Barack Obama mahatma gandhi fascination india His writings gave voice to my deepest instincts new book

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Barack Obama

Former US President Barack Obama had said that his fascination with India largely revolved around Mahatma Gandhi. In his latest book ‘A Promised Land’, Obama wrote on his journey from the 2008 election campaign to the end of his first term with the daring Abbottabad (Pakistan) raid that killed al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. “A Promised Land” is the first of two planned volumes. The first part hit bookstores globally on Tuesday.

While praising Gandhi for his “successful non-violent campaign against the British rule that became a beacon for other dispossessed, marginalised groups”, the 44th US President also said that the Indian icon was unable to successfully address the caste system or prevent the partition of the country based on religion. 

“More than anything, though, my fascination with India had to do with Mahatma Gandhi. Along with (Abraham) Lincioln, (Martin Luther) King, and (Nelson) Mandela, Gandhi had profoundly influenced my thinking,” Obama wrote on his book. 

“As a young man, I’d studied his writings and found him giving voice to some of my deepest instincts,” Obama, who had visited India twice as president, said. 

He said Gandhi’s ideas including that of ‘satyagraha’ resonated with him. ““His notion of ‘satyagraha’, or devotion to truth, and the power of non-violent resistance to stir the conscience; his insistence on our common humanity and the essential oneness of all religions; and his belief in every society’s obligation, through its political, economic, and social arrangements, to recognise the equal worth and dignity of all people — each of these ideas resonated with me. Gandhi’s actions had stirred me even more than his words; he’d put his beliefs to the test by risking his life, going to prison, and throwing himself fully into the struggles of his people,” Obama wrote.

Gandhi’s non-violent campaign for Indian independence from Britain, which began in 1915 and continued for more than 30 years, hadn’t just helped overcome an empire and liberate much of the subcontinent, it had set off a moral charge that pulsed around the globe, he writes.

“It became a beacon for other dispossessed, marginalised groups — including Black Americans in the Jim Crow South — intent on securing their freedom,” Obama said.

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Recalling his first visit to India in 2010, Obama said he and his wife Michelle had visited Mani Bhavan, the modest two-storey building tucked into a quiet Mumbai neighbourhood that had been Gandhi’s home for many years. “Before the start of our tour, our guide, a gracious woman in a blue sari, showed us the guestbook Dr King had signed in 1959, when he’d travelled to India to draw international attention to the struggle for racial justice in the United States and pay homage to the man whose teachings had inspired him,” he wrote.

“The guide then invited us upstairs to see Gandhi’s private quarters. Taking off our shoes, we entered a simple room with a floor of smooth, patterned tile, its terrace doors open to admit a slight breeze and a pale, hazy light,” he said.

“I stared at the spartan floor bed and pillow, the collection of spinning wheels, the old-fashioned phone and low wooden writing desk, trying to imagine Gandhi present in the room, a slight, brown-skinned man in a plain cotton dhoti, his legs folded under him, composing a letter to the British viceroy or charting the next phase of the Salt March,” he said.

“And in that moment, I had the strongest wish to sit beside him and talk. To ask him where he’d found the strength and imagination to do so much with so very little. To ask how he’d recovered from disappointment,” he wrote.

Obama said Gandhi had had more than his share of struggle. “For all his extraordinary gifts, Gandhi hadn’t been able to heal the subcontinent’s deep religious schisms or prevent its partitioning into a predominantly Hindu India and an overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan, a seismic event in which untold numbers died in sectarian violence and millions of families were forced to pack up what they could carry and migrate across newly established borders,” he said.

“Despite his labours, he hadn’t undone India’s stifling caste system. Somehow, though, he’d marched, fasted, and preached well into his seventies — until that final day in 1948, when on his way to prayer, he was shot at point-blank range by a young Hindu extremist who viewed his ecumenism as a betrayal of the faith,” Obama wrote.

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(With PTI inputs)

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