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'Don't let prejudice from past divide us'

As parochial identity politics continues to play out in Mumbai and beyond, PM Manmohan Singh today reminded the nation that they would be counted by their achievements, and not their past, reports Aloke Tikku.Spl coverage

delhi Updated: Nov 21, 2008 15:25 IST
Aloke Tikku

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday asked people to reject parochial identity politics that sought to divide them, saying Indians should stop identifying themselves in terms of their past and allow prejudices to thwart India's ambitions for the future.

Singh had used the same forum - the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit - last year to speak of the tendency of politicians to become short-term maximisers.

As the next twelve months saw communal and regional politics playing out in full form from Maharashtra to Orissa where more than a hundred people have been killed in anti-Christian violence, Singh aimed his appeal at the public directly.

"Competitive politics must not be allowed to divide our people on the basis of religion, caste or region," the prime minister, who had this week taken exception to the BJP supporting Sadhvi Pragya Singh, who is an accused in the Malegaon bomb blast, and conveyed his sentiments to the leader of Opposition LK Advani.

At the Fifth HT Leadership Summit, the prime minister held out the success of space scientists in landing the Indian tri-colour on Moon as an example of "cooperative enterprise" that the rest of India could emulate.

"Hundreds of Indians - not divided by their religion, region, language or caste, but united by their commitment to hard work and passion for a scientific adventure made this possible," Singh said in his inaugural address at the Summit attended by a galaxy of industry leaders, social workers, professionals, political leaders and academicians from India and abroad.

"Who asks them what their caste is or religion is? Who asks what their language is or region is. We only ask what their achievement is. It is their work that defines them," Singh said.

"Is this an ambitious goal? Am I asking for too much when I ask each one of you to stop identifying yourself in terms of how the past has shaped you but how you can and are shaping the future," Singh said, echoing the Summit's theme this year, "Ambitions for the New Century".

"My dreams for myself have been realised in my own lifetime because my country has made me," he said. "My greatest ambition for the coming century is to see a fully educated India."

The prime minister who warned the world against extremist ideologies - political and economic - made it clear that the call for moderation was not a rejection of boundless ambition.

"In some areas of human conduct, such ambition is a necessary part of progress," he said, recalling that when India took the first steps towards investing in nuclear and space programmes more than five decades ago, many had mocked.

"Our achievement today mocks the cynicism of the non-believers. It is the kind of ambition that spurs progress and widens human imagination," Singh - who this year put the coalition government's future at stake to ensure that India goes big on nuclear energy - said in his speech that saw him not only dealing with divisive politics and the economic crisis but emphasising, again and again, on the framework of a plural and liberal democracy.