Celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi

Minister of International Development Nikolai Astrup's introduction at the celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

In June this year I had the pleasure of visiting India for the first time as minister. Mahatma Gandhi is recognized as the Father of this great nation, and I am honored to addess this seminar on the occasion of his 150th birth anniversary.

Mahatma Gandhi was an exceptional leader and human being.

He has influenced and inspired both individuals and world leaders in the fight against inequality and oppression, and has provided an invaluable contribution to peaceful freedom struggles across the world.

Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle was first and foremost for the freedom and independence of the people of India.

But his message was also one of universal relevance. His voice for humanity, equality, justice and non-violence gained global recognition.

In 2007, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, the 2nd of October, was declared by the United Nations as the International Day of Non-Violence, and is today celebrated all over the globe.

Despite grand thoughts, his was a life of austerity, tolerance, courage and struggle. A person who stood up for what he believed in and who lived as he preached.

He spent a total of approximately five years in prison and was imprisoned six times in South Africa and seven times in India.

All for freedom, human rights and justice.

He was known for his devout Hindu faith, but he advocated respect and appreciation for all faiths. He believed in, and argued for, the essential unity of all peoples and all religions. He made powerful efforts to unite people across ethnic and religious lines.

His philosophy and devotion strongly inspired the human rights movement of the 20th century. Today, this movement is under renewed pressure in all corners of the world. In many cases, conflict still persists along religious and ethnic lines, often within the borders of nation states.

Mahatma Gandhi's vision of an independent India based on religious pluralism was initially challenged by seperatist forces based on religion, eventually leading to the partition of India, at a great human cost.

Today, Gandhi’s vision of an inclusive, secular India continues to be challenged, despite India’s fundamentally multi-religious fabric.

In this time of uncertainty and disruption, the celebration of Gandhi’s birthday is a reminder of the continued relevance of his teachings and of their outmost importance all over the world.

We live in a time not only of uncertainty and dispruption, but also a time where a more aggressive and polarizing political rethoric seems to be gaining ground. Let us therefore remind ourselves of what Gandhi not only said, but also did. I quote; “In a gentle way, you can shake the world”.

Gandhi’s teachings also remind us that change often begins at the individual level, and that we all, as human beings, have the capability to change the world through peaceful activism.

Today, we are celebrating a remarkable man, who’s achivements should continue to inspire us, both as leaders and individuals.

Allow me to congratulate you warmly on the 150th birth anniversary of the Mahatma Gandhi.

Many thanks and all the best wishes for a successful seminar.