on the occasion of Gandhi Memorial Day
in New Delhi on January 29, 2007

Remarks by
Peace, Non-Violence and Empowerment
Gandhian Philosophy in the 21st Century,
Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi


It is indeed a proud moment for me as a Congressman to be here with you today to share my thoughts on peace, non-violence, empowerment and Gandhian philosophy in the 21st Century.

What greater validation does one need on the relevance of Gandhiji in the 21st Century than the presence of leaders from 88 nations who have gathered here to celebrate Satyagraha Centenary and share thoughts on Gandhiji? It was exactly one hundred years ago when the mighty mind of Gandhiji forged the instrument of Satyagraha based on truth, non-violence and the power of self-suffering. This instrument helped India shake off colonialism and showed the path to many other countries suffering under the oppressive rule of colonial powers to march towards independence.

Gandhiji launched Satyagraha on 11th September, 1906 at a mass meeting in the Empire Theatre in Johannesburg in South Africa to resist the ordinance which the apartheid regime in South Africa sought to impose upon the Indian immigrants.

For Gandhiji, Satyagraha was the supremacy of moral force over physical force. He called it the “Soul Force”. Satyagraha, Gandhiji said, is a “vindication of truth not by infliction of suffering on the opponent but on one’s own self. That requires self-control. The weapons of Satyagrahi are within him”. For Gandhiji the cause was as important as the process. The issue had to be just, true and substantial. Driven by this conviction, Gandhiji stepped forward to take on the collective might of the State. He was the first “Satyagrahi” in the world to go to jail for upholding human rights. In his own words, Gandhiji described the evolution of Satyagraha as “I am myself daily growing in the knowledge of Satyagraha. I have no text books to consult in time of need…” This struggle in South Africa lasted for 8 years from 1906 to 1914 and ended with General Smuts accepting Gandhiji’s proposals.

After his return to India in 1914, Gandhiji used Satyagraha on a number of occasions from the very local issue of Virangam customs to Indian Immigration Act, Champaran struggle, struggle of mill hands of Ahmedabad, Kheda struggle, Rowlatt Act and Khilafat movement. Over the years, Satyagraha evolved as a powerful expression of the will and aspirations of the people of India to win “swaraj”.

When Gandhiji returned to Indian in 1914, the Indian National Congress was almost 30 years old. On the advice of Shri Gokhale, Gandhiji set out on his travels to understand and identify with the masses in India. It was during this period that Gandhiji metamorphosed into a true Indian. He adopted the austere lifestyle of a common man and learnt to empathize with his struggles, sufferings, simple joys and sorrows. With his keen intuition and sensitive heart, he understood the psyche of the nation. His great quality of first practicing in his own life what he preached to others made him “Mahatma”. The great strength of the Mahatma was total and implicit confidence of masses in him. It was his crusade against communalism in Noakhali which inspired Lord Mountbatten to say “fifty thousand soldiers cannot maintain peace on the western frontier and prevent communal elements from reckless violence while on the Eastern sector there is no ripple of violence because of one man boundary force”. He appealed both to the intellect and the heart of the masses. He again epitomized the aspirations of 400 million people of India when he uttered the two words “Quit India” which started the movement that finally lead to “Poorna Swaraj”.

Gandhiji evolved with time and his ideas changed but there were “three constants” in his life and these were Truth, Non-violence and self-sacrifice. His ideas and his way of life permeated the collective conscience of India and found expression in all the democratic institutions that we have built over the years.

When we drew up our Constitution, concepts such as fundamental rights, directive principles, abolition of untouchability, rights for the under privileged and the marginalized, were all inspired by Gandhian thought and philosophy.

Our Foreign Policy, which is based on “Panchsheel” propounded by Pandit Nehru, was itself drawn from the Gandhian philosophy of peace and non-violence. The five principles of peaceful co-existence are, respect for each other’s territorial integrity, non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and peaceful co-existence. These principles have now become accepted norms of relations between
nations and have been recognized throughout the world.

The power of Gandhian thought is there to see in our Panchayati Raj institutions. Gandhiji visualized five hundred thousand village parliaments which would take power to the people. We are presently engaged in giving this vision a practical shape.

In India, globalization is now a fact of life but we have followed a path of reforms with a human face . Never for a moment have we forgotten what Gandhiji taught us, that “the human being” has to be at the center of all planning and future development. Our development paradigm is linked to this philosophy.

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