The battle over Jawaharlal Nehru’s legacy escalated yesterday with Congress launching a sharp but veiled attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accusing him of seeking to destroy his secular vision and spreading “poison of communalism”.
The Congress’ criticism of Modi, whom it accuses of appropriating the legacy of freedom movement leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel, came at two functions to mark the 125th birth anniversary of Nehru.
Though Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul did not name the Prime Minister, the reference was obvious.
Speaking at the first event organised by the party, Sonia Gandhi asked Congressmen to fight those out to demolish Nehru’s “liberal India”.
Later in the evening, speaking at the Jawaharlal Nehru memorial lecture event, she said that the legacy of every great political leader is often subject to revisionism of some type or other.
“But what is being attempted on Jawaharlal Nehru by those who are ideologically hostile to him is the total rejection of his secular vision of a tolerant and liberal India celebrating its many diversities.
“Those who castigate him choose also to be oblivious of the larger political and historical context of his times in which the state had to be the principal catalyst for socio-economic transformation,” Gandhi said.
Out of power for the last six months after a crushing defeat in the Lok Sabha polls, the party is utilising the 125th birth anniversary of Nehru to rally round non-NDA parties on a platform raising the pitch of secularism.
It has organised an international meet on November 17 and 18 for which it has not invited Modi.
Sonia Gandhi has extended invitations personally to leaders including Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee.
At the Nehru memorial event, inviting President Pranab Mukherjee to deliver the lecture, Gandhi said that we must continue to fiercely fight for the idea for which Nehru stood and always upheld.
“And if I might add, so is the idea of Nehru as well, an idea that belongs to not one political party or narrow segment but indeed to the entire country and humanity at large.”
At the Congress event, speaking in the presence of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, she asked partymen to be united and strengthen the organisation and connect and fight those forces that are out to demolish Nehru’s vision of a liberal India.
“Massive attempts are on to destroy the vision of Nehru the way he used to look at India. The forces, which are doing this are targeting not only his persona but also his ideology, his vision, his life-long contributions and struggle,” she said.
The Congress President said that had Nehru been alive, he would have asked all Congressmen to fight communalism of all hues by becoming a “valiant secular soldier” for protecting the soul of India.
In his speech, Rahul Gandhi said that “angry” people are nowadays running the country and had a dig at Modi over the “Swachchta Abhiyan” saying “photo opportunities” are galore.
“These days, the foundation of love and brotherhood is being demolished. On the one hand houses are being painted and roads are being cleaned. Photo opportunities are happening. Snaps are being taken. On the other hand, poison is being spread. The very foundations are being weakened,” he said.
At the other event, Sonia Gandhi said that while given Nehru’s towering stature intellectually and politically, one often tends to think that he governed unchallenged.
“Not so. His 17 years as Prime Minister were a time when there were sharp ideological differences and even passionate policy disagreements, a time when the course he charted for a newly independent country was often called into question.
“Yet he reached across the political spectrum to exchange views and ideas with critics on major issues of the day, never shying away from engaging with his detractors. Nehru’s most bitter antagonists acknowledged that he was free from malice, from mean-mindedness, from parochial instincts and, above all from hate and fear,” she said.
She also hailed Mukherjee, who delivered the key note address on Nehru saying “Politics apart, he has been among the most thoughtful and well-read personalities in public life.”
Lauding the President for his unmatched breadth of knowledge and depth of understanding of the crosscurrents of Indian society and politics, Sonia Gandhi said, “A man of politics, a man of letters, a man of wisdom and experience – we could think of no most appropriate personality to deliver this year’s lecture.”
At the outset she said about Nehru that the structures of the government and economy, the very ethos and principles which shaped modern India, would have been very different had it not been for his vision, his leadership, and his tremendous commitment and hard work during our country’s formative years.
“Nehru was pre-eminent amongst those remarkable men and women, who inspired and led by Mahatma Gandhi freed India from colonial domination. Nehru assumed office at the most traumatic time when the horrors of Partition were unfolding and when the country lost Mahatma Gandhi.
“He steered India through this most turbulent period and placed it firmly on the path of Parliamentary democracy and planned development. This is what gave rise to the Nehruvian consensus that has stood us well these past six decades,” she said.
Gandhi also said that India’s achievements would not have been possible without the solid foundations established under Nehru’s leadership.
“The fact that we are a Parliamentary democracy anchored in liberal values, the fact that we celebrate our many diversities, the fact that we are strong internationalists, the fact that we see that we see social equality and empowerment as absolutely essential aspects of economic development — all these are largely Nehru’s legacy,” she claimed.
In the morning event, the Congress President said, “A person with so much power and authority and enjoying such love and trust could have taken the country to any direction.
“But it was his deep conviction in justice and liberty that he took the country on a path in which institutions were given more importance than an individual. He engaged in a politics, which allowed play to all kinds of thoughts.”
She also reminded Congressmen that the history of Congress is 129 years old and it has always remained vibrant and weathered many difficulties and faced many storms with every crisis giving it a new strength.
At the function, Dikshit administered oath to Congress workers in the name of Nehru to commit themselves to the ideals of secularism, pluralism and progressiveness espoused by him.