Former President Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday said that the present wave of largely peaceful protests will once again help deepen India’s democratic roots, PTI reported. Mukherjee made the remark during the Sukumar Sen lecture, an event organised by the Election Commission of India in New Delhi. Sen was the first chief election commissioner of independent India.

Mukherjee, a Congress leader, said the last few months have witnessed people, particularly the youth, come out on the streets in large numbers to voice their opinions on matters “which in their view are important”. “Their assertion and belief in the Constitution of India is particularly heartening to see,” he said. The former president was in all likelihood referring to protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens.

Mukherjee said democracy thrives on listening, deliberating, discussing, arguing, and dissenting, according to a tweet from his handle. He said that Indian democracy has been tested again and again, and emphasised the importance of consensus, which he called the “lifeblood of democracy”.

“The Election Commission has served its purpose well and any attempt at its denigration will amount to denigrating the electoral process,” the Congress leader added. “People’s mandate is sacrosanct and its sanctity supreme. The onus of ensuring this lies with the Election Commission.”

The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed by Parliament on December 11 last year and notified by the Centre on January 10, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014. The Act has been widely criticised for excluding Muslims. At least 26 people died in last month’s protests against the law in BJP-ruled states – 19 in Uttar Pradesh, five in Assam and two in Karnataka.

On the other hand, the National Register of Citizens is a proposed exercise to distinguish between undocumented migrants and Indian citizens. One such exercise, carried out in Assam last year, led to the exclusion of over 19 lakh people.