Published October 9, 2003
The grandson of Mahatma Gandhi spoke at Whitman College’s Cordiner Hall on Sunday, Oct. 5, at 7:30 p.m. There was no admission charge to hear this historian, economist, and statesman speak on “American Values, World Peace, and the Dynamics of Intervention.” The keynote speaker for Walla Walla’s Freedom from Discrimination Month 2003 was described fantastically by avid fans, but labeled as “non-controversial,” by several Walla Walla College students who attended.
Mahatma Gandhi is a historical figure that many people admire. When WWC received word that the Walla Walla Race Unity Coalition was bringing Gandhi’s grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi, to town, advertisements for the event shot up all over campus.
Born in New Delhi, India, Rajmohan Gandhi was 13 when his grandfather was assassinated by Hindy extremists. Rajmohan has had a long and distinguished career as an author, newspaper editor, member of the Indian Senate, and a leader of the Indian Delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva. He is currently a Visiting Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Many students and local residents took the opportunity to see if Gandhi’s legend lives on in his successive generations. By the time this distinguished gray-haired gentleman took the podium, Whitman College’s Cordiner Hall was filled to capacity. The audience covered the whole age spectrum from a young man wearing a “TKE Rush ‘03’ T-shirt, to the retirees adjusting their hearing aids.
Lately, there have been few foreigners of note that have had any kind words for the USA. Though it was clear that Mr. Gandhi was not a supporter of present American Middle East policy-not a single harsh statement was heard during the entire lecture. Instead, he promoted justice as the guiding principle to bridging the chasm between America and the Muslim world. We must listen, he urged, to what our enemies are telling us. Rajmohan spoke generously and with polite criticism of America, a county without bloodlines. You don’t have to be a member of a particular race or ethnic group to be an America, he told us; you’re an American just because you live here. Even though Rajmohan Gandhi was interpreted as a “nice-man” and a fairly charismatic speaker, Andrew Hoehn, sophomore English, thought that, “he could have made an even stronger statement.”
However, the lecture ended with a respectful standing ovation, followed by more than a half hour of questions from the audience. In his final comment, Mr. Gandhi suggested that in America, we could enjoy a unique and positive form of nationalism, one that includes all races, religions, and national origins. It seems hard to argue with that no matter who you’re related to.