Former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda evoked much appreciation for his indomitable spirit. If in one context he thundered in disapproval while mentioning the strife-torn places of the world, in another he sang with tear-filled eyes “we shall fight and conquer AIDS….” At his prompting, the capacity crowd joined in with thunderous applause and thumping of desks.
Lech Walesa, the revolutionary who brought change in Poland through Gandhian ways, left his indelible mark on the conference. Although his speech was in Polish, his presentation on countering Soviet influence in his country with peaceful methods was impressive. “Don't restrict Gandhi to South Africa and India. He belongs to the world,” was his emotional punchline.
‘No use for communists’
The Left leaders looked on stoically as Walesa said that communists were no longer a force with the collapse of the Soviet Union. But he said he was willing to tolerate some communists as these days they did not carry much weight.
September 11 was often remembered in the speeches. And the date referred not only to the terrorist strike on New York’s twin towers in 2000. Congress president Sonia Gandhi recalled that Gandhiji had started his satyagraha in South Africa on September 11, 1906.
Drawing comment for their absence were representatives of the BJP. Conference spokesman Devendra Dwivedi said Opposition was not invited for what was “primarily a function of the Indian National Congress”. To persistent questions, Dwivedi said a committee had selected the invitees. It had worked for two months, studying the profiles of the leaders and organizations, to finalise the list.
Both Sonia Gandhi and Pranab Mukherjee took great pains to explain why India had nuclear weapons in light of the Mahatma’s concept of satyagraha. Sonia said it was a “compulsion born out of the failure to persuade the world to abolish nuclear weapons”. Mukherjee said India had adopted the doctrine of “no first use’’.