At The Hindu: Two legends, two nations and one great ideology

CHENNAI: Two men from opposite sides of the world transformed their countries based on the same precepts: non-violent protest can spark change, not only within a nation, but around the world.

To mark 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr.’s pilgrimage to India, the U.S. Consulate General here inaugurated an exhibition at Sri Krishna Sweets on Monday, featuring the ideological exchange between India and the U.S. The “Journey Toward Freedom” exhibit focuses on two legendary leaders in particular: Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

He came to India in 1959, 11 years after Gandhi’s death, wanting to see the sights and the country wherefrom the Gandhian thought originated. India was the only country to which he said he would travel as a pilgrim, not a tourist.

“King did use what he learned here and he imparted those methods to the U.S.,” said Frederick Kaplan, U.S. Consul for Public Affairs.

Seeing that Gandhi was able to catalyse India’s freedom struggle from Britain, he used the same method to fight for the rights of black Americans in the U.S.

U.S. Consul General Andrew T.Simkin said “today, we can see some of those ideas influencing U.S. President Barack Obama.” He said Obama has not only read the writings of both thinkers, but has also demonstrated their struggles were not in vain.

“His election as President shows the fight by King Jr. has reached its height, a new historic landmark.”

The ideological exchange is something that continues today and will only continue to flourish, Mr. Kaplan said, as interactions between people of both nations have become more frequent.

Mr. Simkin said the exhibit is a reminder of the links between Indian and U.S. thinkers: “We take away the value of non-violent struggle for justice in a diverse society.”

This article appeared in The Hindu on March 17, 2009.

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