By: Radhakrishna NS
INDIAN prime minister Narendra Modi, along with UN chief Antonio Guterres and other world leaders, inaugurated the Gandhi Solar Park and Gandhi Peace Garden at the headquarters of the global body, underlining that Mahatma Gandhi’s principles act as a moral compass as the world grapples with challenges of climate change, terrorism and corruption.
The special commemorative event ‘Leadership Matters: Relevance of Gandhi in the Contemporary World’ was hosted by Modi to mark Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary.
On the occasion, a special UN Postage stamp on Gandhi’s 150 years was also released.
The Gandhi Solar Park is a first of its kind symbolic Indian effort at the UN that highlights India’s willingness to go beyond the talk on climate change and climate action.
At a contribution of about $1 million, India has gifted solar panels that have been installed on the roof of the UN Headquarters here, one panel each for every 193 UN member states.
The ‘Gandhi Peace Garden’ is an innovative initiative under which the Consulate General of India in New York, Long Island-based NGO Shanti Fund and the State University of New York – Old Westbury have entered into an agreement to plant 150 trees.
It is dedicated in the memory of Gandhi and is a crowd-sourced project, with people adopting trees in the memory of their loved ones. The garden is in an open site within the 600 acres campus of the University.
The solar panels are powered up to reach the max of 50 KW of generation power. Energy generated in the park is equivalent to the energy that would have been created through the use of 30,000 kilograms of coal.
It also has carbon sequestration of 1000 seedlings which will grow into trees over 10 years.
In his keynote address at the event, Modi spoke about the contributions of the Father of the Nation to the cause of greater human freedom in the 20th century, his emphasis on the welfare of all (Sarvodaya), championing the cause of the downtrodden (Antyodaya) and prescient concern for environmental sustainability.
Modi stressed that Mahatma Gandhi’s faith in collective will, shared destiny, moral purpose, people’s movements and personal responsibility are extremely germane to contemporary times.
He said that violent conflict, terrorism, economic inequalities, socio-economic deprivation, pandemics and the looming existential threat of climate change are impacting people, states and societies.
Leadership is crucial to addressing any and every one of these issues and the values promoted by Gandhi serve as moral compass for enlightened leadership.
Modi recalled that when he met Britain’s Queen Elizabeth a few years ago, with great emotion, she showed him a small handkerchief made out of khadi which was gifted to her by Gandhi at the time of her wedding.
Addressing the event, Guterres said: “Gandhiji’s vision and philosophy are pillars of the work of the United Nations. Part of his genius lay in his ability to see the inter-connectedness and the unity between all things.
“His political achievements included leading the movement that ended colonial rule in India, using peace, love and integrity to prevail. But his vision went far beyond politics to encompass human rights and sustainable development.”
The UN chief said Gandhi’s efforts on behalf of people of lower caste and those considered “untouchables”, whom he renamed “Harijan” or “Children of God”, should inspire us in our efforts to leave no one behind, and to help those farthest behind first.
“Gandhi looked at the world from the point of view of the lowliest and the most humble – but is acknowledged as one of the greatest leaders of all time. His values truly transcend borders,” he said.
“We have issued our own United Nations stamp to commemorate this occasion, but we are in the company of more than 100 countries that have issued or are planning to issue stamps to honour this global leader,” Guterres said.
Hasina recalled that her father, Bangladesh’s Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, took inspiration from Gandhi during his formative stage of leadership.
“We are living in a world where hatred and bigotry is leading to terrorism and violent extremism are dividing the human kind more than ever before. Gandhiji’s philosophy of non-violence and his unwavering support for all people can unite us and help effectively address formidable challenges of global concern like hunger and poverty and impact of climate change,” she said.
Ardern said she learnt about Gandhi as a schoolgirl. She drew parallels with Gandhi’s Dandi March with that of the climate march undertaken by young people around the world.
“I believe that Gandhi’s legacy is as relevant today as it ever was. It calls on us to reject bigotry and embrace kindness and truth,” she said.
The global leaders spoke about their leadership challenges and how in the contemporary world, Gandhi’s values have inspired each of them in challenges they have faced in their political lives, when they were in office or outside as leaders.