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A great soul

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MMahatma Gandhi (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi,1869 – 1948), Indian nationalist and spiritual leader, leading the Salt March in protest against the government monopoly on salt production. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

The speech I held on the eve of Friday the 2nd of October, The birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, at a digital platform, on behalf of Indian Embassy in Sweden:

Hello everyone,  and good evening all highly honoured dignitaries. I am so happy to be here to speak to you in my personal way – of what Mahatma Gandhi has meant to me.

I’m a writer and an editor of a travel magazine called Vagabond, which I actually also was one of the founders of – back in 1987.

And since the early 1980’s and almost every year since then I have been visiting India, which I consider to be one of the most exciting, energetic and also most beautiful countries in the world.

My love for India has also resulted in hundreds of travel stories in Vagabond.

But also in a kind of historical and cultural documentary shown in cinema halls in Stockholm. And as well, several radio shows.

And not to be forgotten, a book based on a true story called The Amazing story of the man who cycled from India to Europe for love.

A very long title, but it was also a long journey for the protagonist of the book, PK Mahanandia from Odisha. Mr Mahanandia himself is by the way a strong believer in Mahatma Gandhi’s message of love and methods of non-violence.

When I think of Mahatma Gandhi I think of how he used to go on hunger strike and urge his countrymen to passively resist the colonial rule, in order to get through their demands.  I think of how Gandhi stopped eating in order to stop the violence between Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims in connection with India’s independence back in 1947.

Indian statesman and activist Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 – 1948) receives a donation in a train compartment, 1940. Acharya Kripalani and Radhakrishna Bajaj are looking through the window. (Photo by Dinodia Photos/Getty Images)

I think of the moment when the British introduced a salt tax and Mahatma Gandhi and his followers in 1930 responded by carrying out the salt march. Together, they walked more than 400 km to the coast of Gujarat to defy the government monopoly and to symbolically produce salt from the sea.

I am also thinking of the spinning wheel. Gandhi used several easy-to-understand symbols to unite the often illiterate people against the British. Of the hand-spinning garments, which Gandhi liked to use, and which symbolized that he wanted to break the imperialist pattern of trade, which meant that the Indians sold cotton (at low profit) to England where the spinning, weaving and sewing were done on a large scale and mechanically (for greater profit). And I am thinking of that domestic hand-woven fabric – the so called khadi – which is still used by many Indian politicians who want to get somewhere in national politics.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who eventually became known to the the word as Mahatma, successfully promoted the principle of Ahimsa, the ancient Indian pinciple of non-violence. In Gandhis interpretation it was useful in the non-violent resistance movement satyagraha which had an immense impact on India, impressed public opinion in Western countries, and influenced the leaders of various civil rights movements all around the world, like Martin Luther King in the Unites states, just to take one example.

In Gandhi’s thought, Ahimsa precludes not only the act of inflicting a physical injury, but also mental states like evil thoughts and hatred, unkind behavior and lying. Gandhi believed Ahimsa to be a creative energy force – and is to be find in all religions – in Hinduism, as well as in Christianity and Islam.

Gandhi said: ”Nonviolence is common to all religions, but it has found the highest expression and application in Hinduism (and he continued, ”I do not regard Jainism or Buddhism as separate from Hinduism”).”

But how much is the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi really worth today?

When you take a look at the world that surrounds us it may seems like Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas only survive in political speeches and symbolic gestures?

Gandhi was a revolutionary on several levels.

He wanted to drive out the British, create a self-sufficient society, abolish property protection in favour of a collective community – and, of cource,  make different religious believers stop arguing – and try to understand that they all pray to the same divinity.

He challenged narrowness and group affiliation with the same conviction that he combated colonial empires,

From the early years in South Africa Mahatma Gandhi went through a gradual transformation, or perhaps one should say development, from a traditional and shy lawyer via an angry anti-racist activist to a religious thinker, and a critic of civilization. And finally he came out as a political visionary.

And a saint.

And as a such I think he still play a tremendous role in the world of today, soon 73 years after he was killed in New Delhi that unfortunate day in January 1948.

And yes his legacy is still alive.

His vision lives on in many contemporary activists who fight for a good cause.

I’m thinking of Greta Thunberg who tries to stop climate change – and I’ thinking of the people of Belarus – no one mentioned, no one forgotten – who try to stop their president and his brutal police force from destroying their nation. And I’m thinking of many others around the word, among them many idealistic social workers in India. All those unknown but dedicated people, operating for social and political change, who are mostly unheard in the international media.

Ever since the 1980’s, when I was engaged in the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society – Sweden’s oldest peace organization, with roots back to 1883 – I am convinced: It is possible to change the world without violence. It works. It has to work. Because there is no alternative. It can’t exist any alternative.

Because the opposite, which is violence, cruelty and finally death, only strikes back at the activists themselves,  and make them lose in respect and reputation.

Actually, I’m convinced that anyone who uses violent methods to achieve their political goals will one day be questioned and defined.

Only if we act as the great soul, only if we try to think like as Mahatma Gandhi did a century ago, we can create a better world.

And so … Thank you for listening to me! And may God, regardless of what you call him, or her … bless you!

Mahatma Ghandi enjoys a laugh with his two granddaughters Ava and Manu at Birla House in New Delhi.

En bok på tre språk

Min bok Ta tåget finns på svenska (originalspråket) – skaffa den här, men också på tyska och italienska. Den tyska upplagan ligger just nu på Der Spiegels Bestellerliste.