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Transcript of Media briefing by Additional Secretary on Celebrations on 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi

October 16, 2018

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Namaskar, good afternoon and a very warm welcome to you all on this special press briefing which we are doing today to list out the series of activities and events which the Ministry of External Affairs is organizing as part of the celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th anniversary.

Some of the activities started before 2nd October, some were launched yesterday but to take you through the list of activities to give you an overview of the activities which Ministry of External Affairs is going to do I have with me Shri Gitesh Sharma who is Additional Secretary and he is also the chief coordinator to oversee the implementation of the activities which Ministry of External Affairs is supposed to do as part of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th anniversary.

Additional Secretary, Shri Gitesh Sarma: Good afternoon and from my side also a very warm welcome to each one of you at today’s press briefing where we are going to take you through activities planned by Ministry of External Affairs which is part of our action plan for the celebrations of ‘Gandhi at 150.’

Let me start by saying that we indeed have a extensive plan of activities to be undertaken by the ministry and the missions abroad and some of our activities are also going to be possible in cooperation with other ministries and departments and other institutions in India. So it is part of a plan of Government of India where Ministry of External Affairs also has its own set of activities.

Dear friends you are aware that yesterday indeed was a special day and we celebrated Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday and there a couple of events came out. I would leave that to our able spokesperson to brief you on those items which were implemented yesterday but if I read my action plan then Vaishnava Jan to is really at the top of the list. So you are aware of the developments of the yesterday.

Then the other was Gandhi stamps to be issued in all countries. There were actually two components that yesterday our Hon’ble Prime Minister released stamps and these stamps, what we had done is work with the Department of Posts and most of our missions worked to also release them or present them in their locations. So with that the release in India and on that basis presentation by our missions abroad, it really go the kind of publicity that these stamps need but apart from that there is work to be done. We also have possibility of other countries issuing their own stamps to mark this very special occasion.

The next item we have is production of a Gandhi anthology and in this category we are actually looking at putting together write-ups on Gandhi and what all Gandhi means to them to these personalities in the 21st century. So we are identifying about 150 prominent globally renowned persons and inviting them to write about Gandhi and Gandhi’s relevance to this century. So this is work in progress. We hope that it will lead to widely anticipated anthology being on our tables.

The next item is commemorative Gandhi medallion or Tamrapatra as you might say. Again, this is, don’t go too much by the exact name that I have given i.e. medallion or Tamrapatra. We have just put this as a marker but there could be some kind of acknowledgement of contribution of outstanding international personalities influenced by Gandhian ideals. So we will naturally work with other government departments and agencies. But we are interested in international personalities associated with Gandhian way of life or Gandhian thinking to be also honored in some way or recognized in some way.

Then there is digital translation of collected works of Gandhi. This also does requires some work. There is, we understand, within government of India, there has been an effort to digitize the Gandhian writings but when we target an international audience or hope to bring it for the benefit of international audience then language come into operation, so in what language, how it will be done. This requires some amount of work before we can actually present it as digital translation. English we can, I believe even now it might be available ready to present.

There is one item which is called Vegetarian Food Festival. When Ministry of External Affairs plans activities we often have to take into account the international setting where these proposals are being pursued because local conditions and requirements change often. It has to be relevant to the local conditions. This is something which may not be necessary on one single day but it will definitely be possible as missions plan it. Individual missions may well appropriately present it at the right time and right setting.

An online quiz also has been already initiated and that younger generation is very fond of online methods. So we thought that younger generation, in a way, should be encouraged to give attention to Gandhian way of life and Gandhian thinking and if they have imbibed some of this kind of knowledge then they should get a chance to test it also. So this online quiz is already available being implemented by our embassies and missions. Sometimes language also becomes a factor so they would translate it as necessary.

A global cycling event has been planned in Gandhi’s memory and on the next World Cycling Day on 3rd June, 2019. Missions have been tasked with organizing their own plans. Cycle is a common man’s vehicle so that symbolism is quite clear there.

Charkha Start-up competition is aimed to generate innovative ideas, business proposition from young people under 35 years. The idea is to address issues relating to waste management, sanitation or environment. We are working on it because again this is kind of issue which requires many heads to sit together and I think we will at a later stage be in a position to give more details. Right now it’s a proposal which sounds very relevant and interesting.

