Advocating free thinking in university campuses, President Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday spoke out on the nationalism debate and lamented that it was tragic to see students engaging in violence.

Delivering the sixth KS Rajamony memorial lecture on the topic ‘[email protected]’ in Kochi, Kerala he said, "Our premier institutions of higher education are the vehicles on which India has to propel itself into a knowledge society." 

His comments come in the backdrop of the ongoing tussle between RSS-affiliate ABVP and Left-backed AISA supporters in the Delhi University and a raging debate over free speech and nationalism following recent tweets of one of the varsity's students Gurmehar Kaur.

The President said there should be no room in the country for the "intolerant Indian" as this nation has been a bastion of free though, speech and expression since ancient times.  

Pranab warned the nation to defend itself against forces which want to curb the environment of free speech and expression.

He also criticised the trolling of Gurmehar Kaur, who has emerged as the face of the AISA-backed students’ agitation. In terse comments, Mukherjee said he does not consider a society or state to be civilised if its citizens' behaviour towards women is uncivilised.

Mukherjee also advised the politicians to "listen" to people. 

While reiterating that "the nation and the people must always come first", President said that "sense of national purpose and patriotism alone can lift our nation on to the road of sustained progress and prosperity ."