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EAM's remarks at the Library of Congress 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi at Library of Congress, Washington DC on 2 October 2019

October 03, 2019

It is a great privilege to join you all this evening at the commemorative event to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. It is even more a particular honour to have amongst us Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a political figure who embodies the strength of convictions that is so relevant to our event today.

Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked at an event in United Nations what it would have been like had Mahatma Gandhi been born in a free country. We could perhaps take that even further and ask ourselves what he would advocate today. The answer obviously is not a simple one because Gandhiji’s outlook and thoughts spanned a very broad spectrum of human activity. But to the extent we can define it within sharper boundaries, they are best captured by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that the world seeks to achieve today. These range from ending poverty and hunger, securing education, health and employment, achieving gender and income equality, combating climate change and adopting an environment friendly lifestyle, adapting our consumption and production habits accordingly, and undertaking domestic and global partnerships for sustainable development. In fact, each of these themes is reflected in Gandhiji’s writings, advocacy and example. He was truly a figure ahead of his times and the relevance of his teachings has only grown in the modern era.

Madam Speaker, dear friends, you are all aware of the enormous changes underway in India. If the Government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi got such a resounding mandate from the people at the 2019 elections, it is in large part due to the effective delivery on the ground of socio-economic services and benefits that are so much in consonance with this approach. Indeed, the national campaigns of the Modi Government capture the essence of the SDGs fully, whether it is Swachh Bharat (Clean India), Beti Padhao Beti Bachao (Educate and empower your daughter), Ayushman Bharat (Healthy India), Jan Dhan Yojana (Financial inclusion), Namami Gange (Clean rivers), Smart Cities, Digital India, Skill India and Start up India. They are today supported by ambitious initiatives to provide rural housing as well as universal access to electricity, cooking gas and water.

Let me share with you a sense of the scale of this change. Since 2014, 99 million toilets have been built covering virtually the entire population. 15 million affordable rural homes were completed and 20 million more are underway. 80 million women received free cooking gas connections. 200 million micro credits were provided, 75% to women. 360 million new bank accounts were added, receiving US dollar 60 billion as transfer of benefits. The next five years will not only see this taken forward but supported by a raft of new campaigns, the latest being against single use plastics. When these programmes began, they too were received with the same condescension that Gandhiji’s ideas were a century ago. The very idea of an Indian Prime Minister even talking of girls toilets in a national address was termed bizarre. The elite forgot a famous saying of Gandhiji that cleanliness was next only to Godliness. Or that human rights were best delivered in their most practical form: access to sanitation, housing, health, education and livelihood. Clearly, the people of India had a different appreciation and convey that emphatically when the time came.

Today, if there is one challenge that Gandhiji would have liked us to focus on, that is the one of combating climate change. Through a mix of policy and advocacy, there has been fundamental shift in the way in which India approaches this issue. At Paris, it was our mediation that brought together different constituencies and interests. The founding of the International Solar Alliance there led to a massive global adoption of solar technology. India itself has now built a renewable capacity of 120 GW, well on our way to reach the target of 175 GW by 2022. The new ambition is to establish 450 GW of renewable capacity by 2030. But as you all know, the fight against climate change is much larger than just renewable energy and greater energy efficiency. It involves a virtual overhaul of our lifestyle, whether it be smarter cities, mass transportation, sustainable agriculture or water usage. These are today integral elements of the Government’s larger strategy to combat climate change.

Madam Speaker, we are all aware that on a similar set of priorities in the United States, you have shown commendable leadership. Your commitment towards clean governance and green development is widely recognized. Your presence here underlines the impact that the life and message of Mahatma Gandhi has had on your own endeavours from your early youth. You have rightly highlighted in the past the influence that he had on Martin Luther King, the iconic civil rights leader. It is this underlining of our shared values that demonstrates why the Indian American community serves as such an effective bridge between us.

Once again, let me thank Ambassador Shringla and the Indian Embassy for this great initiative. This event has surely contributed to greater awareness on both Mahatma Gandhi and the contemporary challenges that his ideas can help address.

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