By Surekha Vijh
WASHINGTON: “Gandhi remains crucially relevant in the 21st century. His philosophy is as relevant in today’s India and the world as ever before,’’ said Dr. Karan Singh, speaking on the “Relevance of Gandhism in Today’s World” here recently.
“We need to follow Gandhi’s philosophy to achieve peace and to succeed in any endeavor,’’ said Dr Singh who is a Member of Parliament and Chair of Foreign Affairs of the Indian National Congress.
Dr. Singh was the guest of honor at various places in Washington, DC, including the Indian Embassy and Congress DC conference.
He said, “Gandhi was considered the most influential person of the 20th century along with Einstein and Roosevelt, although Gandhi stood taller than them, as Einstein invented the most deadly arsenal and Roosevelt helped in defeating Hitler’s forces, but was involved in warfare.”
Gandhi mobilized the people of India and the rest of the world. He confronted, confounded and convinced the British Empire to quit India. He influenced Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, other stalwarts of peace and equality.
Dr Singh, who is the president of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and India’s Ambassador to UNESCO, applauded the Indian American community for their success in various fields and called them India’s “biggest ambassadors in the United States”.
Speaking at the Indian Chancery on Pandit Madan Mohan Malvia at a function organized by Banaras Hindu University (BHU) alumni and the Indian Embassy, Dr. Singh said the BHU was the biggest and first Indian university opened in the country during the British Raj, and was that it was still among the biggest universities in India and among the top few universities in the world.
He said Madan Mohan Malvia’s vision of establishing the BHU in1916 at a time when India was under British rule was amazing. “Pandit Malvia’s contributions are not truly recognized as they should be. There are celebrations on his 150 year anniversary of his birth to recognize his tremendous contribution to the freedom moment and the academic area.’’
Many of BHU’s former students joined from all across the US to meet Dr. Karan Singh, who served twice as Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University along with Jammu and Kashmir University, and Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Indian Ambassador Nirupama Rao introduced Dr. Singh and touched upon Pandit Malvia’s contributions to India’s freedom struggle. “Malviaji was truly modern and visionary,” she added.
Speaking on the “Relevance of Ghandihism in Today’s World, at ‘India on the Move – Chalo India’- the DC chapter of the India National Congress conference at Hogan Lovells, as a key note speaker,
Dr. Singh recalled how he had the privilege of meeting Gandhiji in person when he visited his parents in “Srinagar in August, 1947 just a few days before Independence.”
He emphasized Gandhi’s philosophy – truth and non-violence, holistic vision, to end discrimination, economic development and the connection between the Panchayati Raj Act and education.
“Gandhi had an uncanny ability to choose a team of men who were great leaders in their own right and who, despite differences on several issues, stood loyally by him until the very end,” Dr. Singh added.
The one-day conference touched on many burning global topics, especially in the context of India, professionals and students with expertise and interests in global affairs, campaign management, election systems, women’s rights, journalism, law and business participated in the conference.
The conference was opened by Patricia Elwood, Director Protocol and International Affairs on behalf of His Honorable Vincent Gray, Mayor of Washington DC. In the Mayor’s message special tribute was paid to Dr. Karan Singh, “I would like to take this opportunity to recognize tonight’s guest of honor, Ambassador Dr. Karan Singh, and thank him for his continued commitment to strengthening human solidarity and international cooperation between India and the United States, and for his years of public service that have benefitted Indian Americans living in this great city – Washington, DC.”
The ‘Chalo India’ Campaign was also highlighted in the conference and it was agreed that various delegations from the United States will travel to India to witness and/ or participate in the upcoming regional and 2014 parliamentary elections. The first delegation will be leaving in August.
The first round-table “Major Players and Prospects in 2014 elections,” was moderated by Paul Nehru Tennassee, Chair, Research and Policy, INOCDC.
The second roundtable discussion on ‘Women and Water.’ was moderated by Dr. Christine Warnke, Senior Governmental Affairs Advisor, Hogan Lovells. The speakers included MaryAnn Dickinson, Alliance for Water Efficiency; Rebecca Fishman, Operations and Special Projects Director, WASH Advocates; Jeffrey Goldberg, Water Program Advisor, USAID’s Office of Water; Terry Dunmire, Board Member, Earthwater Technologies; Bharat Bhargava, Bank-World, Inc., Chairman of the DC Chapter; Mary Ann Dickinson, President and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency; and Geert Van Brandt, Institute for Rural Research and Development-IRRAD.
“India –US Business Relations” was the title during the luncheon. Speaker Kanwal S. Sra, President, Indo American Business Council; Panelists, Vice President, Ravi Chopra; Executive Member Phuman Singh; INOC, USA, present President, Shudh Parkash Singh provided information and experiences on advances in Indo-US business partnerships.
The afternoon roundtable title “Promise of India; Indian National Congress,” moderated by Prem Velayudhan, General Secretary, INOCDC, included panelists; Deshpal Singh, George Abraham, Shudh Parkash Singh, Kanwal S. Sra.
The conference concluded with a gala reception. The national anthems of both US and India were sung along with Gandhji’s favorite devotional song, Vaishnav Jan Toh Taine Kahiye performed by students of the Balaji Music Academy.
I was deeply honored and moved to have my own book of poetry, “A Leap into Water” released on this occasion by Dr. Karan Singh, himself a poet. I was asked to read from the book and selected “Mahatma” in harmony with the theme of the talk, Gandhi.
Dr. Christine Warnke, Jagdish Singh and Dr. Amarjit Singh of Citizens First, Amrit Kalotra of Karuna Charities, Jack De Bruin and Marty Martin of the University of North America, Vatsala Mehra of Balaji Music Academy and Bharat Bhargava of Bankworld were honored at the conference.
Young volunteers of the conference, Kalin Khera, Kamya Khera, Kavir Khera were acknowledged. President of INOCDC, Lavika Bhagat Singh received a plaque from Dr. Karan Singh for “outstanding leadership in development and growth” of the INOCDC Chapter. A Vote of Thanks was extended by Rohini Khera to Dr. Karan Singh.
The conference was sponsored by Hogan Lovells; IRRAD-Institute for Rural Research and Development; Tiffin Wine and Khajuraho Lite Beer. Media Partners included India America Today; TV Asia; and NAPFE Radio Program, “Let’s Get It On”.
The “India on the Move: Chalo India – Washington, DC 2013 Conference” was organized by the Washington, DC Chapter of the Indian National Overseas Congress (I), USA, at the Fulbright Center, Hogan Lovells, in Washington DC.
(Surekha Vijh is a journalist and poet based in Washington DC. In the picture at the top, Dr Karan Singh is releasing her book of poetry titled `A Leap into Water’)