"My own people had gone astray..."

Print edition : June 05, 1999

This is the text of Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi's address at the special AICC(I) session on May 25.

SOME days ago I gave in my resignation to the Congress Working Committee. That day, my mind was weighed down very heavily. After rejecting the possibility for all of seven years, I entered politics in 1998. All of you know very well what the situation wa s like then. The Congress party was breaking up when it was absolutely necessary to confront the communal forces. There was the danger that the legacy of all the Congress' great leaders, as also the sacrifices of Indiraji and Rajivji, would go in vain. T his was a situation I could not tolerate.

Now, about a year later, I have arrived at a moment of reckoning. The very same people who came before me a year back pleading that I save the Congress, the very same people today are seeking to create a climate of suspicion about my patriotism. The very same people are today seeking to plant seeds of doubt about me in the minds my compatriots - and they are going hand-in-hand with the very same party that I entered politics to confront.

I was deeply distressed that day and began to think that this struggle was mine alone. I began to sense that my own people had gone astray in the greed for position and authority. They neither understand me nor the sources of my inspiration. Though we fa ce great challenges, these people in their pettiness are hatching conspiracies of rebellion against one another. I was disillusioned at seeing this and hence chose the path of resignation.

If yet I stand before you today, the reason is only one. I have thought about a variety of matters over the last nine days. Party activists have come to me from various corners of the nation. I have recognised who my true friends are. You have awakened h ope in my mind yet again, you have given me the reassurance without which it would have been futile for me to remain president of the party. You have given me your trust, your affection and your spirit of comradeship. I will not disappoint you. Whatever has beset us over the last few days - me, you and our party - this should be a signal for all of us to rebuild and reconstruct the party.

Our goal is not merely to win the elections. Triumphs and defeats are a part of life. But victory will be his who recognises the truth and is prepared to live and die by his principles. I want the Congress to be a party that is prepared for this. Whoever wants to come with me should come with all his heart and soul. Whoever has the slightest shadow of doubt in his mind can choose his own path.

We fear none, we suffer no anxieties. We do not crave authority. We are not the type that will pursue the lure of office. We want, rather, to serve the nation and complete the unfinished tasks of our predecessors and fulfil their dreams. Nobody can sun der us from this basic goal.

What does it mean when people question my patriotism? India adopted me as her own 31 years ago, when I arrived here as Indiraji's daughter-in-law. This country has not merely borne witness to my life, it is part of every moment of my existence. I became a bride here and a mother. And I became a widow here, in front of your very eyes. Indiraji, the greatest daughter of this nation, drew her last breath in my arms. Every drop of my blood today tells me that this is my motherland. My motherland.

I do not intend to respond to those who question my Indianness, since the people of this country will give them a fitting response. As far as the Prime Minister's post is concerned, the decision will be taken - as always - when the time comes by the Cong ress Parliamentary Party.

My friends, it will be the endeavour of our adversaries in the coming days to mislead the people on the basis of spurious issues.

They would like very much to suppress the record of 13 months of bad policies and misdeeds. But we will not let that happen. They and their friends have made minorities a target. Now, are they going to put people through the test of loyalty to the countr y?

In recent times, the politics of the country has changed a great deal. It is hence the greatest challenge for the Congress that it should appreciate its true identity. Ours is the only party today which can represent every Indian. This is our greatest st rength.

The Congress has always made the people's struggles its own. We have always been active in the struggle for democracy, social harmony and justice for all. Our party's history is suffused with this struggle. Even today, our struggle is to keep alive these principles. Even today, our countrymen are looking towards us with eyes full of hope - hope for a better life, hope for a better world, hope that we will brighten the country's future. The people look towards us for precisely the reason that, in the pas t, only we have been able to run stable and successful governments.

I want all of you to take a vow today that you will go to every corner of the country and bring these issues to the attention of our countrymen. We have to advance further in the spirit of unity that you have all displayed in the last few days.

(This first part of Sonia Gandhi's address to the AICC(I) was in Hindi. It has been translated into English by Frontline.)

Supplementary Observations in English

I stand before you today as a proud Congressperson, doubly resolved to lead the fight for our beloved country. No longer shall we tolerate the negative forces which seek to target the dignity of a woman through calumny and falsehood, which attempt to rul e by sowing suspicion, by dividing brother from brother, by indulging in the partisan politics of hate.

I have thought deeply about the problems that confront our great country and the issues that stir the minds of the vast majority of our people. I recall the immense contribution of the Congress party under the leadership of Gandhiji to the winning of fre edom, of the men and women from all walks of life who without regard to the cost made sacrifices for our country.

I remember the clarity of purpose of members of my own family who single-mindedly devoted themselves to the service of the nation. Jawaharlal Nehru, the builder of modern India, gave us a vision of our immense capabilities and charted the course for us t o follow. Indira Gandhi never wavered in her purpose to break the stranglehold of poverty and to make us a self-sufficient and proud people. My husband Rajiv Gandhi, who forsook his personal inclination to work in the public domain, focussed the energies of our people with a sense of mission towards achieving greatness in the 21st century.

Such has been the tradition to which I, and all of us in the Congress family, belong.

Our commitment from the beginning has been to help the poorest of the poor, to relive the pain of the tormented in communal strife, to lift the weakest and less abled, to give voice to the underprivileged, the oppressed, the untended. This is still our p rimary concern. We believe that the Indian woman, so long unable by circumstance to contribute fully in our national life, should in the new century find her rightful place as equal partner in every sphere of human endeavour. I particularly look to my yo ung compatriots, our new generation of Indians whose expectations and ambitions encompass the world. I assure them of our full support as they become the cutting edge of India in the new millennium.

As we go forward from here today, I am conscious that the nation's and the world's eyes are upon us. We are the world's largest democratic party, which seeks to play a decisive part in the future fortunes of the world's largest democracy. Our task is gre at and this greatness shall invest our every thought and effort, abjuring the trivial and the irrelevant. We shall seek a mandate from our people for this great cause, for an India that is confident and capable, for a government that is responsible and r esponsive to the needs of the people.

Ours is not a battle merely for votes for public office, as they like to portray it. It is certainly not a referendum on personalities, to which they wish to confine it. It is a battle for the India of our dreams, for the future of our children and our c hildren's children. I invite every Congressperson here, and through you, every Congress worker and supporter in India and abroad to join us in this historic battle. This is a battle for the minds of all right-thinking Indians, by which I mean all Indians to rise above regionalism and casteism, to rise above gender and economic disparities, to rise above the divisive squabbles of petty politics, to rise above the destructive mindset of apathy and despair. To all my fellow-Indians, I call out to join us b uilding a new, strong, united and resurgent India.

Jai Hind.

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