Mahatma Gandhi taught us diversity and tolerance as critical aspects for nation-building

03 October 2018
Mahatma Gandhi taught us diversity and tolerance as critical aspects for nation-building
Photo: Thura/Mizzima

At a colorful function on 2nd Oct, celebrating the start of 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation of India, at Yangon, eminent historian Dr Thant Myint U opined that,  it is important to locate Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership in anti-colonial struggle as one of embodiment of moral and spiritual compass that used non-violent means all through; but it also embraced diversity, eschewed bigotry and attempted social reform to transform the society of that time. The struggle towards creating a just and harmonious society is still far from over and people of Myanmar has to imbibe values that Mahatma Gandhi steadfastly promoted.

Delivering the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial lecture, Dr Thant Myint U, recipient of one of the important civilian awards of India, the ‘padmasri’,  traced the historical association of Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas with Myanmar’s (Burma during that time) struggle for freedom from the British. Mahatma Gandhi’s visits to Burma have also made a lasting impression on him and they became the inspiration for him to shape his perspectives on various issues like women’s rights and nationalism.

Mahatma Gandhi stands as the tallest moral and spiritual leader espousing the ideals of non-violence, communal harmony, social reform and peace as supreme characters of any society.  These are relevant for any society that is undergoing a transformation. His path towards nation-building that he called ‘Swaraj’ embodies not only removal of a foreign power but also overcoming challenges of divisions that persisted in Indian Society.

Dr Thant Myint U identified Mahatma Gandhi as a political leader of par excellence in terms of his knowledge and understanding of the society and deployment of strategies and tactic that unnerved the British on many occasions during the freedom struggle.  As a practitioner-philosopher Mahatma Gandhi has demonstrated as a great believer of inter-faith understanding and experimented with ideas. He hated dogma and fundamentalism of all kinds and believed in understanding other religions. Throughout his life, including during the painful period of partition, he worked towards communal harmony.  Mahatma strongly believed the need for removing the social ills of society through social reform which he felt was equally important as that of removing British rule over India. He has been the one who believed poverty is the greatest form of violence against people.  He used the spaces of civil society and championed bringing various sections of the society into the freedom struggle through networking.  Mahatma Gandhi’s public outreach, openness and transparency in life, receptivity to criticism demonstrates the highest qualities of the personal life of a leader who embraces and values diverse views in public life.  Mahatma has also been a prolific writer and communicator of par excellence in reaching the masses.

Mahatma Gandhi has also espoused a development paradigm that is ought to be sustainable.  The ideas of environmentalism that he proposed were far ahead of times and his concept of building self-sufficient communities (‘gram swaraj’) with moral, social and environmental perspectives embedded in the trajectory of economic and human development is more relevant today than ever before.

Speaking on the occasion, Venerable Sitagu Sayadaw Dr Ashin Nyanissara identified the life of Mahatma Gandhi as a spiritual journey.  Mahatma Gandhi was able to form non-violence as a powerful weapon and practised Buddha’s teachings of moral strength and power of tolerance.  Sayadaw pointed out that as a leader, Mahatma Gandhi believed and followed the path of truth and tolerance as two powerful elements that would ameliorate suffering and sorrows of people.  It is one of the significant messages that his life gives to all, especially to those in public life to practice truth and tolerance.

Welcoming the gathering India’s Ambassador to Myanmar, Mr Vikram Misri pointed out that celebrating the life of a leader who stands as an example for humanity across the globe is a noble occasion to remind all of us of the ideals that he strived to achieve in his life.   Mahatma Gandhi’s life is a message that has relevance at all the times, especially in today’s world as inequality, injustice and social evils still persist in societies across many countries.  Mahatma demonstrated through his life; the spirit of fearlessness, the power of argument, the force of example,  means as equally important as ends and, conducting oneself with humility - all these are relevant in today's’ public life. Mahatma’s ideas of environmental preservation are now translated into sustainable development practices.

The event, hosted by Indian Embassy,  marks the beginning of two-year long Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th Birth Anniversary celebrations across the world. The rendition of Bhajans (devotional songs) that were dear to Mahatma Gandhi enthralled the audience bringing serenity to the occasion.  Also, release commemorative postal stamps and Myanmar translation of Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography  “The Story of My Experiments with Truth”  solemnized the occasion.  The function was attended by over 300 people including the speaker and ministers of the Yangon regional government, diplomatic corps, academics, friends of India and the Indian diaspora.