As India’s first Prime Minister, he consolidated our democracy and entrenched the basic values of our polity: Sonia Gandhi

Tharoor Tue, 13 Nov 2018

As India’s first Prime Minister, he consolidated our democracy and entrenched the basic values of our polity: Sonia Gandhi

We all know that this precious legacy is being undermined daily by those who rule us today CPP Chairperson Smt. Sonia Gandhi addressed at the re-launch of the book “Nehru: the Invention of India” on 13th November, 2018 at New Delhi It is a pleasure to join you all today to mark the reissue of Shashi Tharoor’s book on that great son of India, Jawaharlal Nehru.

I am glad that it is being republished today, and I hope it will remind a new generation of the extraordinary contributions Nehru made. So great and so enduring was his impact on all our lives, that it is difficult to imagine that he left us more than half a century ago. As India’s first Prime Minister, he consolidated our democracy and entrenched the basic values of our polity, values to which we are still proud to lay claim.

What are these values? Shashi Tharoor summarises them as the four pillars of Nehruvianism: democratic institution building, staunch pan-Indian secularism, socialist economics and a foreign policy of non-alignment. These values were integral to a vision of Indianness that is fundamentally being challenged today, but which remains at the core of our time-tested beliefs.

What do these four pillars mean today?

First, democracy. It could not have been taken for granted in 1947 that a country beset by acute poverty and torn apart by a Partition, would become or remain democratic. It was Nehru who instilled a democratic culture in our country by his scrupulous regard for the form as well as the substance of democracy. His respect for Parliament, his regard for the independence of the judiciary, his courtesy to those of different political convictions, his commitment to free elections, his faith in a free press, and his deference to institutions over individuals, have all left us a precious legacy of freedom.

Second, secularism. Nehru strived to prevent Partition but when it occurred, he never accepted the logic that since Pakistan had ostensibly been created for India’s Muslims, what remained was a state for Hindus. He lived up to his lifelong conviction that India belonged to all its people, and that the majority community had a special obligation to protect the rights, and promote the well-being, of India’s minorities. In both policy and personal practice, Nehru stood for an idea of India that embraced every religion, caste, ethnicity or language.

Third, socialism. It is fashionable today to decry Nehruvian socialism as a system that tied India to many years of modest growth. This does not take into account the circumstances of the early years of independence when massive infrastructures needed to be built up and the private sector lacked the ability to invest on a large, transformative scale. As Rajiv Gandhi said three decades ago, over time the socialist model as practised in India developed short comings. Nehru himself, as a man with an open and questing mind, would have allowed his practical thinking to evolve with the times. At the core of his socialism was the conviction that in a land of extreme poverty and inequality, the objective of government policy must be the welfare of the poorest, most deprived and marginalized of its people. In his day, the best way to attain this goal, was by building up structures of public ownership and state control of national resources.

Today, our thinking has evolved, as it should, and we can take pride in our own role in liberalizing our country’s economy and in making possible so many new avenues for dynamic enterprise to succeed in a globalizing world. At the same time, we remain steadfast in our concern for the weakest

sections of society.

Finally, foreign policy. Nehru was a convinced internationalist. For him, in the Cold War, non-alignment was the only possible response to the bi-polar divisions of the era. In its essence, the Nehruvian vision was about safeguarding India’s independence and self-respect against potential encroachments on its sovereignty. That still lies at the heart of the Indian National Congress’ view of the world. We have remained faithful to Nehru’s internationalism.

Over the years, Congress governments have taken Nehru’s ideas forward. They have widened the scope of our democracy through such innovations as Panchayati Raj with its reservation for women, and the Right to Information Act. They have defended secularism in the face of violent threats to our nation’s diversity. They have deepened socialism innovatively through the creation of a framework of rights, including the right to work, the right to food, the right to education and the right to fair compensation for land. All of these measures have strengthened and empowered our people, especially the poorest.

We all know that this precious legacy is being undermined daily by those who rule us today. They express disdain and contempt for Nehru, for all that he did to build the India that they are bent upon changing — for the worse. Today, we must honour him by fighting with determination to safeguard our democracy against those who are undermining it. Shashi Tharoor is a man of many talents: politician, parliamentarian, much sought after speaker, bestselling author and much more. I congratulate him on the re-publication of this book – which is a valuable reminder of the heritage we have been fortunate to receive from that great man, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Thank you, and Jai Hind!