Sonia attacks BJP, says Rajiv Gandhi never used his power to put democracy in danger
(PTI Photo/Shahbaz Khan)

New Delhi: Attacking the Modi government a day after party leader P. Chidambaram was arrested by CBI in the INX Media case, interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday said that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi never used his powers to create "an atmosphere of fear or to destroy the freedom and liberty of the people in the country".

"Rajiv Gandhi came to power in 1984 but he never used power to create an atmosphere of fear or to destroy the freedom and liberty of the people. He never used his power to put the principles of democracy in danger," she said at an event to mark the 75th birth anniversary of the former Prime Minister. Congress leaders including Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra have strongly backed Chidambaram and accused the BJP-led government of pursuing "vendetta politics".

Sonia Gandhi did not take any names but made several veiled attacks on the government. She recalled that when Congress could not win by a single majority in 1989, Rajiv Gandhi accepted the mandate with dignity. "I want to tell today's generation that despite being the largest political party, he (Rajiv Gandhi) did not stake claim to form the government. Why? Because of his inner moral strength, his generosity and honesty did not allow him to do so. Today, no one can do it like Rajiv Ji did. Rahul did it," Gandhi said.

The Congress chief said that the party must continue its struggle "against forces of divisiveness and those opposing the idea of India", adding that the challenges it faces are "formidable". "There are those who are busy in inventing a new past for us. Rajiv Gandhi was inventing a new future. To him, past had to be understood in all its complexities to building pride and not prejudice, to strengthen social harmony and not fuel antagonism and polarise our society," she said.

"He (Rajiv Gandhi) was proud of our past. But at the same time, he held a firm conviction that India had to be a modern nation anchored in reason and scientific temper in which obscurantism has no place," the Congress leader added. Sonia Gandhi said that Rajiv Gandhi's political adversaries had accused him of being "out of touch" with reality due to his obsession over technology and computers. "But it is this obsession that made millions of our youth today ready to tackle the challenges of the digital era," she noted.

"It is an occasion for us individually and collectively to reaffirm our resolve to continue upholding values that had inspired him and to stand up and confront forces determined to destroy their values." Sonia Gandhi said that Rajiv Gandhi was determined to create an India that is strong, secure and self-reliant. "An India whose every citizen gets an opportunity to live a life of dignity and self-respect. Rajiv Gandhi was a Prime Minister who went to every corner of our vast country and gave the message that we can only strengthen India's unity by celebrating its diversity," she said.

"In five years as Prime Minister, Rajivji worked to change the basic conditions of the country. It was his decision that the youth of eighteen years should get the right to vote. It was his personal commitment that panchayats and municipalities get constitutional status. He pledged to revolutionise the computer and telecommunications in India and did it in a short time," she said.

Sonia Gandhi said that Rajiv Gandhi not only used the power of science and technology to strengthen the country through space and nuclear power and missile but to accelerate social change in the fields of health, sanitation, literacy and agriculture. The former Prime Minister also put Congress' interests aside and ensured that peace is established in places like Punjab, Assam, Mizoram, Tripura and Darjeeling hills, said the Congress chief.

"Rajiv Ji took the first step to liberalise and globalise India's economy. He was also conscious that if India wants to have a special place in the world, it should remain inclusive. This work cannot be done by showing attitude but by work and behaviour," Sonia Gandhi said. Before Sonia Gandhi spoke, Congress MLA from Punjab Amrinder Raja Warring said that the party wants Rahul Gandhi more than ever.

"Whether Rahul Gandhi gets unhappy but I will say that Congress needs you more in these difficult times," he said. Sonia Gandhi was seen giving huge applause with other Congress workers. During the programme, a host of cultural events were held. A santoor performance was held and singers remembered legendary poet Kabir by reciting his couplets.

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