, I call on all religious groups to act with restraint, mutual respect and tolerance, in the true spirit of this ancient nation, which manifests itself in our Constitution and is consistent with the Hague Declaration.
I have a vision of a modern India. I embarked on a huge mission to turn this vision into reality. My mantra is development – sabka saath, sabka vikas.
Simply put, this means food on every table, every child in school, a job for everyone, and a home with toilets and electricity for every family. It will make India proud. We can achieve this through unity. Unity strengthens us. Division weakens us. I sincerely ask all the Indians and all of you present here to support me in this immense task.
May the elevation to holiness of Saint Chavara and Saint Euphrasia, and their noble deeds, inspire us to maximize our inner strength, to use that strength to transform society through selfless service, to realize our collective vision of a developed India and modern.