What`s New Ambassador's Remarks at Gandhi Jayanthi Celebrations October 02, 2021

Ambassador's Remarks at Gandhi Jayanthi Celebrations October 02, 2021

Gandhi Jayanti – 2nd October 2021

Good morning and thank you all for joining us today to observe Gandhi Jayanti – the birthday of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who is etched into history as the Father of the Indian Nation and is rightly regarded as a “Mahatma” – a “Great Soul”. Today’s celebration also kicks off a special week of events in the context of our celebration of “Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav” as we mark 75 years of India’s independence. I am glad in particular to welcome our Chinese friends today and would like to wish them a very happy Golden Week holiday as they celebrate the 71st anniversary of the founding of the PRC.

A short while earlier this morning, on the occasion of his 152nd birth anniversary, I and some other colleagues from the Embassy paid tribute to the Mahatma at his statue near the Jin Tai Art Museum in Chaoyang Park. As I bowed in prayer, I recalled the number of capitals and cities around the world where I and innumerable colleagues have had the privilege to pay respects at Gandhi statues and busts even when we have been outside India. Perhaps no other national leader has been memorialized in stone or metal in so many different countries as Gandhi. The fact that these marks of respect to his memory continue to come up overseas even in the 21st century, nearly three quarters of a century after he passed away, is testimony to the continuing relevance of and indeed fascination of the world with the Mahatma – an unmatched apostle of peace and non-violence.

What explains this fascination and why does Gandhi remain relevant in the 21st century? The answer to my mind is quite simple – Gandhi’s achievements were monumental; the ends he secured, among them India’s independence, were unmatched in scale and scope in human history and remain so; but what is particularly remarkable is the means that he deployed in securing those ends. The fact that nobody has been able to show that these means are no longer relevant is precisely the reason why Gandhi remains relevant. Here is what Edgar Snow, a man who would be well known to an audience such as this, wrote shortly after Gandhi’s assassination in 1948 and I quote: “…Gandhi won national independence for more millions of people than any other leader of men, and with less bloodshed, and that was the truth. He showed the weak and the poor how to struggle without taking life, and that was the truth”. Unquote.

Snow went on to say that Gandhi became an “avatar” for three reasons. “…He embodied man's need for meditation based on attainment of individual moral perfection, man's need for collective reform in social justice and equality, and man's need of an effective means to achieve individual and collective reform by nonviolent action”. In Snow’s view, humanity had had many teachers with answers to one or two of these needs, but Gandhi was the only man in our time who combined all three with highly positive results.

Snow’s is one small observation but a significant one nevertheless that is helpful in understanding the true measure of the Mahatma. When one starts reading Gandhi’s works, one can immediately see the continuing relevance of Gandhian teachings for issues like conflict resolution in a world beset by conflict of multiple kinds; his philosophy of Sarvodaya, or the rising welfare of all is the inspiration behind India’s current focus on, among others, Sabka Vikas – the development of all. Gandhi’s thoughts on faith, the environment and the virtues of a sustainable lifestyle remain particularly relevant today. Even if we can find debating points on these issues, one area where Gandhi’s life provides an unquestionable model worth emulating is his conduct in public life. Writing about Gandhi, George Orwell noted and I quote "…regarded simply as a politician, and compared with the other leading political figures of our time, how clean a smell he has managed to leave behind!"

For those of you who have not had the opportunity of delving into Gandhian thought, I would urge you to make a beginning. For the younger friends with us today, I want to say in particular that Gandhi is a serious philosopher but he is not entirely without fun. When he had gone to London in 1931 for the Second Round Table Conference, he had a meeting, for the first and last time, with a British monarch. Coming out of Buckingham Palace after seeing King George V, Gandhi, who was dressed in his signature loin-cloth, was asked by a reporter whether he had not felt cold, given that it was the month of November. Gandhi’s answer was and I quote: "The King had enough on for both of us."

I thank you all again for joining us here today on this very important occasion.