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Relevance of Mahatma Gandhi to peace, sustainable development highlighted at UN

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United Nations: Mahatma Gandhi’s undying inspiration for today’s twin priorities of international peace and sustainable development was hailed Friday as the UN observed Gandhi Jayanthi as International Day of Non-Violence.

Issuing a call to “renew our commitment to non-violence and lives of dignity for all,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “Today, at a time of escalating conflicts, rising extremism, massive displacement and rapidly growing humanitarian need, Mahatma Gandhi’s dedication to non-violence remains an example for us all.”

“The new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can also point the way towards reducing violence, promoting harmony between people and planet, and making the world safer for all,” Ban said.

Ban recalled his visit to the Sabarmati Ashram and said that Gandhi’s saying he saw there, “If blood is to be shed, let it be our own,” impressed him.

“Gandhi was calling on people to refuse to kill – instead, to be willing to die to save others.”

Ban unveiled a portrait of Gandhi presented to the UN by India. The painter of the portrait, Raghubir Dayal Parikh, was present at the ceremony. The celebrations featured a program combining a video of Gandhi’s saying and key moments in his life with a live voice presentations and a performance of a cello piece specially composed by Michael Fitzpatrick.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had been scheduled to deliver the presidential address. But Ban said that she “had to return home owing to a family emergency.” He added, “Our thoughts are with her.”

With the just concluded world sustainable development having adopted an ambitious agenda to end poverty and protect the environment, Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar spoke of Gandhi’s relevance the mission calling him “the original sustainable development guru.”

“Appropriately India chose to announce its INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or commitment on lowering greenhouse gas emissions) on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday,” he said in his presidential address. “This was to underline our moral commitment to sustainable development.”

Jaishankar said Mahatma Gandhi’s three guiding principles – -‘ahimsa‘(non-violence), ‘satyagraha‘ (force born of truth) and ‘sarvodaya‘ (uplift of all) — – continue to provide the world with approaches to address a range of complex challenges, many of which may not have even existed during his lifetime.

“In our times, we have seen the growth of religious bigotry and intolerance,” he said. “In many cases, this has directly fueled support and sponsorship of terrorism.”

“Unfortunately, the world has often looked away when terrorists have attacked innocents, assuming that it is not their problem,” he added. “As a believer in the indivisibility of the world and the importance of moral courage, Gandhiji would ask us all to stand up and be counted.”

General Assembly President Mogen Lykketoft quoted Gandhi’s works, “Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”

Lykketoft said, “These words resonate with the very principles of the UN Charter; with the UN’s promotion of peaceful settlements to disputes, and the primacy of reaching solutions through diplomacy and other peaceful means.”

During the current General Assembly session there are opportunities for bringing Gandhi’s vision closer to reality, he said. The new sustainable development goals adopted a week ago and the momentum building around climate change show that the universality that Gandhi preached was happening, he added.

“Let us work together for the betterment of our planet and our people” inspired by Gandhi, he said.

Bangladesh Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, a self-described Gandhian, said that even though his father was a Muslim League leader, for him as a youth Gandhi had his own appeal because “he cared for everybody.”

He recalled that as a 14-year-old, he wept as he went around Sylhet conveying the news of Gandhi’s assassination and the condolence meeting for him.

Gandhi led the khilafat movement across India protesting the dismantling of the caliphate in Turkey, Muhith said. But when it turned violent and police were attacked, he called it off because it went against his principle of non-violence.

In today’s world, Gandhi may not have liked the proliferation of technology and the lifestyles, but he would have been impressed by the concern for peace, he said.

South Africa’s Permanent Representative Kinglsley Mamabolo said that Gandhi’s influence was felt in his nation’s constitution that emphasised unversality of its people. India and South Africa are working together for world peace, he said. “We continue to be connected across the ocean.”

Belarus Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Mikhnevich said that Gandhi’s message resonated around the world in the quest for peace. He noted that his president, Alexander Lukashenko, had in his address this week to the General Assembly had cited Gandhi’s saying, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind,” as warning to nations and as a call for peaceful resolution of disputes.

