Mahatma Gandhi’s spiritual and political ideals are necessary to implement today more than ever as we confront increased radicalization, fundamentalism, and extremism. Paralleling the late Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., he was an inspiration for civil rights and freedom movements worldwide. A venerable leader, the Mahatma struggled through non-violent civil disobedience to gain self-rule and Indian independence from Britain. A Hindu, he embraced religious and ethnic amity, ending discrimination and “untouchability” between the castes, easing poverty, and expanding women’s rights. Like Martin Luther King, he was assassinated for his inclusive vision. And like Martin Luther King, his spirit and ideals live on. (See: “The Good They Die Young, But MLK’s Message of Hope Reverberates.”)
In Gujarat, India this month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commends Gandhi and United Nations commitment to promote tolerance, universal justice and dignity.
UN News Centre
“Divisive politics and sectarian incitement have no place in our modern world. As Gandhi reminded us, ‘There will be no lasting peace on earth unless we learn not merely to tolerate but even to respect the other faiths as our own,’” said Mr. Ban in remarks at Sbarmati Gandhi Ashram, which houses a library and museum chronicling the life, work, and teachings of the legendary leader of India’s independence movement and pioneer of the philosophy and strategy of non-violence.
Indeed, continued the Secretary-General, there is great strength in diversity – and countries that celebrate diversity and embrace every single individual are the ones to shape a secure and stable world, and he looked to India – “a large, diverse and vibrant democracy – to be a champion of the rights, dignity and equality of all people.”
Mr. Ban said that like so many people around the world, he has long admired Mahatma Gandhi and has been personally guided by his teachings, especially his description of “Seven Social Sins”: politics without principles; wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; commerce without morality; science without humanity; and worship without sacrifice.
“This vision transcends all borders. Gandhi’s compassion embraces all people. I myself have been putting in my best efforts and asking all leaders, far and wide, to live by his teachings,” said Mr. Ban, adding that Gandhi’s emphasis on the poor is reflected today in the work of the United Nations to end poverty and build a peaceful world of dignity for all.“We will succeed only if the memory of Gandhi’s unyielding fight against injustice burns bright in our hearts,” he said, noting that the United Nations marks Gandhi’s birthday as the International Day of Non-Violence – “and we defend his ideals every day of the year.”
Touching on Gandhi’s inspiring and enduring legacy, Mr. Ban said that he would never forget seeing well-worn copies of Gandhi’s books at an exhibition of the papers of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Nelson Mandela also deeply admired Gandhi. Mandela said Gandhi symbolized hope that when all South Africans are treated as equals, the country would be at peace.”
“The same holds true for our world,” said the Secretary-General, emphasizing: “Mahatma Gandhi preached and followed the message of peace, non-violence and communal harmony. It is a common value that the United Nations promotes and asks leaders near and far to put into practice – from here in Gujarat to the world.”
On the margins of the Summit, the Secretary-General met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Mr. Ban thanked India for its significant contribution to UN peacekeeping operations, as well as to the Organizations conflict prevention and humanitarian efforts. The two also discussed, among others, the need for action on climate change, the post-2015 development agenda, and regional issues.
Mr. Ban also inaugurated in Gujarat the Canal Top Solar Power Plant, where, looking out over the massive facility, he said: “I saw more than glittering panels – I saw the future of India and the future of our world. I saw India’s bright creativity, ingenuity and cutting-edge technology. And I saw the leadership on sustainable development of Prime Minister Modi when he was the Chief Minister in Gujarat.”
Unfortunately, racism is still prevalent in our society. (See: “Times Change but People Don’t.”)
In concluding, these two epic leaders have put forward a path to a better, more inclusive world where there is no racism, injustice, inequality, only brothers and sisters on life’s journey together.
UN PHOTO/Mark Garten: UNSG Ban Ki-moon & Madame Ban Soon-taek examining original Gandhi writings in Gujarat, India