GOPIO International welcoming Mrs Ela Gandhi

By Sarita Boodhoo

Mrs Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, was in Mauritius as the Chief Guest Speaker to deliver an address in the context of the Fifth Annual Tagore Memorial Lecture at The Rabindranath Tagore Institute, in Ilot, D’Epinay, on Monday 9 May 2011. The theme of her address was Tagore and Gandhi: raising the spirit of responsible patriotism.

GOPIO International hosted a lunch in honour of Mrs Ela Gandhi, on Sunday 8 May at the Happy Rajah Restaurant in Quatre-Bornes. Some 60 guests were present, including the Minister of Public Infrastructure and Transport, Hon Anil Baichoo, the Minister of Arts and Culture, Hon Mukeshwar Choonee, the Indian High Commissioner in Mauritius, Shri Madhusudan Ganapathi, Judge B Domah, representatives of more than 30 socio-cultural and linguistic associations of Mauritius. The atmosphere was convivial and provided opportunities for interactions between Mrs Gandhi and the guests present.

The father of Mrs Ela Gandhi, Manilal Gandhi, himself the son of Mahatma Gandhi, grew up in South Africa and continued the numerous socio-political activities started by the Mahatma, then Mohan Chand Karam Chand Gandhi. Gandhiji left South Africa definitely in 1914, after spending 21 long years there, to devote himself entirely to the liberation of India from the shackles of the colonial master. Manilal Gandhi also looked after the Phoenix settlement in South Africa, which spreads over some 100 acres. Mrs Ela Gandhi grew up there and imbibed the Gandhian values. She formed the Gandhi Development Trust of South Africa and dedicates much of her time and effort to the furtherance of the aims and objectives of the trust. Mr Rada Nunkoo, GOPIO International Coordinator welcomed all the guests present and introduced Mrs Ela Gandhi to the gathering.

In his address, at the lunch in honour of Mrs Ela Gandhi, Hon Anil Bacchoo said, inter alia, that Mauritians go to India mainly to bathe in the rich and ancient cultural and spiritual heritage of India; to visit the land of the great Mahatma. Gandhi’s teachings, philosophy, values and writings have a deep and profound impact on the whole world. Mauritians, he said, carry in their hearts the teachings of Gandhiji. The Mauritian government also attaches great importance to Gandhiji and his teachings, as evidenced by setting up of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute (MGI), in a joint venture with the Indian government. The MGI is helping to propagate the knowledge and the cultural heritage of the sons and daughters of those brave indentured labourers who came from India to make of Mauritius a prosperous country.

In a short intervention Mrs Ela Gandhi said that she was glad to note that education is free in Mauritius, from pre-primary to tertiary level. This is a unique feat and should be made known to the whole world. Another fact that impressed her is free transport facilities to students and the elderly. She said that Gandhi’s values and teaching are manifest at various levels in Mauritius. She was struck by the remarkable unity and interactions that prevail between the various socio-linguistic and ethnic groups of Mauritius. The presence of the various constituents of Mauritian community at the luncheon was a vivid manifestation of that cordial and harmonious vitality that links the Mauritian people together.

Mr Mahendra Utchanah, President of GOPIO International, said that it was a great honour for Mauritius to host the granddaughter of the great Mahatmaji, who had touched this very soil in 1901, when his ship berthed in the Port-Louis harbour for a few weeks on its way from South Africa to India. That providential halt in Mauritius, in the course of which he had the opportunity to meet and address the Indians of Mauritius, was to have a profound impact on the lives and the future orientation of the descendants of the indentured labourers who were brought to Mauritius to work in the sugarcane plantations

Mr Utchanah gave an overview of GOPIO International’s efforts to create a common platform for the 25 million people constituting the Indian Diaspora, spread over a hundred countries around the world, and to give them a voice of dignity and enhance their self esteem. He said there existed two GOPIO groups at the international level, one mainly in the western world and operating from the USA, Canada and UK and catering mostly for the Non Resident Indians (NRIs), and the other of which he is the President, focuses mainly on the interests of PIOs of Africa, the Indian Ocean Region, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zeeland, South East Asia and the Francophone countries, including France, Reunion Island, Guadeloupe, Switzerland, Martinique, etc. Though the two groups operate separately, there has been sustained efforts to bring the two groups together, he said.

At the end of the luncheon, Dr Miss Suchita Ramdin expressed a vote of thanks and took the opportunity to invite the guests to attend the address of Mrs Ela Gandhi at the Rabindranath Tagore Institute scheduled for Monday 9th May 2011, in the context of the series of Annual Tagore Memorial Lectures organised by the MGI.

* Published in print edition on 13 May 2011

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