Keynote Address by
Frank F Islam
On the occasion of Republic Day
Thank you for that kind introduction.
It is truly an honor to have been asked to deliver the keynote address on this Republic Day.
Before I begin my remarks, I want to thank Gisela Ghani for inviting me to speak here. I would like to express my deep gratitude to the leadership of the National Council of Asian Indian Associations for your service to the community and hosting this Republic Day event again. Hats off to Gisela, Dr. Banik, Benoy Thomas, Sunil Singh, and Pawan Bezwada.
Now, distinguished guests, leaders of the Indian American community, ladies and gentlemen, let me extend my warmest Republic Day greetings to all of you. It is wonderful to be here with you on this day that is so special to all of us and to share the stage with Ambassador Sandhu.
Let me say at the outset, that I feel an awesome responsibility in addressing you today and hope that I am up to the challenge. That is so because on this Republic Day we are paying tribute to Mahatma Gandhi.
And, we are doing so in extremely troubling and turbulent times. I do not think that it is an overstatement to say that we are engaged in a battle for the ideals that Mahatma Gandhi propagated and the future of civilized society
Without Mahatma Gandhi there would have been no Republic Day for India and without his influence on others the United States and the world would be a far different place. As you know, Gandhi’s teachings centered on “love,” “non-violence” and “peace.”
In 2016, radical extremist are countering Gandhi with preachings of “hate,” “violence”, and “war”. If they are successful, Republic Day in India and in places around the world that celebrate democracy will become a distant memory.
In the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and his followers who came before us, I believe that you and I along with others who understand the values of a free society can prevent that apocalyptic vision.
This is our responsibility as concerned citizens. It is my responsibility. It is your responsibility. It is our responsibility as citizens with connections to two great nations and republics – India and the United States.
In my opinion, there are three primary steps that we can take – working in collaboration with other people of good will – to fulfill that responsibility. They are:
- Remember Mahatma Gandhi
- Strengthen the Ties Between India and the U.S.
- Eliminate Evil
Let me discuss each of those steps in turn.
- Remember Mahatma Ghandi.
Yes. We should remember him and what he accomplished. But, more than that we need to remember his advice and admonitions and commit to his Ghandian ideals.
In these troubled times, we should ask ourselves: what would Mahatma Gandhi have done? What antidote would he offer to the present day chaos? In my opinion, the answer would be steadfast and resolute. It would be: “love,” “non-violence,” and “peace.”
As Gandhi famously said, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind,” That is a quote that we and the world should internalize.
The Gandhian ideals are universal ones. The man himself said: “I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and Non-violence are as old as the hills. All I have done is to try experiments in both on as vast a scale as I could.”
The ideals and philosophy of Gandhian values is evident from the fact that, here in the United States, one of the greatest sons of America, Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we celebrated a few days ago, embraced them.
Dr. King visited India in 1954, studied the non-violent movement and patterned the protests he led after those of Gandhi. He noted in a radio broadcast during that visit, “If this age is to survive, it must follow the way of love and nonviolence that Gandhi so nobly illustrated in his life.”
President Obama highlighted the link between Gandhi and King in his remarks during the Republic Day celebration in New Delhi last year. He said:
When Dr. King came to India, he said that being here — in “Gandhi’s land” — reaffirmed his conviction that in the struggle for justice and human dignity, the most potent weapon of all is non-violent resistance. And those two great souls are why we can gather here together today, Indians and Americans, equal and free.”
On a personal note, I was privileged to receive the Martin Luther King Jr. award last year. It was a humbling occasion for me, especially because of the indelible connection between Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King. Both Gandhi and Dr. King have been beacons to me in my personal life and charitable and philanthropic involvement.
As an Indian American, I was proud to receive the award which honors the memory of one great man directly and another indirectly.
That brings me to point number 2. Strengthen and broaden and deepen the Ties between India and The United States.
More precisely, I should say continue to strengthen those ties. Because the relations between the two largest democracies in the world are good and getting better.
