PM, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpaye's Speech
The Inauguration of Global Convention
Peace & Non-Violence
New Delhi - 2004
“I am pleased to be here with all of you at this Global Convention on Peace and Non-Violence, which is inspired by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. My hearty greetings to all the participants. A warm welcome to all our esteemed friends from abroad. Like many of you, I often wonder: Why is it that the passage of time - indeed, the passage of over a half century now - has not reduced the relevance of Mahatma Gandhi for India and for the entire world? Why do we feel that Gandhiji’s place in history is in its future, and not in its past? The answer is obvious. Mahatma Gandhi embodied the eternal and universal values of mankind. He not only preached these values, but also lived them. In the end, like many great souls in the past, he also died for them. And in dying for them, he immortalized the message of his life.
Gandhiji devoted his life to three main causes. Two of them were largely focused on India: India’s independence from colonial rule and India’s social transformation - be it in the field of social equality, communal harmony, education, dignity of labour, and Antyodaya or the concern for the last man on the socio-economic ladder. What he did in these two areas has an enduring significance for us in India. It also has a strong appeal for many thinking people around the world.
But the kernel of his life’s message, which makes that message eternal and universal, and which made Mohandas Gandhi into a Mahatma, is Peace and Non-Violence. The immense moral force and the unwavering consistency with which he championed the imperative of peace and non-violence – both in the immediate neighbourhood and in the world at large - brought hope to a mankind battered by wars and conflicts. Along with other champions of peace and humanism in the world, he contributed to mankind’s regaining of faith in itself.
Many people, including peace-loving people, are often tempted to think that Gandhiji’s ideal of peace is just an illusion, with no chance of ever becoming a reality. This is because, the world continues to be scarred and wounded by violence in many forms. However, the mere continuation of violence cannot negate the need for non-violence. Rather, it provides an added reason and imparts further urgency to our search for peace.
Echoing the belief of all humanistic thinkers around the world, Gandhiji insisted that violence is not the natural state of human existence. Men and societies yearn for life without violence. Their most mundane needs as well as their deepest aspirations can be fulfilled only in conditions of peace. Sometimes, nations may go to war, and some groups may fight with each other. But sooner or later, they realize the futility of bloodshed and the utility of dialogue.
Distinguished friends, the point I wish to make is that the contest between violence and peace need not be a never-ending refrain in the song of humanity’s future. This may sound like an audacious statement, more akin to wishful thinking than to man’s historical experience. But I believe that there are certain objective factors in modern history that have strengthened the forces of peace relative to the forces of violence.
The first among these peace-enhancing objective factors is the power of democracy. When more and more people participate in the affairs of a nation and in determining what should be done and should not be done, the chances of their opting for a peaceful course are always greater than otherwise. In the latter half of the 20th century, not only has the power of democracy grown worldwide; but several international and multilateral institutions working on democratic principles have also been founded. The UN and its affiliate organizations are the most important among them. For the first time in human history, so many people, their governments and other representative organizations across the world are engaged in dialogue, interaction, cooperation, and conflict-resolution. Even at the level of civil society, never in the past had so many citizens and their non-governmental organizations belonging to different countries and communities been interacting with each other so extensively as they are doing now. For example, a global convention of this kind on peace and non-violence was unthinkable in the past. I think that this self-assertion of democratic power augurs well for peace in the world of tomorrow.
There is a second factor. In the past fifty years, the international community has debated and adopted many treaties for peace and disarmament – bilaterally, regionally and in the United Nations. The importance of these treaties should not be belittled. No doubt, all countries should act upon these treaties with sincerity. In this, great powers have a greater responsibility than others to act with responsibility and self-restraint. Collectively, we must take the world swiftly towards the goal of disarmament and, specifically, elimination of all weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century.
The existence of the United Nations is perhaps the single most important reason why the world has been able to prevent major wars from breaking out after World War II. However, the UN system needs to be reformed and restructured to accurately reflect contemporary realities as well as to make it more effective in dealing with the challenges of today’s world. Recent global developments have sharply illustrated this need.
The third peace-enhancing objective factor is that both technology and trade have made the world much more inter-dependent, integrated and smaller than we could have ever imagined. Today people and nations know more about one another than they ever did in the past. They meet each other in those events of sports, culture, entertainment, and economic relationship, which did not happen so much in the past. They communicate to each other through mass media, in ways that were unimaginable in the past. It is said that the world has shrunk to a “Global Village”. I can say from the Indian experience – and this is perhaps also the experience of villages worldwide – that the people of a village know how to live together in peace and how to resolve conflicts through dialogue, by showing sensitivity to each other’s genuine concerns.
It is, of course, true that the modern world is seeing new threats to peace. Terrorism inspired by religious extremism is one of them. Perhaps no country has suffered as much from this threat as India has. The threat of terrorism has to be dealt with firmly – both through the action of individual nations and through international solidarity. However, I am confident that this is a passing phase and the world’s collective efforts will succeed in dealing with this menace. Among other things, my optimism lies in the fact that all the religions and cultures of the world have enshrined peace and non-violence as their guiding principles.
Friends, we in India are inheritors to a great civilization whose life chant has been “Shanti” - that is, Peace - and “Bhaichara” - which means, Brotherhood. India has never been an aggressor nation, a colonizer or a hegemon in her long history. In modern times, we are alive to our responsibility to contribute to peace, friendship and cooperation both in our region and around the world.
India has always believed in having peaceful, friendly and cooperative relations with all her neighbours. We are happy that the 12th Summit of SAARC nations, which was held in Islamabad early this month, was a major step forward in regional cooperation.
As I said at the summit, we have to change South Asia’s image and standing in the world. We must make the bold transition from mistrust to trust, from discord to concord, and from tension to peace. It is in the same spirit that my Government has been trying to resolve all the outstanding issues with Pakistan through dialogue.
I am sure that the cause of peace around the world will be advanced by the good thoughts shared by all the esteemed participants.