Keeping Narendra Modi out from Nehru function, Sonia Gandhi attacks saffron forces

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New Delhi | Updated: November 18, 2014 10:47 AM

After keeping Prime Minister Narendra Modi and NDA out of its event on Nehru...

After keeping Prime Minister Narendra Modi and NDA out of its event on Nehru in the fight over his legacy, Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Monday made a veiled attack on saffron forces accusing them of “misrepresentation and distortion” of his life and work.

Addressing an international conference as part of the 125th birth anniversary celebrations of Jawaharlal Nehru, she said the first Prime Minister was prescient about the consequences of allowing religion in politics and for him secularism was an article of faith.

Gandhi did not name Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or the Sangh Parivar but the attack was obvious.

The event, which Congress used to reach out to non-NDA parties, saw Mamata Banerjee from Trinamool Congress and Left leaders Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury of CPI-M and D Raja from CPI coming together.

Former Prime Minister and JD(S) chief H D Deve Gowda, JD(U) President Sharad Yadav, NCP general secretary D P Tripathi and RJD leader Jaiprakash Yadav were also present.

However, representatives of SP, BSP, DMK, NC and PDP were not present at the event to which the Congress delegation was led by Rahul Gandhi.

In her opening remarks, the Congress President said the whisper of knowledge about Nehru’s life and work has weakened in recent years in the country, “drowned out by misrepresentation and distortion”.

Holding that secularism, a state neutral in matters of religion, respecting all faiths equally was an article of faith for Nehru, Gandhi said

“…There could be no Indianness, no India, without secularism. Secularism was and remains more than an ideal, It is a compelling necessity for a country as diverse as India.”

The conference, which seeks to highlight the legacy and world view of the country’s first Prime Minister, is also being attended by a host of international leaders including former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, John Kufuor of Ghana, Pakistani rights activist Asma Jehangir and veteran South African freedom fighter Ahmed Kathrada.

In inviting leaders, Congress conscioulsy chose not to call the Prime Minister saying it has called only those who believe in Nehru’s legacy.

Congress’ battle with the government and the ruling party comes in the midst of a perceived attempt by BJP to appropriate freedom movement leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel and to undermine the importance of Nehru.

At the conference, Gandhi said said that Nehru’s belief that only parliamentary democracy and a secular state could hold the country together in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-linguistic and multi-regional society, has been proved right.

Holding that Nehru’s achievements were not only for the past and continue to bear fruit, the Congress President said the conference is “not only a commemoration of his 125th birth anniversary, it is an opportunity to reassert the relevance, durability and indispensability of his legacy…”.

“I hope that this conference will contribute significantly to that objective,” she said.

The New Delhi conference has two subject sessions — Inclusive Democracy and People’s Empowerment and Nehru’s Worldview and a Democratic Global Order for the 21st century.

The two-day conference will conclude with a commemorative declaration tomorrow, which will will capture the essence of the deliberations and convey a message of global import.

Former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran lamented that there is a “certain revisionism” and one witnesses today casting doubt on Nehru’s love for India and his dreams for her future.

“There is a lack of appreciation of the very significant contributions he made to nation-building in India and to the cause of international peace and security in a period fraught with many risks and vulnerabilities.

“We need to assess his legacy within the specific context of the period of history in which he lived and held the reins of leadership. We should desist from putting on his shoulders the baggage of subsequent history,” he said.

Prof Aditya Mukherjee of JNU said that Nehru’s role in setting India firmly on the path of modern, secular, democratic, humane and pro-poor development against incredible odds was immense.

“Yet today, half a century after his death, that legacy stands seriously challenged. And that challenge is not coming from backward, traditional people but from their leaders and the state machinery.

“The modern scientific temper is challenged with obscurantist beliefs drawn from mythology by political parties in government who force it on school children. The secular fabric so carefully and painstakingly woven is beginning to fray with the collusion of state power,” he said.

Pakistani human rights activist Asma Jehangir, who was among the panelists and termed herself as “a friend of India,” expressed concern over the existence of “communalism” in the country and remarked that this is not what India is known for.

“In the land of Gandhis, we still have mobs that burn churches. Indians do not mind communalism. It has become a part of life. What they mind is economic prosperity and not communalism. Communalism is not what you Indians wanted,” she said.

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