The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, has said that promotion and safeguarding of the unity and integrity of our young Republic was a national cause. Addressing the gathering at the 21st Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration to honour noted lyricist, Shri Javed Akhtar here today, the Prime Minister emphasised that “our democracy is built on our civilisational commitment to pluralism”. “Religious intolerance is alien to both our culture and our Constitutional values”, Dr. Singh added
The Prime Minister hoped that Shri Akhtar would continue to make good use of the very powerful medium of cinema to spread the message of freedom, secularism and the equality of all peoples.
UPA Chairperson, Smt. Sonia Gandhi and Shri Javed Akhtar also addressed the gathering.
The following is the text of the Prime Minister’s address on the occasion:
“On this solemn occasion of the anniversary of the martyrdom of a great Indian, our beloved leader, Indiraji, I pay homage to her and join the people of India in grateful remembrance. Generations to come will recall with affection and gratitude Indiraji’s unwavering commitment to the welfare and well-being of the poorest of the poor. For centuries to come our nation will always honour her memory in recognition of her vital role in the building of modern India.
This evening, I am delighted that we are honouring a creative, committed, secular and patriotic Indian in seeking to perpetuate the memory of Indiraji. I congratulate Shri Javed Akhtar for having won the prestigious Indira Gandhi Prize for National Integration.
I am proud that this award is being given to a writer, a poet and an activist who is deeply committed to the ideas and ideals that define our nationhood. Indiraji lived and died for these values and ideals. She symbolized them in all their glory and remained steadfast in her commitment to them to her dying hour.
Smt Indira Gandhi was without doubt an extraordinary personality of modern India. But she was more than that. She was a great statesperson of our times and the tallest woman leader of the 20th Century. We in India were fortunate that she was our Prime Minister. But I know this for a fact that she inspired generations of young men and, especially, women, in distant lands, in diverse nations.
The Indira Gandhi Prize for National Integration celebrates her deep commitment to the unity and integrity of our country.
As I have said so often, ours is an ancient civilization but we are a young nation. The promotion and safeguarding of the unity and integrity of our young republic is, therefore, a national cause. This prize recognizes the service of those who have contributed to this national endeavour.
Indiraji had a deep understanding of the role of writers, poets, artists and film makers in promoting national integration. She once said, “Writers and poets give voice to the innermost urges of the people. They affirm a nation’s basic beliefs and ideals”. I do, therefore, sincerely believe that in awarding this prize today to Shri Javed Akhtar we are being true to the thoughts of Indiraji.
Commenting on the communal carnage in Gujarat in 2002, Javed Sa’ab had said, “It was not a Hindu-Muslim problem, but a clash of secularism and democracy versus fascism and intolerance”. There is truth in this. I do sincerely believe that our civilization has made it possible for diversity to thrive and flourish. Every great religion of the world has found a home in this great and blessed land of ours. We Indians are intrinsically a tolerant people. Intolerance is an aberration. Our democracy is built on our civilisational commitment to pluralism. Religious intolerance is alien to both our culture and our constitutional values.
I recall Javed Akhtar’s definition of a religious person as “one who stands against injustice and oppression.” In fact, Mahatma Gandhi once defined spiritualism as the promotion of education and economic equality and the removal of hindrances that come in the way of human progress. It is because he saw spirituality in our material endeavours that Gandhiji was called a Karmayogi. Socially conscious writers, poets and artists are also, in that sense, karmayogis.
It is a sense of optimism about our inner core, our national personality that defines Javed Akhtar’s work. Indiraji would have been greatly pleased to see such a man, whose civility and grace as a poet matches his passion and zeal for social change and communal amity, given this award in her memory.
I also commend Javed Akhtar’s emphasis on women’s empowerment and the empowerment of the weaker sections of our society in his writings. He espouses liberal, secular and modern values. This has also done as a member of Citizens for Justice and Peace, and as a founder member of the Muslim Intelligentsia Group.
Finally, I must compliment Javed Sa’ab for his creative use of the medium of cinema for promoting all these values, which we all cherish.
I hope he will continue to make good use of this very powerful medium to spread the message of freedom, secularism and the equality of all peoples. The voice of humanism and liberalism must be heard loud and clear. It must be expressed without fear or favour. It must resonate in every corner of the world. It is the duty and the privilege of a poet to do so.
Javed Akhtar richly deserves the Indira Gandhi Prize for National Integration. I hope this prize will help impart more power to his pen”.