New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi struck a note of compromise and appealed for greater tolerance, telling the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday that people should look for opportunities to unite rather than reasons to divide.

Replying to the debate on the Constitution, Modi said it was the collective responsibility that everyone enjoys equal rights and it was a failure of the country and society if atrocities against Dalits and the marginalized continued in the country.

“Unity is the focal point in India. We have many reasons to be divided but we have to look for opportunities to unite...There is no reason to doubt the patriotism of all people of the country and there was no need for anyone to prove their patriotism every morning and evening," said Modi.

The PM said the Constitution talks about social justice and that people should work to ensure social justice in society. “If society doesn’t end the wrong practices, we have to take it up to ensure social justice. Constitution has the power to bring everyone together, end differences between the opposition and government," Modi added.

Modi also clarified the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government had decided to celebrate 26 November as Constitution Day to honour its chief architect, B.R. Ambedkar, but it was not done to belittle any other member of the Constituent Assembly.

“Constitution is the only way to go forward; during difficult times, Constitution is there to guide us. We have the responsibility to inform the coming generations about Constitution and how it was formed," said Modi.

The continuing debate on growing intolerance in the country witnessed bitter exchanges between the government and members of the opposition party led by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. The Congress leader said leaders who were involved in the formation of Constitution were his heroes not because they had all the answers but these leaders had the humility to ask the right questions and also to listen to people.

“While I listened to the PM’s speech, I could see how profoundly we differ in our thinking. For Modi, the leaders (in the Constituent Assembly) were intellectual heroes to be worshipped and placed on a pedestal. They had all the answers to India’s problems. For me, what was heroic about the people he mentioned was their ability to listen to the people of this country. They are my heroes not because they had all the answers but because they had the humility to ask the right questions. For me, the real authors of the Constitution were the people the PM did not spend much time on in his speech, they are the people of the country," Gandhi said in his Lok Sabha speech.

Even as the government and opposition parties clashed inside Parliament, President Pranab Mukherjee said in a speech in Ahmedabad that there was a need to free the 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 people in our democratic process. Real dirt of India lies not in our streets but in our minds. It lies in our unwillingness to let go of views that divide society into them and us, pure and impure," Mukherjee said on the 62nd convocation of Gujarat Vidyapith, a university in Ahmedabad.

“Swachch Bharat, according to Bapu (Mahatma Gandhi), implied a clean mind, clean body and clean environment. Gandhi in life and in death struggled for communal harmony. Education in peace and harmony is the key to contain and reorient disruptive forces in society," the President said.

Rahul Gandhi also used the Lok Sabha debate to attack the government on the murder of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri in September and rationalist M.M. Kalburgi. “The Prime Minister of India remains silent. The government talks of Skill India, yet when FTII (film school) students with superb skills go on strike because a mediocre man is placed in a top institution, the government simply tries to crush and intimidate them."

Manisha Priyam, a New Delhi-based political analyst, said, “From here on, public opinion should bind him (Modi) from digressing. The attack by Rahul Gandhi may be seen as correct but if they do not find common ground now, it will be clear that the opposition doesn’t want the government to function."