There is rising intolerance in the country and a skewed vision of history is being imposed with falsehood, Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi said on Tuesday.
She was addressing a gathering at a function here to confer the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration to Chipko Movement founder and environmentalist Chandi Prasad Bhatt.
“Today, we see rising intolerance, rising violence. A skewed vision of our history and society is being imposed along with falsehood and unscientific ideas. All this is the anti-thesis of the liberal, secular and democratic foundations of our country,” Sonia Gandhi said.
The fundamental assumption that guided India’s freedom struggle and inspired the country after Independence is now being questioned, the Congress interim chief said.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh was also present at the function, besides a host of Congress leaders.
“There was a time when the process of industrialisation was making its own demands on forests and on rural society, but Chandi Prasad Bhatt and his dedicated band of fellow activists were relentless in their advocacy that national planners factored in environmental costs in their policy prescriptions,” Singh said.
It was the untiring efforts and struggles of activists like Bhatt that today there is a better appreciation and deeper understanding of the needs of forest dwellers, he said.
“Planners and administrators all over have acknowledged a collective obligation to preserve and sustain our natural resources in a responsible manner,” Singh said.
The former prime minister said Mahatma Gandhi had foreseen this dilemma and had observed that “the earth provides enough to satisfy everyman’s need, but not everyman’s greed”. Bhatt’s life is testimony to this Gandhian wisdom, he said.
“This is the year when we are celebrating Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary. I am inclined to believe that the Mahatma would be pleased that this year the award is going to a man who made us take note of the incipient crisis of climate change,” Singh said.
Earlier, Sonia Gandhi recalled how national integration was one of former prime minister Indira Gandhi’s many passions.
“But unlike those in the ruling establishment now, she did not equate unity with uniformity. On the contrary, she was deeply conscious of and proud of India’s many diversities. She was profoundly sensitive to India’s many cultural traditions.
“She was fiercely wedded to strengthening the bonds of political and cultural unity. She believed in accommodating, respecting and celebrating our many diversities,” she said.
Indira Gandhi, the Congress interim chief said, also recognised that without just economic and social policies that actively promoted equity and inclusiveness, India could not develop and prosper.
Her vision of national integration was all encompassing, helping the disadvantaged, and ensuring that no section of Indian society was excluded on the basis of caste or creed, she said.
Sonia Gandhi said if national integration was one of Indira Gandhi’s passions, the preservation of India’s rich and wonderful biodiversity was a vision far ahead of its time.
“Economic growth must not mean the destruction of the environment. So, it’s most appropriate that today, we honour Bhatt, a true Gandhian, a man whose entire life has been shaped by the Sarvodaya philosophy,” she said.
Bhatt has inspired peoples’ movements, of which the Chipko andolan is perhaps the most famous, Sonia Gandhi said, adding that this agitation had a huge impact on Indira Gandhi’s thinking and led to the Forest Conservation Act of 1980.
She said in the mid-1970s, Bhatt had also led a protest against a plan to embellish and modernise the Badrinath temple, thus saving and preserving the architectural style of the temple.
Recalling Indira Gandhi’s contribution in building India, Manmohan Singh said she will be remembered as one of our tallest leaders.
“The award is a tribute to the memory of Indiraji. It is also a token of our appreciation and respect for the work of the award’s recipient. It was therefore only befitting that the award we have instituted in her memory should in fact be to celebrate the contribution of our countrymen to our national integration,” he said.
Bhatt in his speech said he was honoured to receive the award and recalled how he had met Indira Gandhi and her concern for the economy and environment.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, former chief ministers Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Prithviraj Chavan, senior Congress leaders A K Antony, Motilal Vora, Anand Sharma and Jairam Ramesh were also present at the event.