“Let us build our relationships on the basis of peace,” Mikhnevich said.

Kazakhstan’s Permanent Representative Kairat Abdrakhmanov said, “We need to start a global non-violence movement.” Non-violence is a “pillar of the future of humanity,” he added.

Japan’s permanent Representative Motohide Yoshikawa said the life and message of Gandhi should be spread among the younger people. His teachings should be spread beyond India and South Africa, he added.

From Latin America, Brazil’s Permanent Representative Antonio de Aguiar Patriota said that Gandhi was a guide to the world. And Nicaragua’s Permanent Representative Maria Rubiales de Chamorro said that Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, a Catholic priest who was her nation’s foreign minister and a president of the General Assembly was a disciple of Gandhi.

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Indian Politics and Polity Shift to the Right and Away from Europe

India’s 2014 election was a clear rejection of the long serving Indian Congress Party and its soft socialism

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Rahul Gandhi becomes president of Congress as mother Sonia Gandhi steps down
Rahul Gandhi steps in as President of Congress, Wikipedia

By Dr. Richard Benkin, Chicago

  • India is world’s largest democracy
  • Indian politics is always under international coverage
  • India is witnessing political shift due to its leaders and their transformation

The great democracy was electing its national leader.  It was a fight between the party in power with a leftist tinge; and the more conservative opposition with its upstart candidate. The media was rooting openly for the leftist candidate and would stop at almost nothing, even vilifying the conservative upstart as evil, not just wrong.  The candidate on the left seemed to feel entitled, that being head of state was all in the family.  And, as you probably have guessed, that candidate lost.  You might or might not have guessed that, despite the familiarity to American voters, this was not the United States.  It was India.

will also hold a meeting there with the Indian community. Wikimedia Commons
Narendra Modi’ win in 2014 elections stunned the whole nation. Wikimedia Commons

India’s 2014 election was a clear rejection of the long serving Indian Congress Party and its soft socialism.  Its candidate, then 43 year old, Rahul Gandhi, was the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Prime Ministers; and though India is the world’s largest democracy, not the world’s largest monarchy, it was “his turn” to take the nation’s top spot.

The similarities between the Indian Congress Party and the US Democrat Party stop, however, with how the two parties and their dynastic candidates reacted to their defeats.  While there is ample evidence that the Democrats are moving further to the left, India’s Congress, and especially its former candidate, seem to have taken the lessons of their defeat to heart.  Moreover, we too often gauge a polity’s position on the left-right spectrum by which major party dominates.  In the Indian case, however, we get a deeper understanding by examining changes in the out of power party.

Also Read: Rahul Gandhi Elected as President of Congress Amidst Celebration of Followers

The Indian National Congress Party was founded in 1885 and, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, was the principal leader of the movement that led to India’s independence from Great Britain in 1947.  It has ruled India for roughly 57.5 of its 70.5 years as a modern nation (81.6 percent of its entire existence).  Congress fashions itself left-center party with “democratic socialism” as one of the party’s guiding principles; and over the years, I have written a number of articles, criticizing what I believe to be weak Congress policies.  It has followed the lead of soft left European parties, in contrast with the Indian nationalism of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  Amitabh Tripathi is a well-known Indian political commentator.  I caught up with him in New Delhi in February and asked him about how the Congress Party was reacting to its crushing 2014 defeat.

RB:  So, was the 2014 election a strong statement about traditional Indian politics?

AT:  Definitely.  Till 1991, Indian politics was at a status quo with socialist, leftist, and communist stances prevalent.  After 1991, right wing politics emerged as a political force.  Since then, Indian politics has shifted to the right; and from time to time for more than two decades, left and right engaged in direct political confrontations.  Congress led the coalition of leftists; and the BJP emerged as the leader of the right.  The BJP ruled the country for six years (1998-2004) and its policies swung to the right, including a vocal and unapologetic relationship with Israel, moving forward strategically with the United States, and exploring India’s role in the Indian Ocean to contain China and its imperialistic ambitions. When the BJP lost power to a Congress led coalition in 2004, the Indian polity again shifted left; and Congress became a complete replica of its 1960s self—a totally leftist party.

