Ela Gandhi delivers the UNSW Gandhi Oration
Since 2008, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) has marked the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, India’s greatest leader and freedom fighter. The Gandhi Oration and dialogue began around the time of the attacks on Indian students, which prompted key Indian community leaders such as Australia-India Institute’s Neville Roach AO, the then Indian Consul General of Sydney Amit Gupta, and UNSW Vice Chancellor Professor Fred Hilmer to initiate this event in an attempt to bring harmony and sanctuary for Indians studying at Australian universities. A bust of Mahatma Gandhi was installed at the UNSW library lawn courtyard to commemorate the inaugural event that is held here annually.
In 2015, special guest Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi was invited to deliver the Gandhi Oration. Ms Gandhi is a prominent figure in her own right, rising to a successful political career with the African National Congress over ten years (1994-2004), in a period that witnessed the freedom and political rise of Nelson Mandela.
At the oration, Ms Gandhi spoke about her grandfather Mahatma Gandhi, and about Nelson Mandela and the change he underwent in prison, turning to Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, his role as South Africa’s President of a new free South Africa, and the peaceful end of apartheid. Speaking of modern times and recent global terrorist events and trouble spots, Ms Gandhi drew parallels to the Mahatma’s objectives of compromise instead of confrontation to achieve results. She likened Gandhiji’s approach of a peaceful, harmonious approach to Winston Churchill’s writings as a war journalist, which had a distinctly opposite flavour, that of fighting a war to achieve victory. While Gandhiji’s approach was instrumental in winning India’s freedom, Churchill was voted out of office once World War II ended.
Ms Gandhi spoke about the private side of Mahatma Gandhi, a man who was never competitive, did not play sport, but had a football team he supported. “Sport brings nations and national pride together. (But) the apartheid regime isolated South Africa both economically, culturally and also in sporting ties,” she stated. Her grandfather has a simple life without indulgences; his attitude to life was simply, ‘Do not consume more than what you need’. Ms Gandhi’s oration was articulate and inspirational, and she commented and answered questions on how her grandfather’s principles might apply in society today, as well as how to address problems such as domestic violence with fluency.
The dialogue was well attended with Neville Roach AO, Patron of the UNSW node of the AII, and UNSW Vice Chancellor Professor Fred Hilmer, among other renowned guests. Ms Ela Gandhi’s contribution to politics and society is widely recognised through the 2002 Community of Christ International Peace Award, amongst others. In 2007, she was conferred the Padma Bhushan Award from the Government of India, and in 2014 she received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, the highest honour for overseas Indians conferred by the President of India