Speaker Nancy Pelosi

U.S. House of Representatives

Pelosi Remarks at Embassy of India MLK and Gandhi Reception

October 3, 2019
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke at a reception held by the Embassy of India at the Library of Congress, marking the 150 birthday of Mahatma Ghandi and celebrating 90 years of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.  Below are the Speaker’s remarks:

Speaker Pelosi. Good evening, everyone.

This is very personal, for a lot of reasons.  It is an honor to be here with each and every one of you.

When I didn’t see you announcing the first presentation, I thought I might have to get up here and say: ‘Vaishnav Jan Te’, words to that effect.  But, wasn’t that beautiful from East Texas?  I mean it was so beautiful.

[Applause]

Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for the invitation to be here this evening.

And an honor to be here with you, Mr. Minister, my friend.  As – when he was former Ambassador, I learned a lot from him.  Congratulations to you on your new position. 

And, as was mentioned by the Ambassador earlier, our support in Congress has always been bipartisan.  So, I’m so honored that the former Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, is here.

[Applause]

Here is Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.

[Applause]

And from New York, Jim Crowley, my good colleague.  And, we had the honor of traveling with President Obama to India.  We were there for Republic Day.  It was a fabulous trip, a lot of yoga.  It was great.

[Laughter]

Any other Members here that I didn’t see?  Please wave.

We are out of session, but we are not without admiration for India and the important occasion this is.  And, an honor to have it at the Library of Congress.

The distinguished service of the Minister and the Ambassador make it easy for us to learn some more, every day. 

It’s a pleasure to be with all of you, as we observe the 150th birthday of Mahatma Ghandi at the same time we celebrate the 90th birthday of someone who learned so much from him, from a distance, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.    

The legacies of these two extraordinary men have forever shaped our nations and changed the course of history and both of our countries, and, indeed, in the world.

The relationship between the United States and India is a shining example of mutual cooperation, prosperity and peace, and respect.  As the world’s largest democracies – yours the largest, ours the oldest – we have been partners in the fight to expand justice and ensure the blessings of liberty for all.

In America, generations of Americans of Indian descent have enriched our communities and our democracy with their beautiful culture and rich traditions, not to mention their entrepreneurship imbuing our economy.

Our Caucus – our government has been strengthened by the leadership of Indian American Members of Congress: Senator Kamala Harris; Representative Ami Bera, who was on our trip with President Obama; Representative Pramila Jayapal, Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, who is the lead author on infrastructure resolutions; and Representative Ro Khanna.

About Ro Khanna – I could talk about all of them, but Ro particularly wanted me to know this story.  Ro Khanna’s grandfather, who’s last name is Amarnath Vidyalankar – was a champion for freedom who spent years in prison alongside Gandhi in the quest for Indian independence.

Today, Rep. Khanna proudly honors his family’s legacy of service and sacrifice in his work and leadership to build a better future for all, but this connection is a direct one to Mahatma Ghandi.

As Members of Congress, we have been privileged to lead official visits, go on official visits to India, meet with its leaders and engage with its citizens to strengthen the bonds of our friendship, between our Leadership, but also among our people.

Seeing the joy and vibrancy of the Indian people, especially the children, has always been an inspiration.  Our 2017 trip was critical to advancing strong economic ties, reaffirming our shared commitment to tackling the climate crisis and securing peace in the region and around the world.  And in New Delhi in 2008, it was an honor to place a wreath at the Raj Ghat memorial, located on the site of Gandhi’s cremation.

Gandhi's story of peaceful struggle to free the people of India had a meaningful impact on the lives of many Americans.  For me, as Ambassador and Minister – no one had referenced – this is very personal for me – I had always, since my childhood, carried India in my heart, largely because of Mahatma Gandhi.  When I was a little girl –

[Applause]

This is a very dignified occasion, but I will tell you about it.   When I was a little girl, I went into school one day and I had on a hat and one of the big tall nuns – I was a little girl – said, ‘Who do you think you are?  Mahatma Gandhi, with that hat?’ 

