NEW YORK – The timing of an opinion column by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in The New York Times, on October 2, 2019, was appropriate for two reasons: one, it commemorated with elan the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, and two, it laid bare the irony and hypocrisy of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan who almost in the same breath last week took the name of the Apostle of Peace and issued a veiled threat of a devastating nuclear war.
Modi invoked the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., pointing out what it really meant for America’s civil rights leader to visit the country of the man who had inspired him the most in his own struggle for the masses: “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!”, Dr. King said.
Modi liberally quoted Dr. King for his admiration of Gandhi, and to highlight the influence Bapu had on other leaders globally.
“When I was visiting in Ghana, West Africa, Prime Minister Nkrumah told me that he had read the works of Gandhi and felt that nonviolent resistance could be extended there. We recall that South Africa has had bus boycotts also,” Modi quoted Dr. King as saying.
Gandhi also quoted Mandela in his column, who had famously called Gandhi a “sacred warrior”.
“His strategy of noncooperation, his assertion that we can be dominated only if we cooperate with our dominators, and his nonviolent resistance inspired anticolonial and antiracist movements internationally in our century,” Mandela had said of Gandhi.
“For Mr. Mandela, Gandhi was Indian and South African. Gandhi would have approved. He had the unique ability to become a bridge between some of the greatest contradictions in human society,” Modi wrote.
Modi pointed out the myriad ways Gandhi worked for rights of commoners, the working poor and the exploited in India. From mediating in the Ahmedabad, textile strike in 1917, to forming the Majoor Mahajan Sangh, an association for workers’ rights, and his Dandi March in 1930, he led India to a historic civil disobedience movement.
“There have been many mass movements in the world, many strands of the freedom struggle even in India, but what sets apart the Gandhian struggle and those inspired by him is the wide-scale public participation. He never held administrative or elected office. He was never tempted by power,” wrote Modi.
He added in his column: “For him, independence was not absence of external rule. He saw a deep link between political independence and personal empowerment. He envisioned a world where every citizen has dignity and prosperity. When the world spoke about rights, Gandhi emphasized duties. He wrote in “Young India”: “The true source of rights is duty. If we all discharge our duties, rights will not be far to seek.” He wrote in the journal Harijan, “Rights accrue automatically to him who duly performs his duties.”
Modi also intertwined Gandhi’s message to the world, and present climate change and environmental issues which have become a major talking point globally.
“…We, as inheritors of the earth, are responsible for its well-being, including that of the flora and fauna with whom we share our planet,” Modi wrote, adding, “In Gandhi, we have the best teacher to guide us. From uniting those who believe in humanity to furthering sustainable development and ensuring economic self-reliance, Gandhi offers solutions to every problem.”
Modi proposed an “Einstein Challenge” in his column, recalling Einstein’s famous words on Gandhi: “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”
Modi “invited” thinkers, entrepreneurs and tech leaders to be at the forefront of spreading Gandhi’s ideas through innovation.
“Let us work shoulder to shoulder to make our world prosperous and free from hate, violence and suffering. That is when we will fulfill Mahatma Gandhi’s dream, summed up in his favorite hymn, “Vaishnava Jana To,” which says that a true human is one who feels the pain of others, removes misery and is never arrogant.”
“The world bows to you, beloved Bapu!” concluded Modi in his column.
Hopefully, Khan can learn a thing or two from Modi’s column; desist from making any more foolish threats of an imminent nuclear war. All it has served him and Pakistan is to be seen as a pariah internationally.