NEW DELHI: Faced with the party's worst-ever poll performance, Congress President Sonia Gandhi today said that "staunch secularism" and "socialist economics" were their "core beliefs" and noted that these values of Nehruvianism are being "fundamentally challenged by some in the prevailing political climate".
While the party encourages involvement of the private sector in wealth generation and economic growth, it remains "profoundly wedded to Nehru's concern for the weakest sections" of society, she said at an event to mark the 50th death anniversary of former Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru here.
The four pillars of Nehruvianism-- democratic institution -building, staunch secularism, socialist economics and a foreign policy of non-alignment-- that were integral to a vision of Indianness are being "fundamentally challenged by some in the prevailing political climate", she said while stressing that these still formed the core of Congress's beliefs.
Gandhi at the same time said she is not suggesting that Congress is stuck in a time warp and merely repeating the conventional wisdom of 50 years ago as "Nehru himself, as a man with an open and questioning mind, would have evolved with the times, even while remaining anchored in his core beliefs".
Her comments, indicating a left of the Centre tilt, comes at a time when Narendra Modi has assumed charge as Prime Minister of the country, heading a government which has a decisive majority of its own.
In the internal meetings of Congress, party leaders have maintained that corporates and the media fully backed BJP in the just-concluded Lok Sabha polls.
On secularism, Gandhi told the audience of mostly Congress leaders, including party Vice President Rahul Gandhi, that while Nehru strived to prevent partition, "when it occurred, he never accepted the logic that since Pakistan had ostensibly been created for India's Muslims, what remained was a state for Hindus".
"Nehru stood for an idea of India that embraced every religion, caste, ethnicity and language. Indian National Congress remains fundamentally rooted in such a conception of India," she added.
Gandhi's impassioned praise of the Nehruvian vision comes at a time when the efficacy of that model is being questioned by sections of the media following BJP's landslide victory which reduced Congress to its lowest tally since Independence of just 44 seats in Lok Sabha.
She said Nehru lived by his conviction that India belonged to all who had contributed to its history and civilisation and that the majority community had a special obligation to protect the rights and promote the well-being of the minorities in the country.
She rued that it has become "fashionable today to decry Nehruvian socialism as a corrupt and inefficient system" that condemned India to many years of modest growth levels.
"We do not deny, as Rajiv Gandhi said three decades ago, that over time the socialist model as practised in India developed many flaws.
"But at the core of Nehru's socialism was the conviction that in a land of extreme poverty and inequality, the objective of government policy must be the welfare of the poorest, most deprived and most marginalised of our people. Today, we refer to this as inclusive development," she said.
"Today, Congress welcomes... the involvement of the private sector in wealth generation and economic growth and in making possible so many new opportunities for the young to succeed in a globalising world. But we remain profoundly wedded to Nehru's concern for the weakest sections of society," Gandhi said.
Lauding the outgoing UPA government, which has come under attack from friends and foes alike after the poll debacle, she said, "The 10 years of UPA have entrenched an updated version of Nehru's idea of India that has widened the scope of its democracy through such innovations like RTI, one that has defended secularism in the face of vigorous threats to our nation's diversity."
She claimed that the UPA regime had also deepened inclusiveness through the creation of a framework of rights which all went towards strengthening and empowering the poorest of the poor.
Gandhi also said that the essence of Nehru's non- alignment policy -- which remains at the heart of Congress's worldview -- was about safeguarding India's independence and self-respect from potential encroachment of its sovereignty. Gandhi also hailed the fact that despite riven by so many internal differences and diversities, beset by acute poverty and torn apart by partition, India has remained a democracy while many other countries found themselves turning in the opposite direction soon after their independence.
"It was Nehru, who by his scrupulous regard for both the form and the substance of democracy, instilled democratic habits in the country. He was India's unchallenged leader and yet his reaction, when opposed, was not to overrule his rivals but rather to offer to resign," Gandhi said.
She also lauded Nehru's regard for the independence of the judiciary, his courtesy of those with different political view and his deference of institutions over individuals.
In his address at the seminar, 'Renewing India's Commitment to Jawaharlal Nehru's Vision', organised by Congress, Rahul Gandhi said that he considered Nehru to be one of his political gurus, along with Mahatma Gandhi. "Pandit ji's capacity to reach out to every individual cutting across social and economic divisions is worth emulating by any politician," he said.
Former Vice Chancellor of Jamia Milia Islamia, Professor Mushirul Hassan, and former diplomat Chinmay Garekhan, too, spoke at the seminar, which was also attended by academics, journalists and intellectuals.
While Hassan presented a detailed insight into Nehru's contributions in every sphere in the making of India, Garekhan offered a critical analysis of how the country's first prime minister had helped shape its foreign policy.