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Sonia sees a clash of two nationalisms

By Amit Baruah

NEW DELHI, MARCH 13. The Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, today spoke of a clash of competing visions in the country — between an open-minded secular nationalism and a narrow parochial nationalism.

"Individuals may put on a veneer of moderation and give us a feeling that the clash is exaggerated. But ultimately ideologies and institutions behind individuals are what matter more," Ms. Gandhi said in an indirect reference to the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the Sangh Parivar.

"Can we ignore [the fact] that there is a school of thought that rejects the very basis of Indian nationalism as handed down by the Father of the Nation [Mahatma Gandhi]?" she wanted to know.

Pride, she remarked at the India Today conclave, must not stoke prejudice and divisiveness should not undermine India's date with destiny.

"Faster economic growth is essential. But this growth must take place in an environment of social harmony, in an atmosphere of social cohesion. Economic liberalisation and social bigotry is a poisonous brew. The closing of the Indian mind is simply not compatible with the opening of the Indian economy," she said.

There were, she said, some regions of the country that have seen impressive economic growth. "But there are also regions [Gujarat?] that are witnessing social polarisation. On the other hand, in other parts, social relations work wonderfully well."

Decrying the cynicism that had crept into politics, Ms. Gandhi said: "Politics has to be more than the pursuit of power ... it must not only offer hope that gets renewed from time to time but it must also fulfil the expectations and aspirations of people — of the Aaam Aadmi (common people), I might add."

Referring to the conclave theme of "India Tomorrow — Building an Indian Century", Ms. Gandhi asked: "In many ways, wasn't the 20th Century an Indian Century? Our freedom movement led by Gandhiji showed an entirely new path and established a completely different paradigm. Decolonisation of the world was triggered by our own independence in 1947."

Indians, she said, had given themselves a magnificent Constitution that had served as a charter for peaceful socio-economic change.

"We went from a country that had an average rate of economic growth of just about 0.7 per cent per year in the first half century to a country that achieved a seven per cent rate of economic growth in the last years of the century. By the mid-1990s, by some measures, we had become the world's fourth largest economy."

The public sector, Ms. Gandhi said, industrialised India, developed its backward regions and stimulated the growth of the private industry as well.

"We created an extensive infrastructure for science and technology that has made India a front-ranking nuclear and space power."

"From being a country condemned as a basket case in the early sixties, we became self-sufficient in foodgrains by the early 1980s and are now poised to be one of the world's agri-powers. And we carved out a niche for ourselves in world affairs."

The Congress president said that the achievements of the last six decades of Independence should not be taken for granted.

"How we realise our full potential depends entirely on ourselves. External greatness flows out of internal strength. Global leadership rests on local transformation. If our country wishes to be exclusive on the world stage, then our society must remain all-inclusive at home."

"Most of all, it will depend on whether we build on the idea of India as it has evolved over the millennia or whether we reject the idea of a syncretic India, of composite Indian nationhood."

According to her, the challenge would be to work and sustain a fine balance between economic imperatives and social realities.

"The challenge will be to sustain economic growth that provides equality of opportunity for all, economic growth that empowers the many as opposed to enriching a few."

"The poor must become partners in development, not its victims. A small section of society cannot appropriate the gains of growth, while large sections are left bearing the brunt of its pains. If this imbalance is not recognised and rectified, India could face endemic social unrest," she added.

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