“I am delighted to deliver the valedictory address at the two-day International Webinar on “Gandhi and the World” organised by the Indian Council of World Affairs.
I appreciate ICWA for organizing this event on Gandhiji to culminate with the two-year celebration of Gandhiji’s 150th Birth Anniversary.
During these two days, the seminar reflected on Gandhiji’s principles and their impact and relevance across the world. There is a timelessness about Gandhian values. They seem to be relevant for all countries and for all times. However, they acquire greater relevance in a world that is facing new challenges.
The world is facing one of the biggest health crises in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic. When the world experienced a similar challenge in 1918 during the Spanish Flu, Gandhiji spoke about the need to understand the pain of all people, especially the poor and the underprivileged.
While social distancing, sanitizing our personal and public spaces and wearing masks have become important norms today, it might be apt to recall what the Mahatma had written during the then pandemic: “Once again the dark clouds are gathering. It will be to the great benefit of our people if they bear in mind the following rules; otherwise there would be immense harm” -- he had stated and mentioned the norms that needed to be maintained to protect oneself from the global health challenge at that time.
These are truly testing times. The pandemic has wrought unimaginable havoc on the economies of various nations and severely impacted the lives of the people, particularly the poor and marginalized sections. These are the times to extend a helping hand to the needy and mitigate their hardship. As stated by the Mahatma of the need to understand the pain of the people during the Spanish Flu, the present times call for empathy and not sympathy towards the poor.
Dear sisters and brothers,
As you all are aware, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday is recognised and celebrated as the ‘International Day of Non-Violence’ by the United Nations.
It not only symbolises the ever-lasting imprint that the Mahatma had left on humanity, but is also a constant reminder to the world that peace is an essential prerequisite for progress.
Mahatma Gandhi had showed the world a novel mode of struggle against injustice, a novel way of life through his message of Truth and Non-violence.
He became a beacon of light for the oppressed in the 20th century and continues to be one even today, 72 years after his death.
His efforts to liberate India from colonial rule, modelled after a philosophy entrenched in the values of Truth (Satyagraha) and Non-Violence (Ahimsa), paved the way for the country’s independence and inspired struggles against injustice and atrocities world over.
It gladdens me today to see that scholars from India and 14 countries are participating in this webinar. Your presence and work on the life and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi underlines the importance of his messages, values and teachings and their eternal relevance-- cutting across barriers of race, class, creed, gender and geography.
While Satyagraha and Ahimsa were the two pillars of the Mahatma’s philosophy, what is most inspiring in the Mahatma's life, is his unwavering belief in the innate goodness of humanity. Mahatma believed that there are no evil people, only evil deeds.
In a world where incidents of terrorism, warfare and heinous crimes world-over are shaking one's faith in humanity, one must always remember what the Mahatma had said. He said: “You must not lose faith in humanity, humanity is an ocean. If a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty”.
The universal themes of truth, non-violence and peace are probably more relevant today than ever before. The world has changed significantly since the Mahatma was assassinated in 1948.
From the development of the hydrogen bomb to climate change and global terrorism to growing materialism and the extraordinary growth of IT, it is a world that is questing for sustainable development. It is a world that is looking for solutions to intractable challenges.
The world today needs a healing touch, a human touch, a harmonious touch. That is what Gandhian ideals can give our world.
Perhaps, no other time can be more relevant than the 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, to remember his universally-acclaimed legacy, teachings, morals and principles. When Dr. Martin Luther King was asked, 'Where is Gandhi today?' he replied, “Gandhi is inevitable. That if humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought and acted, inspired by the vision of a humanity evolving towards a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him only at our own risk. The life-story of Gandhi as a man is of the greatest relevance to every human being who aspires to rise above the average level and lead a meaningful life”.
When he reached India in 1959, Dr. King famously remarked, “To other countries I may go as a tourist, but to India I come as a pilgrim. Perhaps, above all, India is the land where the techniques of nonviolent social change were developed that my people have used in Montgomery, Alabama, and elsewhere throughout the American South. We have found them to be effective and sustaining — they work!”
Rabindranath Tagore, the illustrious Nobel laureate, who is revered as ‘Gurudev’ by Indians, expressed his admiration for the Mahatma by remarking that, “At Gandhiji’s call, India blossomed forth to new greatness, just as once before, in earlier times, when Buddha proclaimed the truth, of fellow feeling and compassion among all living creatures”.
The Mahatma’s greatness lies in his ability and willingness to learn. He not only influenced the world deeply, but allowed the world to equally influence and inspire his ideas.
Russian author Leo Tolstoy’s book ‘The Kingdom of God is Within You’ and his essay ‘Christianity and Patriotism’ left a deep mark on Gandhiji, while his principles of ‘simplicity of life’ and ‘purity of purpose’ moved him greatly. He even wrote how reading the book cemented his belief in non-violence (Ahimsa).
As mentioned earlier, Mahatma’s views and principles will continue to be the guiding light for overcoming various challenges facing the humanity—from promoting sustainable development and self-reliance to combating terrorism.
He believed in cooperation and collaboration, which is a global necessity today -- be it for fighting pandemic or poverty. He famously said: “'there's enough for everyone's need but not for everyone’s greed”' and his belief that “the earth, the air, the land and the water are not an inheritance from our forefathers but on loan from our children’, needs to be remembered to pursue sustainable development in a time when increasing environmental exploitation is spelling disaster.
Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy and his concept of Sarvodaya have been constant guiding light to our Government which is committed to ensuring a peaceful and prosperous India. To carry forward the Mahatma's emphasis on cleanliness, Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Bhai Modi Ji launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan to realise the goal of clean cities and villages across the country.
In the world raven with the social, political, economic as well as environmental problems, revival of Gandhian ideals is the need of the hour.
Finally, before concluding, I would like to compliment all the scholars who participated in this webinar. The participation from so many countries underlines the relevance of Gandhiji’s legacy to the contemporary world.
My sincere congratulations to all the scholars from South Africa, Myanmar, Russia, Singapore, Oman, Sri Lanka, Italy, Germany, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Costa Rica, Uzbekistan and China, for their enlightening work.