Last year, President Obama became the first US president to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebration. As Americans and Indian Americans, it was a moment of great pride for all of us and a vey special one for me personally.
That’s true because I was fortunate to be part of the US delegation for that visit. Watching the Republic Day parade sitting not very far from President Obama and Prime Minister Modi was a memory, as an Indian American that I will carry with me forever.
The president’s presence in India for the Republic Day parade was more than symbolic. It signified a reaffirmation and a renewal of the partnership between the United States and India, which are the cornerstones of democracy in the world.
For me, it is not the system of government that India and the Unites States share or the size of their populations that matter. What matters are the common democratic values that bind them together and the potential economic and social synergy that can be realized by these two democracies working together for the benefit of each other and for the world writ large?
The Republic Day visit was not the President’s first trip to India during his visit to India in 2010, President Obama explained very eloquently why the relationship between the two nations is so crucial for world peace and prosperity. Addressing a joint session of the Indian Parliament, the President said:
“… [We] are two strong democracies whose constitutions begin with the same revolutionary words — the same revolutionary words — ‘We the people.’ We are two great republics dedicated to the liberty and justice and equality of all people. And we are two free market economies where people have the freedom to pursue ideas and innovation that can change the world. And that’s why I believe that India and America are indispensable partners in meeting the challenges of our time.
India and the United States – “indispensable partners” – “two great republics” in which “people have the “freedom to pursue ideas and innovations that can change the world.”
Today that freedom is being challenged by those who would create totalitarian states and totally eliminate the concepts of “liberty, justice and equality of all people.”
This brings me to my third and final point, Eliminate Evil.
As the world becomes increasingly more violent and extremists and tyrants escalate their acts of terrorism, the question becomes can non-violence still work in a violent world.
In my opinion, the answer is an unequivocal yes – but peace must be forged first.
The pen works wonders in a civilized society. It is a fragile instrument, however, to employ against terrorists and despots who accept no legal rules or social conventions and will use any means to destroy those whom they hate.
That is why in my book, renewing the American Dream, in describing one of the necessary roles of the United States in the world, I wrote, “Having the ability to be a peacekeeper is essential to the future of the human race.” As America’s “indispensable partner”, India must have this ability as well.
I say that not as a war monger or a security sycophant. I say this as a realist and an advocate for peace.
I am on the advisory board of the U.S. Institute of Peace – an organization devoted to the nonviolent prevention and mitigation of deadly conflict around the globe. I would much prefer to see all dangerous differences and disputes resolved in a nonviolent manner. The hard truth is that this is absolutely impossible to do with those who would wage war on humanity and decency and are unwilling to negotiate on anything.
Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi are not gone. They live on through each person who is willing to pick up the cudgel of nonviolence and use it as an instrument for making peace.
Passionate peacekeepers and peacemakers are unstoppable and unbeatable forces. United they not only ensure the relevance of nonviolence – they make this world a safer, saner and fairer place.
In closing, let me leave you with these thoughts.
I believe that if Mahatma Gandhi were alive today the current state of things would break his heart. It would break his heart to see some practice brutal violence in the name of religions. It would break his heart to see some societies becoming less and less tolerant of minorities and so-called outsiders. It would break his heart to see some politicians and demagogic leaders vilifying large sections of people and spreading fear.
While his heart might be broken, I know that his spirit would not.
He would carry on. He would follow his creed.
He would continue “To be the change that he would want to see in the world.” And, he would encourage and rally us to to do the same.
We are here to celebrate – a day of birth of the Republic. But we are also here to bear witness to and reaffirm and renew our commitment to the Gandhian ideals of “love” “non-violence’ “peace” as means for achieving the full potential of India – a great nation and democratic republic destined to become even greater and a force for good in the world.
That is India’s destiny. As Indian Americans who understand our civic responsibilities, I am confident that we will do whatever we can to help her achieve that destiny in this year of 2016 and in the years to come.
Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you on this Republic Day. I look forward to collaborating with you in making each Republic Day after this one better than the last.
God bless you all.