Address of His Excellency Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali President of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana on the occasion of the 151st birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi

High Commissioner;

Members of the Indian High Commission;

Ladies and Gentlemen;

It is truly remarkable that someone born 151 years ago can remain as timeless and relevant today as he was 100 years ago. The grandeur of human achievements –including fame, status, reputation and glory – often fade with the passage of time.  The enduring achievements are those which impact greatly and positively on the lives of others. It is for this reason that Mahatma Gandhi continues to enjoy the adoration and respect of each succeeding generation.  He was truly a Great Soul.

I wish to thank the Indian High Commissioner of the Republic of India for organizing this modest ceremony in commemoration of the 151st birth anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.  I am honoured to have been asked to deliver remarks on this auspicious occasion.

The Mahatma remains a timeless figure in history: a man of deep moral and spiritual convictions, whose impact on history and especially on the lives of the people of his country cannot be devalued or diminished, not by time or revisionists.

Mahatma Gandhi’s life straddled historical developments in both the 19th and 20th centuries. He remains respected the world over.

Mahatma Gandhi was physically a small man. But his moral, religious and political stature was towering.  His accomplishments and legacy set him apart from ordinary mortals. Yet despite his iconic standing, he remained to the end a quintessentially modest and humble man.

Gandhi, a son of the sub-continent, remains an enduring inspiration for men and women of all ages and from all corners of the globe. He is a timeless treasure.

The Republic of Guyana joins today in venerating his memory. We herald him as one of history’s immortal figures.  We salute and admire the strength of his character.

We recall his defiance against injustice and his defence of civil rights. We remember his role in igniting the Indian independence struggles. We recall his vision for a united India. We revive today his ideals for a free and democratic society. We reminisce on the significance of India’s independence and its impact on the anti-colonial struggles everywhere.

India remains today the world’s most populous democracy. Gandhi’s values, vision and his virtues have been important foundational stones in India’s democracy.

Gandhi once said, “Democracy disciplined and enlightened is the finest thing in the world.” He described true democracy as one which promotes the “welfare of the people.”

Achieving the welfare of the people involved, for him,  tapping the human, economic and spiritual resources of all sections of society and deploying this in “the service of the common good.”

The Republic of Guyana has just emerged from a bruising test of its democracy. My government is committed to strengthening the country’s democratic institutions and to insulating them from the threat of being undermined. In this task, we can draw wisdom from the Mahatma. His commitment to non-violence and his respect for civil liberties are important cornerstones in erecting an impregnable democratic rampart.

Gandhi preached non-violence as a path to freedom. Democracy requires us to settle our disputes through peaceful and lawful means. It involves a commitment to respecting the law and the rights of others and rejecting violence as a solution to resolving differences, disputes and discontents.

Gandhi shared the view that violence and democracy were incompatible. According to him, democracy which is sustained by violence cannot protect the weak.

Gandhi is considered as a Champion of non-violence. Non-violence, for him, involved the absence of ill-will and required considerable restraint. He urged the avoidance of inflicting injury and harm to others. The Mahatma warned against the practice of non-violence being contaminated or diluted by enmity.

He viewed non-violence, not as a weakness, but as an ethically superior model to violence. It is for this reason that Gandhi chose non-violence above hatred, love over hatred, forgiveness over retribution and order in preference to chaos.

Respect for civil rights is an essential element of democratic governance. These rights assure citizens of the protection of the law and from discrimination whilst facilitating their fuller participation in society.

Gandhi was a pioneer of the civil rights struggle. In South Africa, he campaigned against the denial of voting rights to Indians and the non-recognition of Hindu marriages. He agitated against the policies of segregation.  When he returned to India, his defiance of oppressive legislation, galvanised public support and eventually catapulted him into the forefront of the country’s Independence struggle.

In 1931, the Indian National Congress drafted the Fundamental Rights Resolution. The ‘Resolution’ bears the blessing of Gandhi. It denoted important principles which today form the backbone of fundamental rights and freedoms. These include freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of the press, freedom of conscience and equal rights without discrimination based on sex.

The ‘Resolution’ also outlined socio-economic rights. Gandhi by his association with the Fundamental Rights Resolution was a frontrunner in the quest for respect for civil liberties and for the promotion of economic and social rights.

The Fundamental Rights Resolution of 1931, was an important development in enshrining human, economic and social rights as fundamental cornerstones of India’s Constitution and its system of democracy. The Resolution became a model, not just for India, but for countries aspiring to achieve their own Independence and to enact their own Constitutions.

Democracy in India and around the world has been strengthened because of the constitutional protections which are accorded to fundamental rights and freedoms. Guyana’s Constitution provides protections to these rights. We will continue to uphold the rights of our citizens as we safeguard our precious democracy.

Today I pay tribute to this outstanding human being of whom Albert Einstein once said, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”

In honouring the memory of this great man, the Republic of Guyana recalls his specific contributions to democratic norms and particularly the elements of non-violence and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms. Non-violent solutions to disputes and conflicts, and respect for rights are the soundest means of sustaining peace and stability in democratic societies.

When we engage in strife, we undermine the very foundations of our democratic system. For each of us, therefore, we have a duty to preserve peace and justice in our society.  Change begins with each person. Each of us make a difference by banishing the vices of hatred and bitterness from among our hearts. We must build a society based on understanding, respect and tolerance.

We can find no better a role model to achieve these objectives than in the person of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. May the Mahatma continue to inspire future generations with the values and virtues which he not only professed, but exemplified in his own life!

I thank you.