Satya-Vaarta to identify people influenced by Gandhi and they would speak something and in their words it would be captured and put on the internet i.e. YouTube. Again if you see these younger people this is how they operate, this is how they express themselves. So it is Gandhian but it is also all in the modern setting and that is the best we could really celebrate Gandhi’s life and message by involving the younger people. Planting of trees is planned on World Environment Day which will be on 5 June, 2019 and missions and posts are encouraged to plant trees on that particular day.

Khadi is an integral part of the Gandhian way of life. We are working with the other ministries. You may be aware that the Khadi and Village Industries Commission MSME is there which deals with these subjects but we deal with the international activities. So we are all working together to package and exhibit Khadi items and to point out the relevance of Khadi to an international audience. So that is something which we are working on.

Another exciting proposal which again I will ask my colleague and Spokesperson will speak to you. This is digital projection of Gandhi’s photos and moving pictures on iconic buildings that again has been implemented. So I will not elaborate on that but Raveesh will talk about that. We have an item on outreach to schools where we will present books and our officials will go and talk to the schools about Gandhi and his message, his life. This will be done taking into account local conditions, local school patterns but again a very important part of reaching out to very young segment of people.

We have in mind to do an international conference on Gandhi but these early days and we are working on that. We need to develop those proposals a little more. I think once we have a concept which can be implemented then international conferences become much more feasible. So that is a proposal that you may note but I won’t be in a position to say very much more.

India is also for humanity and if I would have to elaborate from that one of India’s biggest contribution has been the ‘Jaipur Foot’ which has brought relief to many people who have lost limbs. We are thinking of organizing, over a period of one year, camps where these Jaipur Foots would be fitted on patients who require them. So that is again something which we are working on. It seems it is likely to be implemented in about 12 countries. So that is where, if I give you a snapshot of where we are. We have initiated some activities which are already going and yesterday you found more than one activity, Vaishnava Jan To, stamps and lighting of iconic buildings and the other ones, some of them require very careful implementation and coordination with other ministries and departments, so that is an ongoing exercise. Some of them have very specific dates like planting of trees or cycling and some are more ongoing like Jaipur Foot which will be implemented over 12 months. At the moment intensive work is going on to give them shape and we will talk to you at a later stage. At this stage this is what I have to say and let me give the floor back to Raveesh.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:
Thank you very much sir. I think it is important to note that there are around 16 events which we are planning to do. Yesterday was the launch of celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

The events which kicked off yesterday, throughout the year we have identified certain marker days which relates to the life of Mahatma Gandhi and some of them we have tried to coincide with major global days if it fits well within Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy. So we are trying to coincide some of Gandhi’s important dates with marker days which have global relevance.

Out of 16 there are at least seven events that are directly connected to our XP Division. I thought that today I will give you details about what we intend to do about the rest of the events but before I move into the explanations let me share with you that the response which we have received, I think it is an exercise where we are heavily dependent on missions. We are drawing our plans on drawing board but ultimate implementation agency has to be our missions and posts abroad and the guidance which we have received from the Prime Minister himself on many of these initiatives and also almost day to day follow up by the External Affairs Minister that has ensured that this is moving in the right direction.

So I will start with two events which we are doing and which kicked off yesterday. The first was the ‘Vaishnava Jan’ bhajan and here all of you must have seen the video of the bhajan, I think it has got some very positive reviews. Two or three things which I would like to highlight here, something which was also mentioned by the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Minister yesterday.

