In a critique of the Narendra Modi government, but without naming it, Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Thursday said that her husband Rajiv Gandhi did not use the strength of the massive mandate he had won in 1984 to create an atmosphere of fear, to intimidate and threaten or to crush dissent and different points of views.
She also lauded her son Rahul Gandhi’s act of quitting as the party chief after the party’s loss in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. She said Rajiv Gandhi believed if India had to occupy a special status on the world stage, it itself will need to be an inclusive society, which cannot be achieved with arrogance and sloganeering, but with action and conduct.
Addressing an event of her party to kick off the 75th birth anniversary celebrations of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi at the national capital’s KD Jadhav Stadium, Sonia Gandhi said electoral ups and down are inevitable and the challenges that the Congress confronts today are formidable.
“But we must continue our ideological struggle against the forces of divisiveness, the forces that are out to change the very nature of our society, the very Idea of India that is enshrined in our Constitution,” she said. The Congress has come for criticism, including from within the party, for its stand on Article 370 of the Constitution.
Speaking a day after the arrest of senior party leader P Chidambaram, the Congress president said her husband during his prime ministerial tenure did not exploit his mandate to suppress autonomy of institutions, attack democratic traditions or endanger people’s way of life.
Earlier in the day, party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala had accused the Modi government of “vendetta” in arresting Chidambaram, misusing central probe agencies “as personal revenge seeking departments” and questioned the Supreme Court of resorting to “technicalities” to delay the listing of the former finance minister’s plea for anticipatory bail.
At the event curated by a team led by party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Sonia Gandhi said majority eluded the Congress in 1989, but it had emerged the single largest party. However, Rajiv Gandhi accepted the mandate with humility, and did not offer to form the government. “Why didn’t he do that? His moral strength, generosity and intrinsic honesty did not allow him. None can do today what Rajivji did then, what Rahul has done now,” she said.
Sonia Gandhi said there are those today busy inventing a new past for us, but Rajiv Gandhi was engaged in inventing and preparing for a new future. “To him, the past had to be understood in all its complexities to build pride, not to stoke prejudice, to strengthen social harmony, not fuel antagonism and polarize our society, a society whose heritage has been enriched by multiple streams of faiths, beliefs and culture.”
She said Rajiv Gandhi was proud of India’s past, but convinced that India has to be a modern nation anchored in reasons and a scientific temper in which obscurantism has no place. “His political adversaries accused him of being out of touch with reality with his fixation for computers. Yet, it is this magnificent obsession with technology and modernity that has made millions of youth in our country ready to tackle the challenges of the digital era,” she said.
Sonia Gandhi said marking Rajiv Gandhi’s birth anniversary was an occasion to “reaffirm our resolve to continue to fulfill the values that had inspired him to stand up and confront the forces that are determined to destroy those values.”
She listed some of her husband’s achievements during his “brief” prime ministerial tenure, including reducing the voting age from 21 to 18, constitutional status to panchayats and civic bodies, computer and communications revolution and taking steps to bring peace in Punjab, Assam, Mizoram, Tripura and Darjeeling hills even at the cost of the interests of the Congress party.