World leaders, Nobel laureates and peace activists from 83 countries will attend the international conference on January 29-30 in New Delhi as part of the year-long celebration the Congress has planned for the satyagraha movement Mahatma Gandhi had launched on September 11, 1906 in South Africa.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will address the conference that will conclude with the adoption of a "Satyagraha Centenary Declaration" to emphasise the relevance of Gandhian values and philosophy in the contemporary world that is marked by conflict and violence. The declaration will also renew peoples' commitment to Gandhi's mission of building a world that it in peace and harmony with itself.
World leaders, including six heads of state and government and 45 ministers, will come for the conference, according to Anand Sharma, minister of state for external affairs and convenor of the All India Congress Committee’ organizing committee for the conclave.
The list of high profile invitees includes South Africa’s Desmond Tutu, Bangladesh’s Mohammad Yunus, Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto, Sri Lanka’s Dr AT Ariyaratne and intellectuals like Bhiku Parekh and CK Prahlad.
While Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda will come, the ailing South African leader, Nelson Mandela, will not be able to make it. Leadership delegations from neighbouring countries, including Pakistan, will attend the conference.
Sources said Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan president, was not in the list of leaders who Sonia personally invited in writing. From Pakistan, only Asma Jehangir, human rights activist, and Afsandyar Wali Khan, Awami National Party president and grandson of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan or Frontier Gandhi as he is called, were sent invitations.
Both Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khalida Zia, who represent two different parties in Bangladesh, have accepted the invite. So have Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, and his predecessor Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Since it is a Congress show, only UPA allies and leaders of Left parties that support the Congress-led government from outside have been invited. The Congress contingent will include senior leaders as well as young members like Amethi MP Rahul Gandhi.
Ila Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grand-daughter, will address the gathering at Vigyan Bhavan on behalf of other members of the Mahatma’s clan, many of whom will attend the function.
Though the PM had gone to South Africa in October 2006 to participate in the satyagraha centenary celebration, the Congress has planned out a series of programmes in India as well.
The global conference is part of this initiative. The last time the Congress had hosted a conference of this magnitude was in 1987 when Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister. The central theme of the meeting that time was apartheid.
The satyagraha conference has been structured around four themes: Conflict resolution and peace-building; Gandhian philosophy for poverty eradication, education and people’s empowerment; Dialogue among people’s and cultures; and Towards a nuclear weapons-free and non-violent world order.
There will be an exhibition on the sidelines of the conclave, a ballet on the evolution of the satyagraha movement by Mallika Sarabhai and a sarod recital by Amjad Ali Khan.
While Sharma acknowledged that the film Lage Raho… Munnabhai has had a tremendous impact, there is no plan so far to screen the film for the audience. Instead, delegates will be given a gift hamper of CD of the film Gandhi and books on the Mahatma.
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