WASHINGTON, D.C. – In marking the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth in 1869, the Indian-American community and mainstream well-wishers must go beyond the ceremonial gestures and work toward active dissemination of the pacifist’s message in all its tangible facets, said India’s Ambassador to the U.S., Navtej Sarna.
“If you go around the world today, and see the kinds of problems humanity is facing, whether it is unequal growth, whether it’s the degradation of our environment and climate, whether it is the growth of radicalism, whether it’s the growth of narrow thought, whether it’s the growth of terrorism, these are all problems which we can all handle if we go back to the basics and Mahatma Gandhi’s message that was nothing if it did not mean going back to the basics,” Sarna told several hundreds of guests gathered on Oct. 2 in the
nation’s capital to celebrate Gandhi’s 149th birth anniversary and begin the launch of activities as a run-up to the “Gandhi @ 150” celebrations in 2019.
“Whether it lies in simplicity, whether it lies in knowing yourself, whether it lies in belief and practice of truth, I believe, in Mahatma Gandhi’s writings, in his speeches, we can find an answer to many of the problems of the world today.”
He said in marking the life of “one of the greatest human beings who walked the earth,” it was important to launch a major initiative to carry Gandhi’s message everywhere – an initiative, he said, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already launched. “As you’ve already seen, there have been several innovative programs to popularize Mahatma Gandhi’s message—the release of stamps, organizing of competitions, encouraging the planting of trees, and so on,” he said. “I believe it is very timely because it has become a cliché to say that Mahatma Gandhi’s message is as important today as it was when he actually delivered it.”
He said he hoped each celebration of Gandhi would ensure a commitment to go beyond “just events” and to get to the heart of the messages Gandhi offered.
“For instance,” he said, “the massive initiative of ‘Swachh Bharat’ which is nothing but a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, which the prime minister wanted to deliver to the father of the nation. He had said in a speech on Independence Day that ‘let us at least give Mahatma Gandhi a clean India—he gave us a free India.’” Sarna said it was important for everyone to remember that Gandhi said “my life is my message,” exhorting the audience: “At least for this year, let’s show it in our own individual lives.”
Earlier, directly opposite the embassy on Massachusetts Ave., N.W., in what is known as Embassy Row, Sarna, the Deputy chief of Mission Santosh Jha, other embassy officials joined guests in offering “pushapanjali” of rose petals at the feet of the Gandhi statue there. Visitors then screened a video inside the embassy which included collage of Gandhi’s messages and quotes. Afterward, it was projected on the embassy building itself for passersby and visitors to the statue.
Sarna also released special commemorative postage stamps issued by Department of Posts, Government of India, to mark Gandhi’sbirth anniversary.
Gandhi's favorite bhajans were presented in a cultural program as well, featuring singer SudeshnaBasu, an adjunct professor at George Washington University.Basu told India Abroad: “The song which I sang was about ‘when the heart is hard and parched up, come upon me with a shower of mercy.”
The context, she explained, was that “when Mahatma was at the Saraveda Jail in Pune in 1932 and was about to break his fast, [Rabindranath]Tagore was there, and to celebrate the occasion, he sang this song which was Gandhiji's favorite.”