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Mahatma Gandhi remains Obama's inspiration

Friday November 05, 2010 12:19:47 PM, Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS

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New Delhi: Among the historical greats who have influenced Barack Obama and from whose lives he draws inspiration is no doubt Mahatma Gandhi, with two places associated with the man revered as the Father of the Nation by India included in the itinerary of the American president during his four-day visit later this week.

"Barack Obama has been profoundly inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. The father of the Indian nations' commitment to social justice, equality and the spirit of satyagraha left an indelible mark on Barack Obama, shaping his polity," Ahmedabad's Sabarmati Ashram secretary Amrut Modi told IANS over telephone.

Sabarmati Ashram, or the Gandhi Ashram, was the Mahatma's official residence and played a key role in the famous Dandi March in 1930. It is now a museum, memorial and crafts centre dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi in the heart of Ahmedabad city.

Obama may not be visiting the sylvan retreat of the Mahatma tucked away along the Sabarmati river, but he is the only US president who will visit Gandhi's memorial at Rajghat and the Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya - the Mumbai home of the Mahatma from 1917 and 1934.

The Mani Bhavan is now an archive, home to rare memorabilia and at least 50,000 books.

"Gandhi inspired several coloured leaders like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. The latter travelled to India with his wife to study Gandhi's 'satyagraha'," Modi said.

Obama is no exception "because he has a vision for his people and champions the cause of equality," he said.

Modi feels that Gandhi's 21 years of work in South Africa from 1893 to 1914 is the secret behind his "appeal among the black leaders".

"Obama wants to spread the same message that Gandhi tried to propagate in South Africa. He fought against racism, discrimination, oppression and apartheid there. He launched a 'Satyagraha' or civil rights movement to mobilise opinion against segregation on the basis of colour," he said.

"Gandhi's crusade to end injustice in South Africa against the coloured natives and non-white population was a magnate inspiring several African visionaries," he added.

Obama's memoirs, "Dreams From a Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance" refers to Gandhi's crusade and philosophy.

Gandhi's principles of truth, non-violence and justice were Obama's inspiration as a young man. He was particularly moved by Gandhi's ability to stand up against injustice and for an equal social order, in which no race or creed would be looked down upon.

The president's early struggle with his racial identity was almost similar to Gandhi's racial travails in South Africa.

The Indian leader was thrown off a train at Pietemaritzbag when he refused to move to a third-class carriage from a first class one. He was also barred from entering hotels meant for the white people and told to remove his turban, which he refused to do.

Obama fell back on Gandhi when he tried to push his highly divisive health care reform this year.

The president said: "Gandhi helped those who thought they had no power realise that they had power and then helped people who had a lot of power realise that if all they're doing is oppressing people, then that's not a really good exercise of power."

"The influence of Gandhi on Obama makes him giving, charitable and thoughtful," according to Amelia Andrews, manager communications of Care-India, an American non-profit organisation that works among marginalised groups in the country.

"He has personal commitment to charity, poverty alleviation, mitigation of human suffering and fostering amity across the globe," Andrews told IANS.

Several migrants from Bihar in Narayana slum located in the capital are praying for the Obamas. They are the "indirect beneficiaries of Barack and his wife Michelle Obama's largest charitable donation in 2009 to CARE International in the US", she said.

The Obamas reportedly donated $172,050 to 37 charities, or about 6.5 percent of their adjusted gross income.

"We value Obama's leadership by example and we hope that the visit will be instrumental in bringing even bigger changes in the lives of the poorest of the poor people," CARE India Chief Executive Officer Muhammad Musa said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at





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