Rajmohan Gandhi speaks to a world at a crossroads in London
Rajmohan Gandhi gave a speech of honest reflection on the challenges facing peace and reconciliation at a public talk jointly hosted by Initiatives of Change, Faiths Forum for London, the Next Century Foundation and the Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace.
The lecture, which took place on 20 April, was entitled Our World at a Crossroads: Perspectives on the Way Forward. Professor Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, was speaking at London’s Institution of Engineering and Technology to a spellbound audience who heard his messages on the futility of war, the importance of reconciliation and challenges to minority rights, including in today’s India.
Open and humble about his grandfather’s legacy and contradictions, Professor Gandhi’s message is that while we all have opinions of others, so many of us lack knowledge of others; and this underlies the ever-present danger of treating any group of people as uniquely worse.
He praised those in Britain who were ready to accept responsibility for colonialism’s excesses and injustices but challenged today’s youth to carry forward their ancestors’ revolutionary attitude that human beings are equal in value.
He said: ‘Liberty and equality have always been under attack and are under attack today. They are attacked in the name of nation, or religion, or culture, or security. But they will survive. They will endure because the human soul will always want liberty and equality.’
Fielding questions from an audience member from Libya, a non-violent protestor from West Papua and those concerned about potential conflicts in North Korea and across the world, Professor Gandhi did not waver from his embattled principles.
‘Hatred kills us. It does not kill the enemy,’ he said, inviting the audience to consider how they could appropriate non-violent protest to effect change in their own communities.
In the mould of his grandfather, Professor Gandhi’s mantra is to live to make others great, and to do so by appreciation rather than comparison, a microcosm of his attitude towards nationhood and statecraft.
‘This maxim has prevented wastage of energy in envy or resentment, whether of individuals, races, communities or nations,’ he said.
‘Live to make the other person great, a key I think for teamwork, whether in an NGO, a political party, a cricket team, wherever.’
Alongside these maxims, Professor Gandhi delivered an essential reading list for would-be politicians and diplomats, inspired by his grandfather’s teachings and his own life.
Discovered by his grandfather on his first trip to England, the Sermon on the Mount delivers us the commandments not to hate, lust, hoard or kill. Love your enemies.
A true appreciation of race relations is bereft without Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and stands alongside Rudyard Kipling’s If and Rabindranath Tagore’s Heaven of Freedom for their enduring relevance to the non-violent struggle.
Unlike his grandfather, Professor Gandhi sees more limitations to non-violence. He expressed regret that Mohandas advised the British Government to pursue non-violent non-cooperation with Hitler in 1940.
In light of possible thermonuclear conflict in North Korea, his hope is for an Asian coalition - including China and neighbouring Pakistan - that could persuade North Korea down a different path.
His final advice for reconciling a post-Brexit Britain was the same as his grandfather’s advice to post-partition India. In order to bridge existing divides, we will need to listen to each other, empathise with each other and recognise the need to move forward.
He said: ‘Listening, seeing ourselves in the Other, and the Other in us, and, with God’s grace, forgiving. If there are better ways for building a better tomorrow, I would like to be told what they are.’
Initiatives of Change International Executive Director Dr Imad Karam said afterwards: ‘It was a beautiful evening and a great privilege to hear from Professor Gandhi.
‘His message resonated that the past should not be viewed as good or bad, but that we must acknowledge all that happened in order to move forward.
‘The challenge is how we can have a dialogue together about difficult topics in a way that is accessible to everyone, and his work is a wonderful example to us all.’
Report by George Dabby
Photos by Jonty Herman