I am truly delighted to be here at this historic gathering. This commemorative conference is not just a tribute to Jawaharlal Nehru or to the ideals and views he came to symbolise. It is a reminder of the continued relevance of Nehru's world view for our times, indeed for all times.
We gather here to commemorate the 125th Birth Anniversary of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Congress President Smt. Sonia Gandhi yesterday delivered a masterly discourse, which provided the lead for the deliberations of this conference. Eminent speakers like former Presidents, Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, John Kufuor of Ghana and General Obasanjo of Nigeria, spelled out the essence of the Nehruvian spirit and its abiding value in the 21st century. Other distinguished persons, including veteran South African freedom fighter Ahmed Kathrada, and Amre Moussa of the Arab League, articulated the various facets of Nehru's world view and its global impact. I believe the deliberations have been insightful and constructive. They have pointed to the essential principles that Nehru espoused and which continue to be relevant today.
We in India are truly honoured and humbled by the global response to this magnificent conference. I salute each one of our distinguished guests who have come and shared their views on a subject of global import.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was a freedom fighter, a leader of great compassion and strong convictions. His faith in inclusive democracy, secularism and socio-economic empowerment of all people was unwavering. Nehru nurtured a deeply scientific temperament and wanted his countrymen to imbibe this spirit. He was an institution builder with an enlightened approach and a global statesman par excellence. His notable contribution in supporting freedom movements and the process of decolonisation of Asia and Africa are universally acknowledged.
Jawaharlal Nehru's world views are based on universal values. Political ideologies come and go, some with doubtful legacies and others with terrible consequences. Many 'isms' have battled for our minds, but few have succeeded in touching our hearts. Nehru saw socialism not merely as an economic doctrine, but as a way of life which called for a profound transformation in the habits and instincts of men. He expressed his conviction that the key to solving the problems of India lay in socialism. As India's first Prime Minister, Nehru devised a pragmatic road map designed to promote development with social justice. The idea of a mixed economy, the co-existence of public and private sectors was an important component of Nehru's thought processes. For Nehru, socialism was basically a passion for equity and equality.
Nehru's brilliance lay in being able to contextualise socialism for India, in the global context. He provided the example of Buddhism, which originated in India, but put on the garb of the country to which it went. In other words, Buddhism became a part of the national soul of whichever country it travelled to. Therefore, Nehru said that one must choose the form of socialism that is compatible with the country's genius and could answer a nation's specific needs and requirements.
Nehru is remembered not just as we gather to celebrate his 125th Birth Anniversary, but across the world for his commitment to parliamentary democracy and gender equality, Afro-Asian solidarity and non-alignment. He espoused the values of democracy, inclusiveness and empowerment for all Indians. All his life he strove to pursue these in the national and international arenas. I believe that democracy, inclusion and empowerment in a multi-ethnic world can play a role in preventing fratricidal conflicts and lead to peace and understanding.
We honour Nehru's values and vision because by temperament and training, he was a democrat. He viewed democracy both as a form of government and as a way of life. It is therefore, but natural that Nehru's vision should have had democracy as one of its main pillars. Nehru's support to a democratic way of life can be attributed to his faith in individual liberty. In Unity of India, Nehru states: "Civil liberty is not merely for us an airy doctrine or a pious wish, but something which we consider essential for the orderly development and progress of a nation. It is the civilised approach to a problem on which people differ, the non-violent way of dealing with it."
The essence of Nehru's political philosophy is empowerment of every individual, irrespective of religion, caste, creed, class or community. Representative democracy is the institutional form in which modern societies have sought to empower individuals. Democracy is not just having periodic elections and keeping alive democratic institutions. It is about respecting the innate right of human beings. Democracy helps in asserting the right to dissent and protects the dignity and self-respect of every human being.
A civilised society must offer space for discussion and dialogue. All human progress must be based on the firm foundation of societal progress. But in a modern democracy we must respect the role of institutions that seek to create and translate that consensus into policy action.
Nehru's world view and message is relevant in every corner of the globe today. Where conflict and violence pervade the human heart, Nehru would have sought peace and harmony, and made efforts to promote a democratic and multilateral world order, where consensus building rather than unilateralism would be the guiding principle. This message must go forth from this conference.
On the midnight of 14 August 1947, Nehru moved a resolution in the Constituent Assembly requesting members to dedicate themselves to the service of India and the world.
This resolution bears eloquent testimony to Nehru's genuine desire to harmonise India's interests with the world. The resolution states: "At this solemn moment, when the people of India, through suffering and sacrifice, have secured freedom, I ..... a member of the Constituent Assembly of India, do dedicate myself in all humility to the service of India and the people to the end that this ancient land attain her rightful place in the world and make her full and willing cooperation to the promotion of world peace and the welfare of mankind."
Nehru was eager to work for world peace and prosperity and was very anxious that the people of India should develop a global outlook. He taught Indians to take independent decisions without fear or favour in international affairs. He also taught us the value of building a viable consensus. This is the ability to foster tolerance for the other point of view. Violent conflict never allows this.
Non-alignment has its origins in India's colonial experience and the non-violent struggle for freedom. This left India determined to be the master of its fate in an international system dominated politically by the Cold War. The principles of non-alignment, that Nehru articulated, were the preservation of India's freedom of action internationally through a refusal to align with any bloc or alliance and, non-violence and international cooperation as a means of settling international disputes.
Non-alignment brought India considerable international prestige among newly independent states that shared New Delhi's concerns about the military confrontation between the superpowers and the influence of the former Colonial powers. Principles of non-alignment helped the developing countries come together and can today, help in bringing the emerging and developing countries to cooperate for an orderly and equitable management of the evolving inter dependent global economy and polity. In fact, the core principles are still relevant and can help India play a more active role in world politics in the 21st century.
There are other ideas of Nehru which are of great relevance that relate to the way we wish to organise our societies and our polity. They are germane to the way we wish to conduct our national and international affairs. They are relevant to the path of development we wish to pursue.
One such idea was the Nehruvian vision of a pluralistic democracy so vividly expressed in Discovery of India: " I am convinced that nationalism can only come out of the ideological fusion of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and other groups in India. That does not and need not mean the extinction of any real culture of any group, but it does mean a common national outlook, to which other matters are subordinated."
This 'idea of India' of Nehru's conception is the idea of 'unity in diversity'. This idea of pluralism, the idea that there need be no "conflict of civilisations", lies at the root of the possibility of working towards a "confluence of civilizations". This idea, I believe, has universal relevance. In a world enveloped by conflict and hatred, these ideas come as a ray of sunshine, giving us hope and renewing our faith in a common humanity. I sincerely hope that this conference can convey this message to the world. I thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts.