New Delhi: Congress president Sonia Gandhi Monday made it a point to ignore PV Narasimha Rao as she lavished praise on all the prime ministers it has produced while marking the start of the 125th anniversary celebrations of the country`s oldest political party.
After laying the foundation stone of the party`s central office on Kotla Road here, Gandhi made no mention of Rao in her 15-minute speech while referring to all other Congress prime ministers -- from Jawaharlal Nehru to Manmohan Singh.
Speaking at the same venue, Manmohan Singh said the Congress believed that the solution to every problem could only come through talks.
He said the Congress -- founded in 1885 during the British Raj -- was ready to accommodate all shades of opinion within the framework of the country`s secular Constitution.
"The Congress believes in the policies which unite and which are not divisive. Within the constitutional framework the Congress is prepared to accommodate all streams of thought," he said, in remarks that could have been directed at militants in Jammu and Kashmir as well as Maoists.
Manmohan Singh, who spoke first, said the Congress government he heads had the capacity to battle terrorism, Maoist insurgency, communalism and regionalism.
"The Congress government is capable of fighting terrorism and Naxalism efficiently," he said.
He said the Congress mission, started 125 years ago, "has to be carried forward with renewed vigour. If the Congress gets weak, then India gets weak. Our duty is to make the Congress very strong".
Gandhi spoke mostly about the Congress, and its ups and downs.
She said the party passed through a difficult phase in the mid-90s when it was in the opposition. Questions were raised then if the party could even survive.
"But we moved ahead without compromising our core beliefs and crossed difficult hurdles. We got a favourable verdict in the 2004 and 2009 general elections through our dedication and hard work," she said.
"Through our sustained efforts in this 125th year, we have to once again establish that the Congress is always for and with the people of our country and they look towards Congress only.
"The Congress mirrors the hopes and expectations of people. Its policies fulfil these hopes. This is the basis of our existence and our biggest strength," she added.
Sonia Gandhi mentioned by name Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister, as well as his successors Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Even as she ignored Narasimha Rao, she profusely praised incumbent Manmohan Singh, who was injected into politics by Rao.
"Manmohan Singhji is successfully leading the nation as a growing power with his experience and worth to new heights and has gained respect in the world," she said.
In turn, the Prime Minister said the Congress "has gained strength under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi".
The function marked the beginning of year-long celebrations by the Congress, which will shift to the new headquarters, called Indira Gandhi Bhavan.