India spreads Gandhi’s dynamism in new ways in America

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India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar presented a bust of Mahatma Gandhi to the Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, at the Library of Congress, in Washington, DC, on October 2, 2019. Standing alongside is India’s Ambassador to the United States Harsh Vardhan Shringla. Photo: Indian Embassy in US.

NEW YORK – There was added dynamism this year to spread word in the corridors of power in America, of the life and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, to commemorate his 150th birth anniversary.

From PM Narendra Modi invoking Gandhi’s message for peace and nonviolence in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly last Friday, and writing an opinion column in The New York Times, on October 2nd, where he intertwined environment and climate change issues to Gandhi’s vision for a better world, to an Indian delegation presenting a bust of the Mahatma to the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday; and a rare collection of Gandhi memorabilia exhibited at the venerable Library of Congress to commemorate Gandhi’s anniversary.

India showcased that Gandhi mattered, that he’s even more relevant today in a world beset by political, economic friction and uncertainty. That the message of Gandhi is one that resonates across generations, globally.

The timing of this year’s Gandhi Jayanti, to advocate the mantra of peace and brotherhood – after disgusting and appalling round of speeches and talks by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, a few days prior in New York where the hypocrite issued threats of a nuclear war in the same breath that he invoked the name of Gandhi, benefited India in more ways than one to showcase global leadership.

The 150th birth anniversary of the Mahatma also helped the Indian government to reach out to the Democrats, after the Howdy Modi! rally in Houston, a week earlier, where Modi and President Donald Trump took center stage.

There were allegations after that meet in Houston, of India, and Modi specifically, overtly supporting Trump in his bid for a second term in the White House. But the significant interaction with Pelosi in Washington, DC, helped quell that notion, however ridiculous it might be. It also showed great diplomatic acumen by India, their acute sense of bipartisanship, and growing confidence and dexterity on the global stage, especially in America.

The Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi addresses an audience at the Library of Congress. Photo: Indian Embassy in US.

In her speech at the Library of Congress, and earlier this year, in another speech, Pelosi spoke of her fascination with Gandhi right from her teenage years.

“Mahatma Gandhi made all the difference in the world in our country,” Pelosi remarked, going on to talk of Gandhi’s influence on Dr. Martin Luther King, how it inspired him in his civil rights movement. “Gandhi was the spiritual leader of America’s nonviolence movement,” she said.

“That is a debt we owe to India. Just as the torch passed from Gandhi to Dr. King, the torch now belongs to all of us,” Pelosi said.

India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and India’s Ambassador to the United States Harsh Vardhan Shringla, presented a bust of Gandhi to Pelosi at the meet, held at the Library of Congress.

Modi had presented to Trump a giant framed photograph of the duo standing on stage before a crowd of 59,000 at the Houston rally, in New York, last week. The present to Pelosi was a fine, symbolic gesture too from India.

“I will display it with great pride in the Speaker’s office of the capital of the United States so that anyone who visits there will see that respect and admiration that we have (for Gandhi),” Pelosi said of the gift.

Pelosi has spoken about Gandhi’s satyagraha in the past.

“It means nonviolence and insistence on the truth. That was exactly what Martin Luther King did: nonviolently insisting on the truth. So the gift, the spiritual gifts that India has given to the United States is really one of those strong ties that we have in our shared values,” she said.

In her speech on Wednesday, Pelosi also spoke of Modi’s address to a Joint Session of Congress, which had left her highly impressed. Then too, Modi had spoken of Gandhi and the urgent need to look into issues of climate change.

“I mentioned about climate crisis and thanked him for his leadership, he talked about Mahatma Gandhi and the environment,” she said. “He told us whether it was water conservation or whatever it is, Gandhi understood the worth and the respect we had to have for nature.”

India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar paying floral tributes to Mahatma Gandhi statue in front of the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC. Photo: Indian Embassy.

Jaishankar, in his speech, spoke of Gandhi’s lasting message for the world.

“Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked at an event at the United Nations what it would have been like had Mahatma Gandhi been like born in a free country. We could perhaps take that even further and ask ourselves what he would advocate today if he was amongst us,” he said.

“The answer obviously is not a simple one because Gandhi ji’s outlook and thoughts spanned a very broad spectrum of human activity. But to the extent we can define it within sharper boundaries, they probably are best captured by the 17 sustainable development goals that the world seeks to achieve today,” Jaishankar said.

Jaishankar complimented Pelosi for her own advocacy for a greener world, saying: “Your commitment towards clean governance and green development is widely recognized. Your presence here today underlines the impact that the life and message of Mahatma Gandhi has had on your own endeavors from your early youth.”

A child touches a statue of Mahatma Gandhi during an all-religion prayer meeting to pay tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his birth anniversary at an Ashram in Ahmedabad, October 2, 2018. REUTERS/Amit Dave

In India, the Gandhi Jayanti celebrations this year had a strong message to protect the environment from the hazards of plastic waste.

Modi paid tribute to the “father of the nation” Mahatma Gandhi at his memorial in New Delhi on Wednesday.

Alongside political figures, school children, and the public also assembled at the memorial to pay their respects, reported Reuters.

India observes October 2 not only as Gandhi’s birthday but also as International Day of Non-Violence, the ideal that Gandhi fought for throughout his life.

Gandhi, who was born in 1869, played a key role in India’s fight for independence. He was assassinated by a Hindu radical on January 30, 1948, just a few months after he led India to freedom from British rule through a non-violent struggle.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spins cotton on a wheel as his wife Sara looks on during their visit to Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, India, January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Amit Dave

India celebrated the anniversary by organizing cleanliness drives, film screenings and making a giant spinning wheel made out of plastic waste.

“The whole world is celebrating the birth anniversary of Gandhi,” Modi said.

Modi has often evoked Gandhi in his speeches, saying his ideas and philosophies are as relevant today as they were during his lifetime, reported Reuters.

On the outskirts of the capital New Delhi, government officials erected a 1,650 kg spinning wheel, an important symbol associated with Gandhi, made entirely out of plastic waste. Gandhi used a spinning wheel to spin his own cloth in a gesture of independence and Indian self-sufficiency.

Officials told local media that the wheel was symbolic of the Modi regime’s commitment to move away from the use of single-use plastic.

“Hygiene, protection of environment and protection of life were of keen interest to Gandhi,” said Modi, speaking on the occasion. “Plastic is dangerous to all these three goals. So we need to reach the goal of ending single-use plastic by 2022.”

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