There were no speeches or exhortations for secular parties to unite or cooperate, but the underlying message was clear. While the Congress pegged the event on Monday as part of its celebrations to mark the 125th birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru, it was a conscious attempt to send the message of “secular unity” and politically isolate the BJP.
So, there was Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi sitting next to CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, and West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee posing for photographs with Left leaders Sitaram Yechury and D Raja. This was the first Congress event attended by the Left and the TMC since they snapped ties with the party in 2008 and 2012 respectively.
However, despite Congress president Sonia Gandhi sending personal letters to the leaders of various parties, there were many who skipped the function. Among those who stayed away were the SP, BSP, DMK, NC and AIADMK.
The Congress did not invite Prime Minister Narendra Modi or any BJP or NDA leaders.
But the Congress managed to bring together a section of the “secular” opposition parties, almost all of them facing the BJP heat in their bastions. Besides the Left parties, there was JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, former prime minister and JD(S) leader H D Deve Gowda, RLD supremo Ajit Singh, NCP’s D P Tripathi and RJD’s Jay Prakash Narayan Yadav.
In her inaugural address at the two-day conference, themed “Nehru’s World View and his Legacy: Democracy, Inclusion and Empowerment”, Sonia said, “Secularism — a state neutral in matters of religion, respecting all faiths equally — was an article of faith with Nehru… There could be no Indianness, no India, without secularism. Secularism was, and remains, more than an ideal. It is a compelling necessity for a country as diverse as India.”
Quoting Nehru, she said, “In a democracy, we have to know how to win and how to lose with grace. Those who win should not allow this to go to their heads; those who lose should not feel dejected. The manner of winning or losing is even more important than the result. It is better to lose in the right way than to win in the wrong way.”
Sharing the stage with her were Afghanistan’s former President Hamid Karzai, Ghana’s former President John Kufuor, Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Bhutan’s Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck and Nepal’s former PM Madhav Kumar Nepal.
Banerjee, who spoke to reporters later, stressed on secular unity. \”People fanning communal fires and communal tension are the first enemies of the country. There is no communal tension in West Bengal, but it is there in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat and even Delhi. They (BJP) are trying every day to fuel communal tension in my state but I have not let that happen,” she said.
“I am not ready to give up the fight against communalism… if somebody takes the lead in forming a political front against communal forces, I will be the first to support them, give them more help than they expect. I will only be too happy to join. The BJP too should become a part of that front. They are in government now, their job is not to divide the country,” she said.
Karat, however, said: “Nehru played an important and key role in establishing India as a secular state and a parliamentary democracy, which we recognise and accept. Beyond that, nothing should be read in our participation,” he said. “We have been consistent opponents of Congress rule,” he added.
Briefing the media later, senior Congress leader M Veerappa Moily said it was a “non-political event”.
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