Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Saturday launched into a scathing attack on those she accused of “seeking to create an India completely at odds with the one that saw the light of Independence on August 15, 1947”. She was speaking at an event in New Delhi to mark the launch of a commemorative edition and new website of the National Herald.
The publication has been surrounded in controversy since 2012 when Subramanian Swamy, now a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, filed a case in a Delhi court accusing Sonia Gandhi and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi of conspiracy and cheating to acquire the properties and assets owned by the National Herald, which was established by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1938.
The “idea of India” has been thrown into question by “malevolent forces that tell Indians what they cannot eat, who they cannot love, what they cannot say – indeed, what thoughts they cannot hold,” the Congress chief said, without naming the BJP-led government in her speech. “And all this is being encouraged by a culture of vigilante violence actively supported by those who are supposed to enforce the law,” she said.
Here is the full text of Gandhi’s speech:
It gives me great pleasure to welcome the Honourable President Shri Pranab Mukherjee and all our distinguished guests on this special occasion: the launch of the commemorative publication of the National Herald, as India celebrates 70 years of Independence.
We have come a long way since 1947, and we rejoice together as Indians. But while we celebrate the achievements of our past, we must also look within, so that we can shape a better future.
The story of the National Herald is, in many ways, the story of modern India. The intellectual force behind its founding in September 1938 was, of course, Jawaharlal Nehru who served as its founding editor, as the conscience-keeper of India’s mission in the world, and as the first architect of India as an independent nation
He was not alone, for his was an age of towering visionaries of rare dedication. He followed in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi and other great pioneers, and in turn was accompanied by a host of luminaries the like of which few countries or societies have witnessed.
The newspaper Nehru founded reflected what that generation stood for. While today we find ourselves increasingly divided in the name of class and caste, religion and region, the National Herald is a testament to those great leaders who rose beyond individual ambition to project and protect the very soul of this land. Unity, peace and justice, not division and conflict, were the lights that guided them, in thought as well as action.
These leaders – Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, Dr Ambedkar and many others – have left behind matchless legacies that have stood the test of time and the turbulence of history.
It is one of the ironies of our present times that the soaring reach of their work is now sought to be either obliterated or, in some cases, appropriated – by individuals and groups who are in direct opposition to their beliefs and principles. Those who stood aside when history was painfully made by sacrifice and struggle, those who, indeed, had little faith in the Constitution adopted by our country, are now seeking to create an India completely at odds with the one that saw the light of Independence on August 15, 1947. Let us not forget that they made no sacrifices to shape India’s destiny.
Though their language is modern, they seek to take India backward, to further their narrow sectarian vision. Their modern jargon conceals pre-modern beliefs, concepts that are at odds with progressive and inclusive thought, with contemporary knowledge and with a vision for the future. It is our duty to pull away the hypocrisy and reveal the reality lurking beneath.
Today, that tried and tested idea of India has been thrown fundamentally into question by rising intolerance, by malevolent forces that tell Indians what they cannot eat, who they cannot love, what they cannot say – indeed, what thoughts they cannot hold.
And all this is being encouraged by a culture of vigilante violence actively supported by those who are supposed to enforce the law. Such examples assault our consciousness almost daily.
India has reached a crossroads marked by increasing threats of authoritarianism and bigotry. Where we choose to stand today is where our country will head tomorrow.
As Nehru wrote, “Idealism is tomorrow’s realism”. Even in the darkest of hours, we must preserve the flame of our national ideals.
If we accept without scrutiny, without question, without a challenge the fallacies and follies we are witness to today, we will leave for our children a land of injustice, a legacy of trauma, and a country divided and broken.
We are in a war of ideas. We wage this war to preserve our ideals, which have built India up as a model of democracy, diversity and co-existence. When these ideals are threatened, India itself is in danger. And if we do not raise our voices, if we do not speak up, our silence will be taken as consent.
We have daunting enough battles to fight – against injustice, against poverty, against prejudice, against patriarchy, against malnutrition, against illiteracy, against communalism – but we must also prevail in this greater war for the soul of our nation.
Ours is a mission to preserve the credibility and sanctity of our institutions in their democratic design. Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas of truth, Jawaharlal Nehru’s celebration of pluralism, Sardar Patel’s vision of unity, Dr Ambedkar’s legacy of social justice – these are what we must fight for today.
The National Herald evokes a time when nationalism fought foreign rule. But domestic misrule is as great a challenge for our country. At a time when the inclusive conception of our nation is under attack, and the press is pressured to obey and applaud rather than to question, speaking truth to power is the imperative of our age.
The National Herald is a reminder of what is precious about the India its founders fought to free. Let us work together for its success, for the ideals it embodies. Let us work together to safeguard an India in which each person’s voice can be raised and heard: most of all the voices of those who question and disagree.
We recognise today that it is only through such an ongoing conversation – always lively, often even heated and noisy – that our future as a united and peaceful India can be affirmed and ensured.
Thank you, and Jai Hind.