August 20, 2006
PM's address at the presentation of Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award
"One more year has gone by and even after 15 years it is difficult for us to come to terms with the fact of Rajivji's absence from our midst. I join you all in paying tribute to a great son of India. A forward looking visionary, a humane and kind leader, a hard working and warm hearted person, Rajivji endeared himself to anyone and everyone who came in contact with him. It is his humanism, his modernism, his secularism and his patriotism that we celebrate every year by giving away this prestigious award.
I am truly delighted that this year, we are honouring Smt. Nirmala Deshpandeji, for her life and for her work. It gives me great pleasure to greet her on the occasion of her receiving the Rajiv Gandhi Sadbhavana Award. Nirmalaji is a fitting and worthy recipient of this award.
Sadbhavana was a distinguishing aspect of Rajiv Gandhi's life and personality. He best understood the core meaning. His policies and programmes, underlining the shared heritage of our pluralistic ethos, demonstrated its vital spirit. Even in the context of the alarming spread of terrorism, he spoke the language of Sadbhavna in the fight against it.
Rajivji told the National Integration Council in April 1986, "No quarter must be given to terrorists or violent solutions to our problems when a democratic solution is available at all times. We have to use Gandhiji's method to confront terrorism. Gandhiji's non-violence and constructive work". He believed that, "National integration is not something that one inherits. It is something that one must build, right from the bottom upwards".
This spirit is amply reflected in Nirmalaji's work and her life. She has been relentlessly working to foster national integration from the very bottom. She walked 40,000 kms by participating in Acharya Vinoba Bhave's Bhoodan Yatra in 1952. She went beyond Bhoodan Yatra and offered Satyagraha for securing the rights of landless labourers who were allotted land.
Through her life and through her work, Nirmalaji has been striving to create a new value system for establishing a good society. The Akhil Bharat Rachanatmak Samaj, of which she is the founder President, has remained in the forefront of a movement for a creating such a value system. She has organised peace marches in Punjab when terrorist violence was at its peak. She visited many areas of the State by putting her life at stake and spread the message of peace and communal harmony. She has replicated the effort in Jammu and Kashmir. All of us were impressed by the peace march Nirmalaji organised in Orissa after the terrible murder of Graham Steins. It symbolized her commitment to human life and secular values.
Rajivji often said that the resurgence of communalism was the greatest challenge to national unity. We must meet the challenge head on and protect our unity. Nirmalaji has done this boldly by highlighting the commonalities of our shared heritage. I believe that one of the initiatives she took in this regard was the creation of Sanjhi Virasat a forum of writers and artists, and the Adhyatma Jagaran Manch, a forum to counter misuse of religion. Through each of these initiatives, Nirmalaji emerged as a brave and sincere exponent of Sadbhavna.
Another area of Rajivji's personal concern was the emancipation and the empowerment of our women. Here too, he reflected a Gandhian concern. Mahatma Gandhi once defined non-violence in terms of communal harmony, eradication of untouchability, economic equality, promotion of primary education and above all improving the status of our women. Gandhiji would have regarded any effort for the cause of women's uplift as a major step for Sadbhavna.
Rajivji took historic measures for the empowerment of Indian women. The reservation of 1/3rd of seats for women in Panchayats was one such noble measure. Nirmalaji's activities in empowering our women through self-help groups, eradicating poverty, and spreading education among the underprivileged sections of society, make her an eminent Gandhian and a true practitioner of Sadbhavna.
Nirmalaji has gone beyond our frontiers to spread Sadbhavna and has striven hard to establish goodwill and peace among our neigbours. She has been involved in organizing many meets and conferences to establish people to people contact between India and Pakistan. Such a crusader of peace, amity and understanding richly deserves the Rajiv Gandhi Sadbhavna Award. Once again I congratulate Nirmalaji and wish her all the best for the success of her noble mission."
Printed from the site http://www.pmindia.nic.in