Watch Sonia Gandhi’s Q&A in Mumbai and read her full speech
Video of former Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s keynote address and Q&A with Aroon Purie at the India Today Conclave in Mumbai on Friday, March 9
Congress President and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi gave the keynote address at the inaugural session of the India Today Conclave in Mumbai on Friday, March 9, on the theme ‘The Big Churn’.
Sonia Gandhi spoke on a number of issues that are at the forefront of discussion and concern in India, including on growing inequality and insecurity, attempts to distort history, slandering of nation-builders, fanning of prejudice and bigotry and above all, threats to India’s Constitution which is the bedrock of our open, liberal democracy.
Watch the video of the speech and read the full text below:
Full text of Sonia Gandhi’s keynote address at the India Today Conclave in Mumbai on Friday, March 9
INAUGURAL SESSION: Reimagining India
Friday, 9th March 2018 (Mumbai)
Some weeks ago, I took a step back from duties of almost two decades as President of the Congress Party. I thought this would relieve me for sometime at least from having to appear before an audience, a task that was always a stressful one.
Public speaking does not come naturally to me. But, Aroon Purie and his colleagues are persuasive. This is a prestigious conclave in a city that reflects the spirit of Indian enterprise. So here I am, just a Congresswoman now, speaking for myself.
Your theme this year is The Big Churn, and I have been asked to share my thoughts on Reimagining India. True enough, the whole world seems to be in the grip of an epic upheaval. Technology and connectivity are colliding with inequality and insecurity. Societies everywhere are being rapidly and profoundly changed.
This is true of our country as well. Our people are increasingly impatient, ambitious, aspiring and aware. Our institutions are still evolving and need to be revitalized. But you will surely agree that governance in the decades since our Independence has seen a continuity and direction rooted in the legacy of our founding fathers. Yet, today, we are being presented with an alternative and indeed regressive vision of who we were as a people, what we are and what we should be. This re-imagination is based on a distorted perception of our history; and it is a fatally flawed view of what will secure our future.
Sonia Gandhi: “For years, our public discourse has been anchored in decency, reason and argumentation, and not in invective, innuendo and abuse. What has made our democracy precious is conversation, not monologues; accountability, not shunning any form of public questioning and interrogation”
II) Ours has been an open, liberal democracy. It has been representative and participative. It has been fuelled by political competition with due regard to rules, traditions and conventions.
Our open, liberal democracy has strengthened the bonds of unity without imposing uniformity.
Our republic has not just been accepting of different points of view but has encouraged debate and discussion. It has allowed for disagreement, dissent and protest. It has demonstrated its capacity for dialogue and compromise.
For years, our public discourse has been anchored in decency, reason and argumentation, and not in invective, innuendo and abuse. What has made our democracy precious is conversation, not monologues; accountability, not shunning any form of public questioning and interrogation.
But, Ladies and Gentlemen, our country, our society, our freedoms -- all are now under systematic and sustained assault. Make no mistake about it! This is a well-thought out project, long in the making, to refashion the very idea of India. It involves rewriting history, falsifying facts, slandering nation-builders and fanning prejudice and bigotry.
I would like to ask each one of you, if I may, was India really a giant black hole before the 26th of May 2014? Did India’s march to progress, prosperity and greatness begin only four years ago? Is this claim not an insult to the intelligence of our people? This deliberate unwillingness to acknowledge and commend what our country has achieved is nothing but arrogance. This cynical running down of our past accomplishments, which have been a huge collective endeavor of the people of India, is nothing but conceit. It is not a matter of taking credit. It is simply a matter of recognizing India’s strengths and strenuous efforts over the past decades.
Sonia Gandhi: “I will share with you my growing anguish and indignation. The question we must ponder is this: what has been happening since 2014, both in substance and style? We should all be seriously concerned at how the foundational principles and values of our Constitution are being willfully shredded.”
III) This is not a political forum. But it is a forum where politicians do come and speak on national issues.
So, I will share with you my growing anguish and indignation. The question we must ponder is this: what has been happening since 2014, both in substance and style? We should all be seriously concerned at how the foundational principles and values of our Constitution are being willfully shredded.
