Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday said the country was getting increasingly divided in the name of "narrow nationalism" as "forces of darnkess" seek to engulf it.
Gandhi said the liberal, tolerant Indian ethos that former prime minister late Indira Gandhi embodied is being rejected and repudiated.
"In today's times, when our country finds itself increasingly divided in the name of a narrow nationalism, the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration is a recognition of the values she stood for," she said in her speech read out by Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi.
Gandhi said Sonia Gandhi has been ill but was keen to attend the function to give away the 30th Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration. Rahul said he dissuaded her from attending the event and read out her speech.
"The Award reminds all of us that like her we must be undaunted, unafraid and uncompromising against the forces of darkness that seek to engulf our land," she said.
The Congress vice president and former prime minister Manmohan Singh jointly presented the award to Carnatic Music singer T M Krishna, for his exemplary services in promoting national integration.
Sonia said the idea of India that Indira Gandhi fought for has been thrown fundamentally into question by the "rising intolerance" that one witnessed today.
Singh, in his brief speech, called for reaffirming commitment to the values Indira Gandhi stood for and celebrate India's diversity.
"At a time when our society is facing a danger of deepening divisions, true patritism demands that we follow the path shown by Indira Gandhi and work for social and regional cohesion even as we celebrate our diversity," Singh said.
The Congress president said, "The liberal, tolerant Indian ethos that Indira Gandhi embodied in her life and beliefs is openly rejected and repudiated. The precious idea of national integration has never been more necessary than today."
She alleged a view of Indianness that is one-sided, discriminatory and even warped was being thrust upon the country.
"The country's heritage is now in the hands of those who are bent upon rewriting history, imposing falsehood and unscientific ideas on our people and stifling independent thinking," she said without naming any party or individual but apparently targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP.
The Congress president said Indira Gandhi believed in Indianness that was bereft of caste or religion and that she paid for her principles with her life, but never compromised with her faith in India and its people.
"Indira Gandhi would not judge anyone on the basis of religion," Gandhi said, while citing the example of her refusing to change her Sikh bodyguards after being advised in the wake of Operation Bluestar.
Gandhi hoped that Krishna will keep alight that flame of national integration and tolerance.
"In doing so, the sound of his music will soar above the darkness that rises around us and illuminate the idea of a generous and compassionate India that Indiraji believed in and fought for," Gandhi said.
The Congress president said Indira Gandhi's life and convictions inspired the award, which is given to those distinguished sons and daughters of India whose work, beyond its intrinsic merits, seeks to protect and project the very soul of this land.
"Unity and peace, not division and conflict, are the lights that guided our awardees, in thought as well as action - just as they guided her," she said.
Krishna, after receiving the award, said "We are facing difficlt times" and living in times when national integration has been replaced with an "ugly form of nationalism and jingoism".
Referring to former prime minister Singh's apology for the 1984 riots anti-Sikh riots, he said, "A leader who does not have the humility to apologise for a genocide under his watch does not integrate".