New Delhi: The advancement of peace, communal harmony and national unity becomes more significant in times when forces promoting politics of hatred, bigotry and discrimination become active and receive support from those in power, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi said on Sunday. She said this at a function to confer the 25th Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award on Banasthali Vidyapith, a residential educational institution for women in Rajasthan.
The award was handed over to Siddhartha Shastri of the institution by former vice president M Hamid Ansari in the presence of Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and Gandhi, who heads the Congress Parliamentary Party.
The award, instituted in 1992 to mark the golden jubilee of the Quit India Movement, is given to an individual or institution for special contribution towards peace, communal harmony and national unity, and carries a cash reward of Rs 10 lakh and a citation.
It is presented on the birth anniversary of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. At the award ceremony, Mrs. Gandhi said, "The Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award is conferred on individuals and institutions that have made key contributions to the advancement of peace, communal harmony and national unity. This subject has always been relevant and will remain so in future also." "It becomes all the more significant in time when forces promoting politics of alienation, hatred, bigotry and discrimination become active and receive support from those in power," she added.
Sonia Gandhi said her husband, Rajiv Gandhi's life came to an end in a "very cruel manner", but he made several achievements in the short time he spent in the service of the country. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated at a poll campaign rally in 1991.
Gandhi said the empowerment of women was very dear to Rajiv Gandhi and was always in his thoughts and that is why he gave 33 per cent representation to women in panchayati raj institutions. His government also lowered the age of voting to 18 years from 21 years, she said.
"There is a saying that if you educate a man, you only educate one individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate an entire family and generation," she noted, while lauding the stellar role played by Banasthali Vidyapith in fulfilling the dreams of Rajiv Gandhi.
In his address, Kharge said these days many are trying to underplay the achievements of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. He said Rajiv Gandhi received the biggest-ever mandate of 401 Lok Sabha seats but gave equal importance to all, including the opposition, and even the party which at the time had only won two seats in Lok Sabha.
Kharge also said that during Rajiv Gandhi's tenure as prime minister, several key bills were passed after proper discussion, unlike today when bills are passed without any discussion and after terming them money bills to avoid scrutiny of Rajya Sabha. Kharge said Rajiv Gandhi gave importance to communal harmony, world peace, amity and empowerment of the youth and women. His exemplary work during his tenure as prime minister earned him a place among the top leaders of the world.
"These days people with a different ideology try to ignore the contribution of Rajiv Gandhi. Lord Buddha had said that three things - the Sun, the Moon and the truth - cannot remain hidden for a long time. The same way, Rajiv ji's successes cannot be hidden for long," he noted.
Kharge said despite a big majority, he kept accountability in democracy on top and during his tenure there were 485 sittings of Parliament during which as many as 344 bills were passed to initiate speedier social and economic change. "Both Houses held deliberations on these bills and there was consensus too, unlike today when legislations are made through ordinances and through money bills," he noted.
He also said that during his tenure the anti-defection law was changed to prevent the fall of elected governments. "But the manner in which ways are being found to subvert laws and the mandate is being played with, there is need to further amend the law and set it right," he said. Kharge also said that immunisation was done on a large scale during Rajiv Gandhi's time to prevent diseases such as BCG, TB, OPV, polio, DPT, "but some people are trying to project as if immunisation has just started".
In his address, Ansari said the award is given for outstanding contribution towards promotion of communal harmony, national integration and peace. "These objectives are interlinked and the diversity and complexity of good citizenship requires a pledge to work for the emotional oneness and harmony of all the people of India regardless of caste, region, religion, or language and to resolve all differences among them through dialogue and constitutional means without resorting to violence," he said.
"Social harmony in our vast, plural society emanates from, and affects all segments and all ages. The foremost amongst them is the segmentation on the basis of sex, between men and women. It is natural, it is obvious, but for this reason taken for granted; so are its prejudices often referred to as patriarchy," Ansari noted.
Siddhartha Shastri of Banasthali Vidyapith said the institution was set up in 1935 from a modest beginning of five girl students in mud huts by Pandit Hiralal Shastri, a freedom fighter who went on to become Rajasthan's first chief minister. It is now imparting education to more than 15,000 girl students from nursery to doctoral levels.