Callous remarks about changing the Constitution, point to a deliberate attempt to subvert the essence of India that it enshrines. Provocative statements from the ruling establishment are not random or accidental: they are part of a dangerous design. The evidence of this new and deeply troubling direction is there for all to see.
Fear and intimidation are the order of the day. Alternative voices are being silenced – literally, in far too many cases, through violence, even murder. The freedom to think for oneself, to differ and disagree, to eat according to one’s choice, to meet or marry according to one’s wishes – all this and more - is under attack.
Where amity and harmony were encouraged, religious tensions are being fueled. Vigilante mobs and private armies have been let loose with state patronage. There is shocking insensitivity to atrocities on Dalits and women. Our society is being polarized with an eye to winning elections.
What is happening to the India that we inherited, and that we have cherished ?
But, ladies and gentlemen, something even more sinister is taking place. The Indian tradition and way of life has, for centuries, been many-streamed and all-encompassing. That is being subverted. Our very social DNA is being re-engineered. The resulting churn will unleash pent up frustration, resentment and anger, with devastating consequences.
Individuals can mesmerize for a while but our Republic needs impartial and robust institutions. Long-standing precedents that have stood the country well are being violated. Parliamentary majority is being interpreted as a license to stifle debate and bulldoze legislation. Political opponents are being targeted through the misuse of investigative agencies. The judiciary is in turmoil. Civil society is being silenced. Universities and students are being strait-jacketed. Much of the media is being coerced away from its proper watch-dog role – which is surely to expose mis-governance, scams and frauds. RTI was brought in to enhance transparency and fight corruption. Today, that law is in cold storage. The RTI activists are being killed. Aadhaar was to be an instrument of empowerment. It is being turned into an intrusive instrument of control. We want to be a knowledge-driven society but just look at how the scientific temper is being mocked and how rationalists are being eliminated.
The noise of politics is the music of democracy. Yet, that very noise is now being muffled. The pretext is to make India a ten-trillion dollar economy. Yes, of course, we need to move fast but fast – F, A, S, T -- cannot stand for First Act, Second Think. We have seen time and again in the way decisions have been taken, whether they have to do with the economy or our relationship with neighbours, or the handling of vital security issues and cross-border terrorism.
Sonia Gandhi: “Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you - does maximum governance mean minimum truth? Does it mean that alternative facts take the place of uncomfortable reality? Take jobs for instance. Everyone knows that the employment situation is grim. But all of a sudden we are told that seven and a half million jobs were created in 2017. This claim has of course, been widely debunked, but does that make a difference?”
IV) Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you - does maximum governance mean minimum truth? Does it mean that alternative facts take the place of uncomfortable reality? Take jobs for instance. Everyone knows that the employment situation is grim. But all of a sudden we are told that seven and a half million jobs were created in 2017. This claim has of course, been widely debunked, but does that make a difference? No, it doesn’t, because as soon as one myth is demolished, another takes its place. I don’t need to remind this audience of how the narrative kept shifting as demonetization took the economy down-river. Or of the chopping and changing that went with the GST, a reform that was first stymied and then implemented in stubborn haste. Or the belated recognition, although half-hearted, of growing farmer distress.
Friends, it is not my nature to be a voice of gloom and doom. But we need to see things as they are and not be taken in by skillful repackaging and lavish marketing. I am encouraged by the fact that people are beginning to question this re-imagining of India.
Re-imagining India entails a rededication to the core values and guiding principles of our Constitution, in letter and spirit, in precept and practice. We need to reaffirm our resolve to protect and strengthen institutions and institutional processes.
We need to acknowledge that while economic growth must be rapid, it must also be inclusive and sustainable. Most of all, we need to replenish the well-springs of liberalism and pluralism that for so long have sustained our society.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have so much to be proud of. India is a great country. India is a wonderful country. It belongs to all of us. Let us protect it and cherish it with all our might.
- Narendra Modi
- Sonia Gandhi
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- Aroon Purie
- UPA chairperson
- India Today Conclave 2018
- Reimagining India
- Sonia Gandhi’s keynote address