SPEECH BY MEERA GANDHI
THE SALUTE TO DEMOCRACY DINNER, FERI, OCTOBER 18, 2004
Toast to Ambassador Galbraith’s 96th birthday.
Distinguished Ambassador Galbraith, beloved friend of India. Speaking for
my native country I salute you on the occasion of your 96th birthday.
President John F. Kennedy chose you to represent his government from 1961
– 63 knowing the profound importance of the relationship between our
countries. India’s democracy was only 14 years old but it was already a major
force of conscience and hope particularly among the Third World nations of
the world. You quickly won the respect of our founding Prime Minister,
Jawarharlal Nehru, with whom you established a relationship of friendship
and candid communication. Among the high lights of your tenure as
Ambassador was the visit to India of America’s First Lady, Jacqueline
Kennedy. Her visit was an extraordinary occasion, never forgotten by India
and an enduring page in the book of friendship between our countries. Your
book, Ambassador’s report: A Personal Account of The Kennedy Years is a
wonderful statement of your public service and it continues to be widely read.
It is a record of the issues that confronted our countries as well as penetrating
insights into the politics and political leaders of that era. On every page , as
on the pages of the 47 other books that you have written, shines the brilliance
and wit as well as wisdom of John Kenneth Galbraith.
Two decades after your departure, I was an economics Honours student and
student Body President at the University of Delhi. Your influence remained
Text books were the corner stone of the economics curriculum. Your writing
did much to shape my understanding of the world, not only of economics but
also the importance of ideals and principles in the world we seek to create.
The war in Vietnam was taking on new dimensions during your tenure as
Ambassador in India. Your letters to President Kennedy and your reports to
the State Department – even as we read them today- remind us how clearly
you saw the problem and how wisely you advised your government. You
have understood the brutality of war as well as any leader of your times.
Civilized life you have observed, “is a great white tower celebrating human
achievements, but at the top there is permanently a large dark cloud. Human
progress is dominated by unimaginable cruelty and death. Civilization has
made great strides over the centuries in science, healthcare , and the arts but
economic well – being has also given a privileged position to the
development of weapon threats and the reality of war… “ The brutality of the
20th century hangs like a shadow over the beginning of this new century as
we recall your paradoxical observation that “ mass slaughter has become the
ultimate civilized achievement.”
Your counsel to young people and to future leaders was threefold- To work
hard, to maintain integrity and to befriend all nations. Ambassador Galbraith
you have influenced many lives, including my own- and my children’s as well
and I teach them that every grain of sand starts out as a rock from somewhere
but ends up as a particle on the beach. Therefore, both success and failure
can be triumphant and lead us to other stepping stones and a successful life.
We in India are honored to participate in this occasion to salute John Kenneth
Galbraith. An excellent economist, an outstanding public servant and a
prolific author, but also a good friend and an honorable and decent man
whose lifetime commitment to democracy and liberal values of humanity
show us a way to a better world that all of us seek to create. We remember
this especially here tonight.
In closing may I quote an ancient Sanskrit shlokha-
Lokaha, Samasthaha, Sukino Bhavantu- Which means “May all Beings
Happy Birthday Ambassador Galbraith - We wish you and your family much