Lecture

Atonement in Politics; Perspectives from Mahatma Gandhi
Speaker – Gopal Gandhi
Gandhi Foundation
At Nehru centre London
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The Emperor Asoka ruled almost the entire Indian subcontinent from c. 268 to 232 BCE. He would have been forgotten in the reams of history and the scrolls of monarchs but for an act of atonement – public and widely disseminated through ‘edicts’ carved on stone. This self-chastisement was over a war of conquest he had waged on a kingdom – Kalinga – that neighboured his own, resulting in the death, by his own estimation, of 100,000 and the dislocation of 150,000. Asoka’s remorse –anusochana as he called it in the language he used – was influenced by the teachings of Gautama, the Buddha, specifically, that which related to the concept of dukkha (sorrow) and of ahimsa (non-violence).

War has continued to dominate human affairs, conflict to mark political relations between countries and within societies. But every now and then, an Asoka moment arises when leaders, strong enough morally to do so, speak in terms of their error. Gandhi and the self-owning of guilt are inextricably mixed together, with his term ‘Himalayan blunder’ having acquired the status of an aphorism.

This lecture will deal with the arcs of owning and acknowledging such mistakes, in other words, of atonement through history and with the scope of honest self-appraisal, self-criticism and self-correction in our fraught and fractious times.

Gopal Gandhi is a retired IAS officer and diplomat, who was the 22nd Governor of West Bengal serving from 2004 to 2009. He is the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. As a former IAS officer he served as Secretary to the President of India and as High Commissioner to South Africa and Sri Lanka, among other administrative and diplomatic posts

Chair: Lord Bhiku Parekh