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Prime Minister's address on the occasion of 138th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and celebration of International Day of Non-Violence

New Delhi
October 2, 2007

We in India have observed this day for decades as a day of prayer and thanksgiving. Every Indian has, year after year, thanked the Almighty on this day for bringing into this world such a noble soul as Mahatma Gandhi. But, today the heart of every Indian, of every citizen of the world who has been touched by the message of Mahatma Gandhi, is filled with joy and gratitude. We are grateful to the world community for declaring this auspicious day as the International Day of Non-Violence. 

Mahatma Gandhi’s message was not just for India. Nor was it just for the times he lived in. Mahatma Gandhi’s message of love and peace, of non-violence and satyagraha, of the equality of all peoples, of harmony between all religions, is a universal message. It is a message for all times, for all societies and for all peoples. 

We in India are proud and grateful that the international community has declared this day as the International Day of Non-Violence. This unanimous decision of the United Nation General Assembly originates in a declaration of the International Conference on Peace, Non-violence and Empowerment: The Gandhian Philosophy in the 21st Century, a conference which was convened by Smt. Sonia Gandhi and that met some months ago in New Delhi. This conference, commemorating the centenary of the Satyagraha Movement launched by Gandhiji, underscored the universal relevance of Mahatma Gandhi’s message of non-violence and the fight for truth. The decision was truly historic and universally welcomed. We are truly grateful to all those who supported this magnificent idea at the United Nation. 

Gandhiji’s message is more important today than ever before since nations across the world continue to grapple with the threat of conflict, violence and terrorism. For as long as there is temptation to resort to violence in the human mind, the Mahatma’s message of non-violence will tug at our hearts. 

The ideas that Mahatma Gandhi are remembered for are based on universal ideals. You will agree with me that many ‘Isms’ have battled for our minds over this past century, but few have succeeded in touching our hearts. Many political ideologies, and movements based on them, have come and gone. Some with doubtful legacies and others with terrible consequences. Gandhiji’s philosophy has stood the test of time, and I believe will continue to do so, as long as humankind seeks peace and equality of all people. 

The universal relevance of Mahatma Gandhi’s message of non-violence has been under-scored time and again by the life and teaching of great men of peace in our lifetime such as Martin Luther King Jr and Dr. Nelson Mandela. Wherever and whenever injustice is redressed and freedom won through peaceful means, Gandhiji will always be remembered. 

What then is the message of the Mahatma? The key words we associate with him are tolerance, truth, transparency, non-violence and self-respect. There is a permanence in these principles and values that transcends and unites humankind. 

Gandhiji had abiding regard for the dignity of labour. He showed the meek the power they could conjure up from within themselves and all it needs is the courage to silently but surely keep faith and act with courage and with purpose. 

Gandhiji gave practical shape to his beliefs in a given historical and social context. Be it in England, be it in South Africa, be it in India – he applied his ideas to concrete situations. He endeavoured to make a practical difference to the lives of ordinary people. 

Let us not forget that Gandhiji was not some lofty saint. He was also a great political leader. He was regarded as a Mahatma because he practiced what he preached. Because he cared for the poorest of the poor, the weakest of the weak. 

Gandhiji’s saintliness was a manifestation of his materialism. That is, his deep concern for the material conditions of the poor and under-privileged. It was his yearning and his determination to alter the material world he confronted that made him appear saintly to his followers. In that sense, Gandhiji was a true karma yogi. 

Swami Vivekananda called it Narayana Seva. The service of God, Narayana, through the service of man, Nara. This, he said, involves ‘seeing God and serving him in all human beings, the living and moving temples of God.’ 

Swamiji asked ‘Where shall we go to seek for God? Are not all the poor, the miserable, the weak, gods? Why not worship them first?’ Gandhiji translated this beautiful thought into what he called Daridra Narayana Seva. The service of the poorest of the poor. 

This, and the idea of communal harmony and non-violence, are the central ideas of Gandhiji that continue to have great relevance even for our present troubled age. I hope on this day the world community will re-discover the relevance of the eternal message of the Mahatma for all humanity. 

As long as there is strife and injustice, as long as there is inequality and indignity in the human condition, as long as there is pain and suffering, as long as there is violence and hatred, the ideas and ideals of Mahatma Gandhi will resonate and find followers everywhere. 

You will recall the inspiring words of the greatest scientist of the 20th Century, Albert Einstein, who said of Gandhiji, ‘Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.’ The fact that the international community has today come to observe this day as the International Day of Non-Violence, in memory of Mahatma Gandhi, should ensure that generations to come would never forget the eternal message of the Mahatma.