Rahul Gandhi becomes the president of Congress as mother Sonia Gandhi Steps Down
Rahul Gandhi traveled to many Hindu temples during the campaign (something he avoided in his unsuccessful 2014 run). It is believed he also did not go to any Muslim places of worship, which was unusual for any top leader from the Congress Party.

In 2014, when elections occurred, the Indian polity moved on to the right on issues from economics to culture.  Before the election, Congress did not read the undercurrent of the people and moved even further left on those issues.  This has been widely acknowledged as the reason for its crushing defeat.

RB:  So it was a real shift to the right among Indians, which sounds a lot like our own experience in 2016.  In the US, the losing Democrat party has reacted by moving further left.  Has India’s Congress tried to understand the reasons behind its defeat?

AT:  The latter statement is correct.  Immediately after losing the elections, Congress realized it was not simply an electoral defeat.  Its ideological stagnation led to the historical loss.  And it tried to rectify that and re-invent itself.

RB:  How have they done that?

AT:  I observed it on three fronts, three major decisions.  First, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the former party President and current head of the dynastic family, took an almost “voluntary” retirement.  She had become the face of hard left and anti-Hindu policies.

RB:  Sounds familiar.  Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi has become the same here, but she does not seem to be going anywhere.

AT:  Second, in ten years of Congress rule, they openly flaunted themselves as very pro-Muslim, which irritated the majority Hindus in India.  But last year, in prestigious elections in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Gujarat), Sonia Gandhi did not address a single rally.  Plus, Congress Party Vice-President (now President) Rahul Gandhi traveled to many Hindu temples during the campaign (something he avoided in his unsuccessful 2014 run).  We believe he also did not go to any Muslim places of worship, which was unusual for any top leader from the Congress Party.  Some people might say it was an opportunistic political move, but I would say it was a well-calculated shift in the party to shed the tags of pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu.

Third, since the days of the freedom movement before independence, and during the rule of Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi (almost the entire period from independence to 1984); Congress followed the policy of demonizing the wealthy and glorifying the poor.  It seems, however, that Rahul Gandhi wants the population to know that he strongly favors the wealth generating middle class and capitalism; he opposes only crony capitalism.  He says the poor should aspire to become wealthy through greater opportunities and employment.

RB:  What about Rahul Gandhi himself?  Does he have a future in Indian politics?

AT:  Since 2014, we have watched his evolution from entitled politician to serious politician who understands the people’s aspirations and country’s need.  Perhaps most importantly has been his understanding of foreign policy and India’s role and responsibilities at a global level.  He has said that he’s ready to take the responsibility of the office of Prime Minister if elected, and he could make a formidable candidate.

Raul Maino
Rahul Gandhi can potentially cause a shift in Indian politics due to his transformation. Twitter

RB:  I’ve heard a lot of people talking positively about him and his growth in my time here.  I believe you also told me he has spent a lot of this time really listening to people from all classes and communities.  Thank you, Amitabh ji, it’s always a pleasure to hear your thoughts, and always a pleasure to be in India.

In a larger context, we have seen a reaction against decades of leftist overreach worldwide:  Donald Trump’s election; Brexit; and a number of elections in Europe rejecting the European Union and loss of national identity (most recently in Italy).  There has been little focus on Asia perhaps because it has not been in the orbit of traditional left-right equations in the West.  India, however, has become a major player on the world stage under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  It has historical conflicts with both Pakistan and China, and can be a major bulwark against Chinese expansion westward.  India also has strengthened its alliances with both the United States and Israel while maintaining relations with Iran.  The rightward movement there is highly significant in plotting future Indian geopolitical moves.

[Richard Benkin is a human rights activist and author with a strong concentration in South Asia.  Amitabh Tripathi appears often on Indian television and in other media.  He is also a contributor to What is Moderate Islam, edited by Richard Benkin.  This interview was conducted in New Delhi on February 27, 2018, while Benkin was there as part of a recently-concluded human rights mission.]