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'If it wasn't for Gandhi, there would be no Obama'

Last updated on: February 26, 2009 03:29 IST

Congressman John Lewis, a close friend and associate of the late Martin Luther King Jr,  who visited India last month as part of a delegation that traced King's trip to India 50 years ago, has said he's inspired by Gandhi's message and philosophy of satyagraha and non-violent resistance that is still alive and well in India.

In an interaction with journalists at the Foreign Press Center inWashington, Lewis, who marched with King in Selma, Alabama in the '60s said, "As I said there in India as we traveled, if it hadn't been for Gandhi, hadn't been for Martin Luther King Jr, there would be no Barack Obama."

He said, "The teachings of Gandhi, the philosophy of passive resistance and nonviolence, and also taught by Martin Luther King, Jr, inspired hundreds and thousands and millions of citizens in America, and helped to free and liberate not just a people, but a nation."

Lewis said he found it extremely "gratifying, really to go and travel abroad and go to New Delhi and Mumbai and other parts of India, and see people who are still adhering to the philosophy and to the discipline of nonviolence, the message of passive resistance, the message of peace, the message of love, the message of nonviolence."

The lawmaker, said that many of the people in India that the delegation came in contact with, "the young people, people in government, really admire what Dr King did in the United States after being inspired by Gandhi, and they are very hopeful about the new President and his Administration."

Lewis said that one of the things he's been thinking about since returning from India, was to have a kind of civil rights exchange program through fellowships between young Indian and Americans who could than become like Peace Corps volunteers and travel the world spreading the message of Gandhi and Dr King's philosophy of satyagraha, passive resistance and civil rights.

"Young people from India could come to America to study the way of Martin Luther King Jr, to study the civil rights movement, and having young people from America go to India to study the way of Gandhi and pass it on to generation and generation, and you then create a sea of humanity all over the world, not just in India, not just in America, but in the other parts of Asia, and Europe and in Central and South America."

Asked what he felt is now the biggest priority for the American Civil Rights Movement to fulfill Martin Luther King Jr's dream, Lewis said, "If you're going to see meaningful changes in the days, months, and years to come in America, it's not just going to be about civil rights, but more about human rights."

He argued that it is imperative that "there must be a coalition, similar to the coalition of the '60s, a coalition of conscience. In a real sense, we must pick up where Martin Luther King Jr, and (the late Senator) Robert Kennedy left off in 1968."

Lewis recalled that at the time King was assassinated in April 1968, "he was organizing something called the Poor People's Campaign, where he was trying to bring to Washington to put on the American agenda, the concerns and needs of all segments of the American society. We have to find a way to say to those of us in Congress, and say to the new Administration, and say to our business leaders, our religious leaders, the media, and people in the academic community, that we're all in this thing together and we got to look out for each other."

"That in a sense, we're one America, we're one people, we're one family, we're one house, the American family, the American home," he said, and added: "We all live this world together."

Returning to his visit to India last month, Lewis said, "That's what I tried to say in India during the past week--that we got to create a society at peace with itself, here in America and around the world--and that we got to spend our limited resources on taking care of those that are in need."

Asked about the election of former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele as the first African American head of the Republican Party, and if this would lead to the GOP--which some say in now being held hostage by its conservative, xenophobic right-wing led by the likes of radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh--becoming more inclusive and attracting African American and Asian Americans, Lewis dismissed any such possibility.

"Michael Steele is going to have a very difficult road to hoe and a difficult job to bring African Americans to the fore," he predicted. "Simply because a person is black and head of a party, it doesn't mean that a great majority of blacks, African Americans, are going to follow him."

Lewis also pointed out that when Steele ran for the US Senate in Maryland, "the great majority of Black America in Maryland did not vote for him."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC