Congress slams stop of Indira, Rajiv stamps; government defends decision

New Delhi: The Congress on Wednesday protested the decision to to discontinue two postal stamps on former prime ministers – and party leaders – Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, but the NDA government stood firm, saying it wanted to expand the list of leaders to be so honoured.

The Congress condemned the decision, with party leader Anand Sharma, saying it reflected “a very narrow mindset of this government”. “It is an insult to history. We condemn the approach and attitude of this government towards the Gandhis who have sacrificed a lot for the nation,” he said.

The party also held a protest here with party leader Shobha Oza asking government not to indulge in “cheap politics”.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said both Congress and non-Congress governments in the past had “suitably and sufficiently commemorated” national leaders by issuing postal stamps in their names.

The party also came out with a list of stamps released during Congress governments of “leaders and nation builders belonging to different political parties and ideological hues.”

However, an unmoved government took barbs at Congress over its opposition to discontinuation of stamps on Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.

Elaborating on his ministry’s decision, Communications and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said there were two categories of stamps – “commemorative” or limited edition stamps released on special occasions to honour a place, event or person and “definitive” or those for daily use.

Noting that commemorative stamps had been issued four times on Indira Gandhi, two times on Rajiv Gandhi and seven times on Jawaharlal Nehru, he said: “So many stamps have been released on a family… In definitive stamp (category), focus was on a family though other names were there.”

Prasad said that the inland letter also featured Indira Gandhi and there was a suggestion that it should be replaced with yoga but the government had not taken a final decision in the matter.

He said Philatelic Advisory Committee advises on the release of definitive stamps and there were such stamps on Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, while the government was of the view that whoever has contributed to the building of the country should be honoured.

Following advice of the Philatelic Advisory Committee, it has been decided to issue definitive stamps in the honour of Shyama Prasad Mukherji, Deen Dayal Upadhyay, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Shivaji, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Bhagat Singh, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Jayaprakash Narayan, Rabindra Nath Tagore, Ram Manohar Lohia, Subramania Bharati, Swami Vivekananda, Mother Teresa, Srinivasa Ramanujan, and Maharana Pratap, he said.

Prasad said definitive stamps would also be brought on four music exponents who had been conferred the Bharat Ratna – Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Bismillah Khan and M.S. Subbalakshmi, while those on Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru will continue and there would be one on yoga.

Hours after Prasad’s interaction with the media, Surjewala accused him of brazening out the government decision with “white lies and deliberate misleading”.

“The telecom minister seems to have gotten blinded by his hatred for the Congress and his party’s inadequate contribution to nation building. He seems to have become a victim of his own rhetoric,” he said.

“The Congress when in government released stamps in the name of many people who were either political adversaries or held contrarian ideology like Raj Narain and Veer Savarkar among others,” Surjewala said.

He said the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government issued stamps on Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh founder K.B. Hedgewar and Communist leader E.M.S. Namboodiripad, but the subsequent Congress-led UPA government did not withdraw them.

“Countries like Bulgaria, Laos, Germany, Sri Lanka, Djbouti, Burundi have issued stamps in the name of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Will a desperate and vindictive prime minister, the BJP ask governments of these countries to withdraw postal stamps released by them?” Surjewala asked.

He also recalled contributions of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi to nation building.