The idea came from Prime Minister. He wanted to create a bhajan which has global resonance where you can actually get singers from all across the world to come and participate. It was executed by the External Affairs Ministry under the guidance of External Affairs Minister and the process was once we got the go ahead to do this, we wrote to all the missions. We asked them to identify local singers, native singer. We also told them to use local instruments to be accompanied with the singing. We also asked them to use local backdrop so that you get the flavor of that place when the video is being shot and out of 130 odd missions we have where we have an ambassador or high commissioner, we got response from 124 missions. So we actually have 124 songs with us. The challenge was to put all these songs into a bhajan. So because it was not possible so we thought to compress it and take selected songs. So what we did was that we divided all these songs into different regions. North America, South America, Gulf, ASEAN, SAARC, Eastern Europe, Western Europe and then we selected the best bhajans from all these regions. We also wanted to give it a regional representation and then we selected these videos and we asked a company to put them together in a sequence but we didn’t realize that they were all shot in different conditions, different musical instruments, different backdrop. The challenge was to synchronize all these songs and have a common thread running through this. But to our satisfaction, I think it happened. The video came out very well and there were some very respectable names as part of the video. What you have seen is just a glimpse. We asked the missions that while they should also share this medley version of 41 countries but each mission, all our 130 missions, we told them that you also share the video which you have made in your country. So that they have done, if you follow some of their twitter account they have all shared their own videos on twitter and Facebook.The next step is that we have to reach the figure of 150. So now we will take the next step to ensure that we get videos from at least 26 more countries to have a collection of 150 bhajans from across the world. And then over the next one year we are working out a time table so that every alternate day or every three days or every week, we will have to see, at least one video of one country is released. So depending on the number of videos and the time frame which we are looking at, we are going to release at least two or three videos every day. So that was as far as Vaishnava Jan is concerned. You must have noted that President of Nauru is an accomplished singer and when he heard about the idea he said I would like to contribute myself and if you noticed that it is one of the highlights of the video that we have managed to put together.

The other significant aspect was also the support that we received not only from the local community but the government itself although there is not direct government involvement but in terms of putting things together it was good. And when it was launched yesterday I think at many places you had the presence of top dignitaries. For example yesterday when this video was released the acting Prime Minister of Nepal was himself present at the Sabhagraha and it shows that the relevance and the message of Baapu it still resonates across the world and that was the idea as well that to take the message across the world in different countries. So that was as far as Vaishnava Jan is concerned.

Moving on to the next one which is the LED Projection. Here we thought we should do an event which will create the buzz across the world and we have managed to get 120 countries who did the LED projection since yesterday afternoon depending on the time zone. The interesting thing about the LED project is that we created the content. The content was created by the ministry and we identified through the help of the missions some iconic buildings and those iconic buildings and the presentation was there at least at 15 locations. The LED projection was customized based on the structure of the iconic location. Overall I think we had around 40-50 iconic locations where LED projection was done. Other missions had put this projection on billboards etc. You see the idea was to put this at a place where you have maximum footfall, which is a prominent tourist place so that people can go and see. And if you look at the messaging. As you can see in the video we had asked to do the line drawing instead of just putting up the images of Mahatma Gandhi.

So out of the 50 iconic locations you saw some visuals about Piccadily Circus of London, Burz Khalifa, the Wien Museum in Vienna, Buda Castle in Budapest, Palazzo Senatorio in Rome, Prambanan Temple in Indonesia, Museo de Arte in Peru among several others. We tried to keep the story line simple in keeping with Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy is to bring relevance of Mahatma Gandhi’s teaching in contemporary world which we tried to do through simple line drawing.

Moving on to the third one which again we executed that was a quiz on Mahatma Gandhi. And as I mentioned we started that before 2nd October. We sent to all the missions a question bank of 100 questions on Mahatma Gandhi and they were supposed to run it locally in local language to again generate interest among the local people who are there.

The fourth is Satya Vaarta. What we tried to do and this idea came out from the HoM’s Conference which took place in June 2018 and we wanted to create something which was on the lines of Ted-Talks. The idea was to create a platform where people could share their experience about how Mahatma Gandhi’s message changed their lives and we actually have got some videos already and we are going to upload all these videos on YouTube. We have got few videos from Serbia, Mexico and many other places.

Gandhi Anthology, as referred to by Additional Secretary, we are collecting write-ups from 150 prominent personalities from across the world. The title is very simple, ‘What Gandhi Means to Me.’ Once we complete the compilation it will be released sometime in the course of next year before October 2019.

So these are the few things which I had to share as far as the implementation from XP and PD division is concerned but before I conclude we will play the video of Vaishnava Jan once again. If you have any questions then you can ask them.

Question: Please share the name of the artists.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: I can share the name of the artists. We had 124 singer who have contributed to this exercise. We can share the names with you that is not a problem.

Question: There is one natural question, what you want to gain out of it by releasing all those things about Gandhi Ji?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: You see that is something which I shared at the beginning. There were two or three ideas which were running through our mind. It’s a momentous occasion. 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi is a big occasion, so it has to be celebrated befitting the grandeur of the occasion. There are several things that we are doing.

The idea of bringing the entire world together is to also project that his message has a universal appeal. The bhajan itself, if you go through the translation, if you understand, you will figure out that the message of the bhajan has universal appeal along with the appeal which Mahatma Gandhi himself has throughout the world.