I didn’t know who Mahatma Gandhi was, but I wasn’t going to let on to her that I did not know.  So, I immediately went to the library after school and, and at that time, even like – that was in the 50s, the library had books on Mahatma Gandhi for children.  Already, already had books for children on him. 

So, that’s when I started absorbing everything I could and more, shall we say, bigger books, smaller print.  People were always saying, ‘You always know you have every book out at the library on Gandhi,’ such an inspiration.

But it is so – around that same time, Martin Luther King, whose birthday we celebrate, 90th, today, and Coretta Scott visited, visited India.  And, how much we draw upon India and who we are. 

As you probably know, and I say, again, probably mispronouncing, Satyagraha.  That word has two meanings in Sanskrit: non-violence and insistence on the truth.  And isn’t that exactly what [Dr. King] took from India?  Non-violent, insistent on the truth, learning from the experience that affects the strength of that message, not just the example, but the strength of that message. 

But Mahatma Gandhi, of course, made all the difference in the world in our country, so that is a debt that we owe to India for that inspiration.  More than an inspiration, that strength of message to make a difference in our own country.

Though he knew it would mean sacrifice and struggle, Dr. King would insist on the truth in the heart of our nation, that all – that we are all created equal and that to do so – insisting on the truth, non-violently.  Dr. King insisted on the truth at lunch counters, marches and, like Gandhi, from jailhouse cells.  He insisted on the truth of his dream of equality and opportunity for all, regardless of race, gender or creed.

As we face the great injustices of war, inequality, oppression and tyranny, we all have an obligation to continue to answer Dr. King and Gandhi’s insistence on the truth, non-violently, with action. 

We are called to act to give voice to the millions of refugees fleeing violence and natural disaster and ensure that we honor the dignity and worth of every person: man, woman and child.

I am especially grateful, as I have expressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as well.  Mr. Ambassador, Mr. Minister – then, he was Ambassador – how much we all, so many of us, appreciate the hospitality that India extends to his Holiness the Dalai Lama and –

[Applause]

– when I mention that to the Prime Minister and the previous Prime Minister, they always say, ‘No need to thank us.  That’s who we are.’  A beautiful, beautiful respect for the dignity and worth of every person.

The Minister and the Ambassador, the Minister especially, talked about the climate crisis and the commitment that the Prime Minister Modi has to that.  And, I was there in Paris and saw that agreement come together and, you will agree, Mr. Minister, it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t easy, but was done.  

And when the Prime Minister came to Congress, a Joint Session of Congress, the Ambassador was there when we met with him, the Leadership met with him before the speech, and I mentioned about the climate crisis and that.  Thank you, for your leadership.

He talked about Mahatma Gandhi and the environment, remember?  He told us about with water, with conservation or whatever it is, Gandhi understood the respect we had to have for nature all that long time ago.  So, as Yuka said, what did you say growing up?  ‘What would Gandhi do now?’

He would be an leader in this important challenge to God’s creation, our planet.  We are called to act to fight the climate crisis, which is the existential threat of our time, jeopardizing the health, security and future of our children and grandchildren.  We are called to act to stand firm against malign actors seeking to destabilize our democracies and our free and fair elections. 

At the same time, at this time of challenge and opportunity, we must act, drawing our strength and inspiration from Dr. King and Gandhi’s example.

Just as the torch passed from Gandhi to Dr. King, the torch now belongs to all of us.  150 years after Gandhi’s birth and 90 years after Dr. King was born, we must now pass the torch to the millions of young and courageous people across the globe who are blazing a trail toward a more just and equal world for all.  It is our responsibility to support them and empower them in this critical mission to build a future worthy of Dr. King.  Worthy of a legacy of Mahatma Gandhi.

So it is, for our colleagues – and I know I speak bipartisanly for our colleagues, House and Senate, who aren’t here, because we are out of session, that observing Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birthday, at the same time as we observe Martin Luther King’s birthday, on the campus of the U.S. Capitol, is for us, a thrilling experience. 

We’re out of session, but I saw the Ambassador, who told me about this.  No matter where I am, no matter what it is, because of that little girl in that school, learning about Mahatma Gandhi, it will be a thrill of my life to be there to honor the memory and the legacy, the leadership, the strength and the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi.

Thank you all very much.