Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had a massive poll mandate in 1984 but he did not use it to create an atmosphere of fear, threaten and scare people or destroy institutions, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said on Thursday, in an apparent criticism of the Modi government.
Addressing an event marking Rajiv Gandhi's 75th birth anniversary, she also said the challenges facing the Congress now are formidable, but it must continue with its ideological struggle against 'divisive forces'.
"In 1984, he (Rajiv Gandhi) won an unprecedented mandate but did not use that power to create an atmosphere of fear or threaten and scare," Sonia Gandhi said.
He did not use that power to destroy the independence of institutions, trample on dissent and divergent views and create dangers for democratic traditions, she said, in her first public address after taking over as the Congress's interim president earlier this month.
Her remarks assume significance as they come after senior Congress leader and former Union finance minister P Chidambaram was arrested by the CBI in connection with the INX Media case, with the grand old party accusing the government of using central agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate as personal 'revenge-seeking departments'.
The Congress had won over 400 seats in the 1984 Lok Sabha election after which Rajiv Gandhi became the prime minister.
In 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party won 303 Lok Sabha seats and Narendra Modi became the prime minister, winning a second straight term with full majority.
Listing out achievements made during Rajiv Gandhi's tenure as prime minister, Sonia Gandhi said he took the first step towards liberalisation of the economy and globalising it but was aware that if India has to make a place in the global arena, it has to ensure inclusive growth.
This work could not have been achieved by showing arrogance, by merely raising slogans, but through hard work and character, she said in an apparent attack at the present dispensation.
"In 1989, the Congress did not get a majority on its own, so he (Rajiv Gandhi) politely accepted the mandate of the people. I want to tell the present generation that despite (Congress) being the single-largest party at the time, he did not lay claim to power.
"This was because his inner moral force and honesty did not allow him to do so," Sonia Gandhi said.
"Nobody can do such a thing in today's times, what Rajiv ji did. What Rahul Gandhi has done," she said, in a reference to Rahul Gandhi quitting as Congress chief while taking full responsibility for the party's Lok Sabha poll debacle.
Today, there are those who are busy inventing a new past for Indians, while Rajiv Gandhi was engaged in inventing a new future, she said.
"To him, the past has to be understood in all its complexities to build pride, not to stoke prejudice, to strengthen social harmony, not fuel antagonism and polarize our society, a society whose heritage has been enriched by multiple streams of faiths, beliefs and culture," Sonia Gandhi said.
Rajiv Gandhi was proud of India's past, but, at the same time, he held a firm conviction that the country has to be a modern nation, anchored in reasons, and a scientific temper in which obscurantism has no place.
She asserted her husband's 75th birth anniversary was not just a ritual being marked by the Congress, but an occasion to remember him, understand what he stood for and espoused, what he achieved and what he wanted to accomplish, had destiny been 'kinder' to him.
"It is an occasion for us individually and collectively to reaffirm our resolve to continue to uphold the values that inspired him, to stand up and confront the forces that are determined to destroy those values," the United Progressive Alliance chairperson said.
"Electoral ups and downs are inevitable. The challenges that our party confronts today are formidable but we must continue our ideological struggle against the forces of divisiveness, the forces that are out to change the very nature of our society, the very Idea of India that is enshrined in our Constitution," she said.
As prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi gave the message that unity can be maintained by celebrating India's diversity, she said.
The Congress president said standing up for the values that were dear to Rajiv Gandhi would be the best tribute to him on his 75th birth anniversary.
To Rajiv Gandhi, the past has to be understood in all its complexities to build pride, not to stoke prejudice, to strengthen social harmony, not fuel antagonism and polarise our society, a society whose heritage has been enriched by multiple streams of faiths, beliefs and culture, she said.
"He was accused of being elitist of not understanding the problems faced by the rural India but especially by the children that live in rural India and to come from poor background. But today the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas are the pride of every single district in our country," the Congress chief noted.
Several Congress leaders also spoke at the event held at the KD Jadhav indoor stadium and a cultural programme was also organised to mark the former prime minister's 75th birth anniversary, which was on August 20.
Bollywood actress Swara Bhaskar compered the event, where top Congress leaders were present including party chief ministers Kamal Nath, Ashok Gehlot, Bhupesh Baghel and V Narayanasamy.