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Address by Smt. Sonia Gandhi Chairperson of the UPA to Indian Overseas Congress and other Indian Organisations, New York

New York
October 1, 2007

Foreign Minister P K Mukherjee
Minister Vayalar Ravi
Dr Karan Singh
Minister of State Anand Sharma
Ambassador Sen
Dr Malhotra
Shri George Abraham

I am very happy to be back with the Indian National Overseas Congress after six years. The warmth of your reception is still fresh in my memory. Today too, you have made me feel completely at home with your gracious welcome. 

I came here last time as Leader of the Opposition. This time, I stand before you as the Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance.

In 2004, the people of our country gave us the mandate.

It was a mandate to restore the secular foundations of governance, to revitalise the wellsprings of harmony and tolerance in our diverse society. 

It was a mandate to make the process of economic reforms more inclusive, and economic growth more equitable. 

Significant steps to fulfil that mandate have been taken. 

Our government, as you well know, is a coalition government. Being in coalition at the Centre is a new experience for the Congress but we have adapted well. We have not compromised on our basic values and principles. The National Common Minimum Programme which is the agenda for the coalition and its partners, is largely derived from the Congress Party’s own manifesto. Sometimes a great deal is made in the public domain of the opinions expressed by our friends who support our coalition. This should not alarm you. We believe it is important to listen to all points of view. This only strengthens the democratic process and helps to arrive at a consensus.

I come here at a time of extraordinary interest in our country, in its progress and its achievements. 

The manner in which in the course of sixty years we have nurtured and deepened parliamentary democracy, managed the multitude of our diversities, accelerated economic growth, the manner in which we are empowering the disadvantaged, all this is a matter of National Pride. This has been possible chiefly because of the vision, direction and tremendous sacrifices of our Founder Fathers, the leaders of the Congress Party.

Tomorrow, I speak at the UN on the occasion of the declaration by the General Assembly of Mahatma Gandhi Jayanti as International Non-violence Day. This is a collective homage of the world community to one of the greatest men of all time for which we are grateful.

Since I was here last, the tragedy of 9/11 took place in this city itself. Our hearts went out to all Americans. We all saw with admiration how magnificently the people of New York had rebuilt their lives after that terrible trauma. 

India has been confronting the scourge of terrorism for a very long time. Indeed, Gandhiji himself fell to the bullet of a fanatic. Two of our own leaders have fallen victim to terrorism.

We have had a number of terrorist attacks in the last few years in different parts of our country. What is remarkable is the resilience of our people and how these attacks have not succeeded in damaging the bonds of social harmony in our society. 

Terrorism in the name of religion is a negation of all that every religion stands for - peace, compassion and understanding. We must combat terrorism. At the same time, we must ensure that no community feels under siege or sees itself a target of automatic suspicion. Our party’s guiding philosophy has always been ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhava’ or equal respect to all religion; similarly it has been to fight fundamentalism and communalism of any and every shade. 

India’s economic growth is one of the highest in the world. This is creating new prosperity and opening vast new employment opportunities. But there are still many regions of our country that are lagging behind. In keeping with our Party’s priorities, while fully supporting business enterprise investments, we are making special efforts to improve the quality of our human capital. In the last three years we have significantly increased investments in areas like education, nutrition and health. Agriculture is being revitalized. A far-reaching rural employment guarantee programme has been launched, covering all the districts of the country. A new legislation for social security for workers in the unorganised sector (that accounts for over 90% of our work force) has been introduced. 

In the last few years we have also been able to build new partnerships with Indians living overseas. The huge remittances being made by all of you back home is a major source of strength for our economy. Remittances apart, many more Indians are coming back to start new ventures and businesses and to work in universities, research institutions and companies. There was a time when people used to complain of a "brain drain". But Rajivji’s belief that Indians living and working abroad were actually a “brain bank” has been proved correct. It is gratifying that a large number of Indians are supporting worthwhile social causes through NGOs in areas like education and rural development. However, I would like to add a word of caution here. Not all NGOs are noble in their intentions or transparent in their activities. If they are engaged in activities that damage our secular heritage we must be wary of them. 

Our government in May 2004 set up a separate Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs. The grant of Overseas Citizenship of India to all Persons of Indian Origin where local laws permit dual citizenship (in some form or the other) has also been announced. A number of internship and scholarship programmes for young men and women have been started. The Ministry is launching a new scheme to provide assistance to women deserted by their Overseas Indian spouses, which I am told, has emerged as a serious problem. 

The Indian community in the USA is huge success story of its own. No other community has excelled itself in so many fields in so short a time. You have shown your capabilities in many areas of endeavour, using your education and skills, and the boundless energy and capacity for hard work. Many of you had to struggle much harder than others. You deserve our praise and admiration. Your achievements bring great credit to India and we applaud you. Even more, we see you as a bridge between our two democracies.

We see you as our voice to this continent. I am sure you will continue to propagate the message of Indian National Congress with clarity and conviction. The world must know of our deep commitment to secular democracy and pluralism. They must hear of our vision and values. As we continue our challenging and onerous tasks of governance at home we look to you to spread our message. We are partners in this great endeavour of building a new and prosperous India. I know we can count on you to give your best and keep our flag flying high. 

I wish the Indian National Overseas Congress all success. I compliment Dr Malhotra and his colleagues for organising this meeting – they have worked very hard. I extend in advance my greetings to you all for the auspicious festivities of Eid, Dussehra and Dipawali.

Jai Hind.