Gandhi’s message recalled at his sesquicentennial birthday in New York


Jacinda Ardern
New York, September 25, 2019

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking at the Meeting in New York on September 24, 2019 (ANI Photo)

I would like to begin by acknowledging the host of this event, Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Our presence here is a reflection of the close ties between New Zealand and India, and of the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, which was felt to the farthest corners of our globe.

I would also like to acknowledge my fellow speakers.

As political leaders, there is much we can learn from Gandhi as we search for common ground to address the world’s pressing challenges.

Three aspects

For me, there are three aspects of Gandhi’s message that carry particular weight:

Tolerance. Equality. And the sanctity of non-violence.

These are values that we should keep at the forefront of our minds.

Not just in good times, but especially when faced with difficult choices.

In New Zealand, we have recently witnessed the tragic consequences of intolerance and of violence. An act of terrorism that sought to divide us.

That took the lives of 51 innocent worshippers.

Yet, in the face of this act of hatred and violence, the New Zealand Muslim community opened their doors for all New Zealanders and the world to grieve with them.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Jacinda Ardern and other leaders after inaugurating the ‘Gandhi Solar Park’ at the UN Headquarters in New York on September 24, 2019 (ANI Photo)

Empowering Peace

Their act of peace was a powerful and empowering one. In opening their doors they sowed the seeds of diversity, humanity, forgiveness and aroha. They broke a potential cycle of violence.

At a time when religion could have been used to divide us, we saw the unifying power of interfaith and intercultural understanding.  We witnessed – as Gandhi himself understood – the inner truth of all faiths. The commonalities of dignity, of humanity and compassion that bind all people, all religions.

The March 15, 2019 attacks are a tragedy that we will not forget, and that require us to reflect on what we need to do to be the society we want to be. But we have also been reminded of the power of holding true to the values of tolerance, equality and non-violence in the face of hatred and violence.

As Gandhi himself said, “The very first step in nonviolence is that we cultivate in our daily life, as between ourselves, truthfulness, humility, tolerance, and loving kindness.”

Inclusive Society

We must build societies that are inclusive of all religions, races and gender, and that solve disputes without recourse to violence. New thinking is also required to address the inequality that continues to blight the existence of many.

These are challenges for my country, New Zealand, just as they are for others. 

 Turning to equality: New Zealand’s focus on wellbeing, going beyond traditional economic measures of success, is about addressing inequality. As are our efforts to make New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child.

Like Gandhi, we should not be afraid to stand up and transform our societies for the better.

Gandhi also modelled the expression of political dissent through non-violent opposition.

His 240-mile peaceful march across Western India to protest against the tax on salt created a path for countless other non-violent political movements throughout the 20th and 21st Centuries.  We continue to see this power today as our young people march to effect change across the globe.

Resolving tensions

Creating a safe space for the expression of different ideas; for political debate and dialogue whether it be on the streets or online remains an essential part of democratic and pluralistic societies. It is critical in resolving tensions in a peaceful manner.

I believe that Gandhi’s legacy is as relevant today as it ever was.

It calls on us to reject bigotry and intolerance, and embrace kindness and truth.

It calls on us to strive for equality, no matter how difficult and entrenched systems are.

And it demands that we recognise the lasting value of peace.

Let us all recommit to those principals as we acknowledge 150 years of an enormous legacy.

Jacinda Ardern is Prime Minister of New Zealand. The above is her address at the 150th Birth Anniversary Celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi hosted by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New York on September 24, 2019.

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