Can you please elaborate on the Satya Vaarta.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Satya Vaarta as I mentioned, we wanted to create a platform, in fact there are several people who have been influenced by Mahatma Gandhi in their lifetime and we wanted them to share their experience as to how Mahatma Gandhi changed their lives. So if I can put it differently this is video version of the anthology which we are preparing.

You come and address a gathering and you speak for six to eight minutes, we don’t want it to be too long so that the audience remain attracted to the video and it will be very focused. That is what we have asked our missions to organize and once the video is recorded and it is polished a bit then we are going to upload it. It could be somebody who may not be very famous but from a walk of life which is entirely different, maybe an artist, a politician, a singer but in the course of his life if the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi has influenced him then we are encouraging those people to come on stage, share their experience with the audience and that we are capturing it and putting it on our YouTube channel which we have created for this purpose and which we have not done earlier.

So this is again the same objective trying to see how we can universalize the appeal which Mahatma Gandhi has.

Question: What is time frame for International Convention on Mahatma Gandhi?

Additional Secretary, Shri Gitesh Sarma:
I think I at the outset itself mentioned that. It is our intention to organize an international conference but organizing an international conference befitting such a leader of world stature truly requires several detailed studies in terms of time periods when the people are available, at what level, what kind of people who can participate. So that exercise is ongoing right now so we don’t fix a date at this stage, background work is going on.

Question Contd.: So is it going to be organized this year?

Additional Secretary, Shri Gitesh Sarma: I think this year is almost over. Most conference people need a lead time, their diaries are usually full so we have to take that into account and provide a reasonable lead time and a reasonable format in which they all have an opportunity. So it is an ongoing work but I think it is a very very important part of our program.

Question: Jaipur Foot ka program kin countries mein hoga?

(In which countries Jaipur Foot program is going to be organized?)

Additional Secretary, Shri Gitesh Sarma:
I think those countries are being worked out and already there are certain NGOs which are working with several countries. So the idea was that we work together with MEA providing that environment in which they can link it to Mahatma Gandhi’s messaging. I think that country list will also come but if I can share South Africa will be one of them.

Question Contd.: …………… Inaudible …………….

Additional Secretary, Shri Gitesh Sarma: I will not give the details but I think the idea is that it is for a noble cause so anything that goes with a noble gesture, money is not really the central part of that. I think the whole idea is that it is a charity event and I think it will be in accordance with that expectation.

……….. Inaudible …………….

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: For the LED projection, you know you are always racing against time. There is a lot of coordination involved dealing with 130-135 missions all over the world, getting their inputs and for them to liaise with the local authority because for any projection which we do you need local permission. So I think a lot of things were happening in parallel. If I can say both LED Projection and Vaishnava Jan were happening side by side on two different tracks but maybe around three and a half to four months that is when we started this exercise.

……….. Inaudible …………

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Let me once again clarify because there was some confusion in today’s newspaper. For the Vaishnava Jan bhajan we have got with us bhajans recorded from 124 countries. We are going to make it 150 so in the course of next couple of months we will write to the missions and mostly concurrent accreditations, where we don’t have an ambassador that is the place from where we have not got videos. We are going to write to our ambassadors to also get the videos from the countries where they are concurrently accredited. So 124 is the number of as far as Vaishnava Jan bhajan is concerned.

The number 40 which is floating around is the compressed version of the overall songs recorded. If you decide to put all the 120 countries then the video itself will run for at least 25 minutes which is not possible. We want to create a very crisp video so that the entire bhajan is able to be run in one go.

Regarding LED Projection, we are talking about 120 countries. 50 iconic locations plus 70 where projections have been made on digital display screens across the city, sometimes in malls, sometimes in other prominent places.

Question: Are you projecting Gandhi as a solution to the world problem or you are trying to get some diplomatic gain out of it, what is the real purpose of spending so much time and energy on it?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar:
If you look at the message which we have tried to do, he is a role model. If you see the messaging which we have tried to project through the slides and also through the bhajan, we are trying to say that what he stood for i.e. his philosophy remain relevant even now in today’s world even for the younger generation and the appeal is universal. That is very critical otherwise we would not have gone across the world. So he has that appeal which cuts across several barriers. Barriers of nationality, barriers of caste, creed, age etc. So that is what we have tried to project through this.

Thank you all for joining.



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