Make Gandhi relevant by making growth inclusive: Sonia Gandhi
Live Punjab News Service
New Delhi -- A two-day international conference to commemorate the centenary of Satyagraha, the movement of truth and passive resistance espoused by Mahatma Gandhi, began here Monday with a call to make growth in India inclusive and make the message of Gandhi truly relevant.
Inaugurating the conference to commemorate 100 years of Satyagraha, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said: "The relevance of Mahatma Gandhi is not the real issue. Our preparedness for him is."
It was on Sep 11, 1906 in Johannesburg that Mahatma Gandhi began his mass movement when he chaired a meeting against a law discriminating against Asians.
While making Mahatma Gandhi an icon would be easy, it would infinitely be more exacting to make him the beacon, Sonia Gandhi said.
In a hard-hitting speech, the United Progressive Alliance chairperson said economic growth could be sustainable only if it was all-inclusive and in harmony with nature and the earth's long-term future.
In what is seen as a strong message to Singh's government, which often gets criticised for its free-market economic policies that have benefited only a fragment of the Indian population, she said: "Our own country, for instance, has made spectacular gains over the past decades and is being rapidly transformed. But destitution, poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy are still widespread. Inequality is very visible.
"We live in an age of incredible scientific achievement and awesome technological advance. But are not the fruits of this achievement and advance still inequitably distributed?" Gandhi asked a crowd including world leaders like former presidents Lech Walesa of Poland and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and Nobel laureate Bangladesh's Mohammed Yunus.
"Is it not the case that a few enjoy the gains, whole many bear the pains?"
She said economic growth must be accelerated, but we should be mindful of possible adverse consequences of that progress and take steps to deal with them. "Can we not satisfy material wants and aspirations without threatening ecological security and planetary survival?"
"To be equitable, economic growth has to be sustainable. To be sustainable, economic growth has in turn to be all-inclusive. All-inclusive is no longer the greatest good of the greatest number. It is actually Sarvodaya or the rise of all. This Mahatma Gandhi saw as essential to Satyagraha itself," Gandhi said.
Pointing out that India had stood for comprehensive universal nuclear disarmament, Gandhi said: "Yes, India has nuclear weapons. This became a strategic compulsion for us, born out of the failure to persuade the world to abolish nuclear weapons."
She, however, added that India's commitment to nuclear disarmament remained.
Leaders of the Left Front, including Communist Party of India-Marxist general secretary Prakash Karat, were at the function. The Left Front backs the Congress-led government but has been critical of its economic policies.
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma, Kaunda, Yunus, former Palestinian foreign minister Nasser Al Kidwa and Lech Walesa also addressed the inaugural session.