Ambassador Navtej Sarna announces grand plans to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi
By Geeta Goindi
Washington, DC, August 15, 2018 – The 72nd independence day of India was celebrated in the US with the most significant function held at the Embassy Residence in the nation’s capital.
Ambassador Navtej Sarna hoisted the tricolor as over 300 guests clad in traditional Indian attire looked on with awe, joining in the rendition of the national anthem. It was a picture-perfect morning in late summer and the well-manicured grounds of the Embassy Residence provided a perfect setting for the event.
“It is a particularly significant independence day”, the envoy noted in his remarks. “In six weeks, we will begin the 150th birth anniversary of the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi”, he said, to loud applause.
“The Government of India has elaborate plans to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary throughout the entire year”, Sarna announced. Noting that there will be several programs, several outreach efforts by the Embassy, he urged the audience, particularly the youth, to participate in the upcoming events.
“I see a lot of young people in the audience and that is very heartening”, he said. “Fifty percent of India’s population is under the age of 25. So, the future belongs to all of you”.
In his “personal message” to the youth, he implored them to read about Gandhiji and the freedom struggle of India. “By the time all of you reach adulthood and beyond, you will be celebrating one hundred years of India’s independence. A deep knowledge and understanding of where we came from will help us to know where we are going”, he said.
As is customary at such a function, the envoy reads excerpts from the president’s address to the Indian nation on the eve of independence day. Ambassador Sarna chose to read an extract from President Ram Nath Kovind’s speech which focused on Mahatma Gandhi and his legacy.
In it, the president noted, “Gandhiji’s most noble mantra was to point out that the power of ‘ahinsa’ (non-violence) is far greater than the power of ‘hinsa’ (violence). The power to stay your hand is far greater than the power to strike with your hand and hinsa has no place in the society”.
He spoke of the spirit of Gandhiji and the spirit of India in the context of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the whole world is one family). “This is why we demonstrate our concern for the entire humanity by providing assistance to many African countries, taking initiatives on the issue of climate change, contributing to United Nations peacekeeping operations in different parts of the world, helping neighboring countries affected by natural disasters, rescuing people from other countries along with our own people, trapped in a conflict zone”, President Kovind said.
He noted that India shares the practice of yoga for health and well-being, and using technology for development. “We dream for all humanity, even when we walk alone”, he said.
On hand at the Washington event were officials of the US State Department – Dae Kim, Matthew Coulson and Nick Jager – who are heading to Delhi for a tenure at the American Embassy.
A day earlier, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a heartwarming message congratulating India on its 72nd independence day. “India has set an example for South Asia and the world by supporting democracy, diversity, and the rule of law – values shared by the United States”, he said. “On this Indian Independence Day, we congratulate India – a unique civilization, fellow democracy, and a friend – on taking its rightful place as a leading global power and continuing our shared efforts to sustain the rules-based order”.
America’s top diplomat noted, “As members of the oldest and largest democracies, the people of the United States and India have always enjoyed strong bonds of friendship. We are grateful for the vibrant Indian-American diaspora and the growing number of young people strengthening ties between our countries as exchange students”, he said. “The values shared by our people contribute to inspiring collaboration in health, energy, environment, science, and high technology that will fuel the jobs and prosperity of the future”.
At the Embassy function, Ron Somers, former president of the US-India Business Council (USIBC), lauded the people-to-people ties between the “two great democracies. So, despite the leadership on either side, I am very confident that this is going to be the relationship and partnership that drives the 21st century”, he said.
Somers currently serves as CEO of DC-based India First Group, an international strategic advisory firm which he founded. A well-known, well-respected figure in India-US relations, he noted, “We insist on freedom, we insist on participatory democracy and that is what unites us”.
Underscoring the stellar contributions of the Indian-American community, he said, “We must really celebrate our diversity today. I believe the Trump administration fully appreciates that. We will be working more closely with India than ever before”.
The Indian Embassy recently organized song and essay competitions on the topic ‘India of My Dreams’ which were held at the India International School in Chantilly, Virginia, and the winners were invited to perform at the independence day event. Lara Shaan Ojha and Akilesh Mahesh aced the essay contest, while Hasini Kotinadhuni, Grace Paul, Nahar Gurudatha and Rhea Chawla were awarded prizes for their singing skills.
Students of the Gandharva School of Music, North America, presented a medley of old and new patriotic songs, concluding the cultural segment of the program. First Secretary Satwant Khanalia who served as an eloquent emcee recognized the presence of a freedom fighter in the audience — Dr. S.N. Subba Rao, 89, affiliated with the Gandhi Peace Foundation based in Delhi.
“Today is not the freedom day of one country, India”, Dr. Rao told us, pointing out that 117 countries of the world became independent after India gained her freedom. “They all took inspiration from India”, he said.
Speaking of unfinished tasks, the Gandhian stressed it was important to make India and the world free from all kinds of violence, from hunger, corruption, intoxicants like smoking, drinking, and drugs which are ruining the lives of youth.
At the outset of his address, President Kovind noted that “remarkable patriots” not only “left us with a free India”, but also with “unfinished tasks” such as the eradication of poverty, eliminating illiteracy and inequality, empowering women, harnessing the unlimited human capital of youth, among other endeavors to be relentlessly accomplished.
The president noted that “for every Indian, whether living at home or anywhere else in the world, August 15 is sacred”.
“We unfurl our national flag with great joy and enthusiasm in workplaces, municipalities, panchayats, colleges, schools, homes and neighborhoods”, he said.
“It is a day to look back with satisfaction and gratitude for what we have been able to achieve due to the efforts of successive generations of our elders. And it is a day to renew our resolve to fill the gaps that still remain in our nation building project – gaps that our talented young people will no doubt fill”.