Intervention of Ambassador Ajit Kumar at the Panel Discussion on the film "Gandhi" at the Maison de la Paix, as part of Geneva Peace Week

Permanent Mission of India

Intervention of H.E. Mr. Ajit Kumar, Ambassador & Permanent Representative of
India to UN offices and other International Organization in Geneva
at the Panel Discussion on the film “Gandhi” at the Maison de la Paix, Geneva

 - 8th November 2016

1. It is a privilege to be part of this Geneva Peace Week and I am grateful to the United Nations Information Service and the Graduate Institute, Geneva for inviting me to this Panel Discussion on the film “Gandhi” in the context of the theme of peace and non-violence. I will, of course, talk about the film but let me begin by sharing my thoughts on the current state of global affairs and the relevance of Mahatma Gandhi therein.

2. A certain degree of disturbance has always characterised human history. However, what we are witnessing today appears to be out of the ordinary. Large parts of the globe are mired in varying degrees of conflicts; over 65 million people are displaced from their homes; terrorists of all hues are running rampant with almost daily attacks on innocent civilians; and issues of global concern such as climate change are becoming more complex.

3. It appears that the entire humanity needs to pause and introspect. The violence and tumult that characterise our world are nothing new. Such phases have appeared before, and unfortunately, will plague mankind in future too. However, on the positive side, we have had great minds who have responded to such situations in the past and given us their wisdom and sagacity to address our concerns. It is here that we need to turn to Mahatma Gandhi, a giant amongst men of recent history.

4. The legacy of Mahatma Gandhi cannot be claimed by India alone, he belongs to the world. The change that his thought and actions brought about in a large proportion of humanity that constitutes India is well documented. What is interesting is that Gandhi’s influence could be seen in societies far away from his birthplace. It is true that he was a statesman tackling causes that were distinct to his homeland, but he inspired similar reverence among followers, eventually standing as an inspiration worldwide.

5.Mahatma’s life was his message. The two central pillars of Gandhi's thought are truth and nonviolence. This ultimate truth for Gandhi is God and morality - the moral laws and code - its basis. His idea of non-violence was not restricted to mere peacefulness or the absence of overt violence, but denoted active love - the polar opposite of violence in every sense. He was a pioneer of a form of non-violent civil disobedience that would subsequently influence the world.

6. Gandhi, in his thoughts shunned rigidity and avoided positing an inflexible doctrine. His were a set of beliefs and principles which were to be applied differently according to the historical and social setting. Hence for Gandhi there was no dogmatism and inconsistency was not a flaw for him. He once said, "…I would like to say to the diligent reader of my writings and to others who are interested in them that I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent. In my search after Truth I have discarded many ideas and learnt many news things.... What I am concerned with is my readiness to obey the call of Truth, my God, from moment to moment, and therefore, when anybody finds any inconsistency between any two writings of mine, if he still has any faith in my sanity, he would do well to choose the later of the two on the same subject."

7. Mahatma Gandhi bequeathed to us three guiding principles: the trinity of Ahimsa (or non-violence), Satyagraha (or the force born of truth and non-violence), and Sarvodaya (or upliftment of all). It is the value of these principles that we have to rediscover if we want to deal effectively with today’s challenges.  The essence of Mahatma Gandhi’s political philosophy was the empowerment of every individual, irrespective of class, caste, colour, creed or community.  To him, extreme poverty was itself a form of violence.

8. Gandhi was a “practical idealist” who well understood the significance of compromise. His entire thought process was guided by what his lived experiences were. The objective was to transform the individual as well as the society to which one belonged. “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” was Mahatma’s motto.

9. The possibility of a world free of violent extremism should not be questioned. Any pessimism in this regard can wreak havoc on us. Neither should the immensity of this task deter us. What we need to do is to return to the fundamental principles of human existence where the ideals of truth, justice, fairness and equality be placed at the forefront of our struggle against destructive forces that can and must be overwhelmed.

10. The life and works of Gandhi should be our guiding lights in this pursuit of a world free of violent extremism. We need not reinvent the wheel as the moral and philosophical tools handed down by this giant adequately prepare the ground for a more loving, peaceful world.

11. Mahatma Gandhi’s courage of conviction, his all-encompassing compassion and spirit of service to humankind, his renunciation of power and its worldly trappings, and his unwavering self-discipline in practicing what he preached, imbued all his words and actions with a compelling moral authority. In a world riven with ethnic and religious conflict, terrorism, and growing emphasis on economic prosperity at the cost of human, social and environmental factors, his philosophy provides tangible answers to many of the dilemmas and problems of modern society.  As Nelson Mandela said, “Gandhian philosophy may be the key to human survival in the 21st century.”  Therefore, it is not the relevance of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela that is in question today, it is whether we have the courage to emulate his teachings and what he lived and died for.

12. Now let me say a few words about the film. First of all, the commercial and critical success of the film is a testimony to Gandhi’s popularity and relevance in our times. There have been many films on the life and times of the Mahatma but the fact that the most well known of them has been directed by an Englishman, Richard Attenborough, is a statement in itself! The film is a brave attempt to showcase Gandhi’s life and contribution in the context of India’s freedom struggle, one of the seminal events of the last century. I say brave because Attenborough has tried to put the entire spectrum of those tumultuous events in just three hours and succeeds to a great extent.

13. The film manages to deliver on both historical as well as artistic accounts, the latter being acknowledged by the fact that it was nominated for 11 and won 8 Academy Awards. Indians have gone on to win several Oscars since this film, but “Gandhi” the film, gave India its first Oscar winner, Ms. Bhanu Athaiya, who received the Award for Best Costume in this film.

14. I keenly look forward to listening to other panellists, and once again, thank the organizers for inviting me to this extremely important initiative.

Thank you.


Intervention of Ambassador Ajit Kumar at the Panel Discussion on the film "Gandhi" at the Maison de la Paix, as part of Geneva Peace Week
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