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Sidelights of Satyagraha conference

india Updated: Jan 30, 2007 23:14 IST
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Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu had a special word of praise for UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But for different reasons. Tutu showed accolades on Sonia for refusing to become Prime Minister and nipping in the bud any reaction that could have stemmed from it. He also had a word of praise for the PM for leading the country to economic resurgence.

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Desmond Tutu lived up to his role as a preacher of peace at the valedictory session of the satyagraha centenary conference. Informing them that he was a preacher, he warned them of a long haul.

But that was not to be. What followed was an anecdotal discourse meant to be in the spirit of self-criticism. He recounted how after a long sermon, a preacher asked the congregation whether they wanted to say something. Pat came the reply--- ‘Amen’.

The entire Vigyan Bhawan conference hall, including Sonia and the normally reticient PM, burst into peals of laughter. A short while later he came up with another anecdote to underline the significance of the Gandhian message of unity. Two convicts, shackled in chains, managed to flee but soon fell down. When one of them tried to get up, he couldn’t because the other was still lying on the ground. It was only when the two synchonised their action that they managed to stand up together again. To the utter delight of his audience, he even enacted the scene.
 
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Ahmed Katrada, the man who shared prison with Nelson Mandela for 27 years, got a standing ovation as he finished reading Satyagrah Centenary Declaration.

He was welcomed with thunderous applause as Secretary General of the conference Anand Sharma announced his name and credentials to read the declaration. An acknowledged Gandhian who has made historic contribution to the freedom struggle of South Africa—that was how Sharma described him. Earlier, Tutu had paid fulsome praise to the young Minister of state for external affairs for standing by his country in times of need.

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Never once was the usual overbearing behaviour of the security personnel visible during the two-day high profile conference. Perhaps, the large posse of security brigade was under some kind of a Gandhian spell. They were polite in their behaviour. A dose of profuse ‘thank you’ followed after they frisked or checked the entry cards of the participants. Here’s hoping the Gandhian spirit would continue to prevail over them.

On Monday, former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda had appealed to US president George Bush and British premier Tony Blair to stop the war in Iraq. On Tuesday, he came up with his own brand of a Gandhian solution to the Indo-Pak conflict. His prescription: dismantle the LoC, give Azad Kashmir to Pakistan, Jammu and Ladakh region to India and have a joint Indo-Pak condiminium in the Valley, with both countries setting up departments to develop the area. He found no takers, of course, when he made the proposal during the session on disarmament.

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Rahul Gandhi had scribes in a tizzy on Tuesday. Speculation that the Amethi MP may speak at one of the two subject sessions had the journalists doing a relay race from one conference room to the other just in case he came in. It was a wait in vain. He turned up finally only for the post-lunch session when Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed the gathering and the conference adopted the satyagraha centenary celebration.

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It was an emotional moment for listeners when Afsandyar Wali Khan, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi’s associate Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and leader of Pakistan's Awami National Party, took the floor during the session on Dialogue among peoples and cultures. Lending a personal touch to his presentation, Afsandyar recalled how his grandfather, popularly known as Badshah Khan was seen as part of the Mahatma’s family. The former had even acknowledged that his grandfather’s efforts to bring the gun-toting pashtoons to the path of nonviolence was a huge challenge. While commenting on present-day problems, he said that both Pakistan and Afghanistan were sitting on a powder keg that could explode at any time. He said that the conference had been called at the right time because the secular and moderate people in the world want peace.

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Johan Galtung’s sense of humour often livened up the session he chaired on the serious subject of nuclear disarmament and a nonviolent world order. When one speaker referred to the mathematician-conflict resolution scholar, who has penned a book on Gandhi, as chairperson, he didn’t let it pass. "I have been upgraded from chairman to chairperson. I hope I will not be downgraded," he quipped. The other speakers took the hint and made it a point to refer to him as chairperson.

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During one of the discussions at the conference, it was pointed out that if 27 countries can exist in peace without having a standing army, why cannot the others. The list of countries which do not have an army includes Costa Rica, Dominia, Andorra, Iceland, Kiribati, San Marino, St Kitts, Marshall Island, Haiti and Vatican city where the Swiss guards act as the security force.

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Copies of Rajiv Gandhi’s proposal of an action plan for a world free of nuclear weapons were distributed to delegates during the session on a non-violent world order to bolster Sonia Gandhi’s call for nuclear disarmament. While addressing the UN General Assembly in 1988 as Prime Minister, Rajiv had unveiled a three-stage plan of nuclear disarmament by 2010, with the first two stages spread over six years each and the next over 10 years. While addressing the session, Union Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar said that it was time to revisit that plan and adjust it to current needs.

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