To celebrate Gandhiji’s 150th birth anniversary on 2 October 2019, the Government of India launched a two-year, global celebration in 2018. The Portuguese Prime Minister H.E. António Costa is the only foreign Head of Government in the Executive Committee set up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to oversee these global celebrations.
Attending the Committee meeting on 19 December 2019 in New Delhi, Prime Minister António Costa said in his speech: “The ‘Great Soul’ taught us that courage transformed into love and peace can defeat fear. In the world of today we really do need to be reminded of this powerful lesson.
..We will not be merely honouring a great man, but also carrying his ideas forward into a better future, built upon hope and dignity for all.” He also announced the launch of an annual Gandhi Citizenship Education Prize in Portugal to honour Gandhiji’s inspirational teachings.
The Embassy of India in Lisbon, with the help of Portuguese authorities, and the Indian diaspora, has organized numerous activities over the last two years to pay tribute to this towering force of morality. They began on 2 October 2018 when the Terreiro do Paço lit up with images of Gandhi, a 3-day blood donation camp was organised by the Hindu Community of Portugal, and eminent Portuguese personalities spoke about how Gandhiji had inspired them.
In 2019, Portugal became the first country in the world other than India, to release a Gandhi stamp on Khadi, the natural fibre that Gandhiji wore and spun on his charkha (spinning wheel). The Municipality of Covilhã named a road as Rua Mahatma Gandhi and a bust of the great visionary was unveiled in Madeira, which Gandhiji visited in 1906. To propagate Gandhiji’s message of protecting the environment, we planted 150 trees, held a Cycle Rally and distributed Indian solar lamps to Portuguese school children. As the Mahatma said: “if we are to reach real peace in this world (...) we shall have to begin with children”, Portuguese school children were told about how an ordinary boy transformed himself into a “Mahatma” and books and comics on Gandhiji’s life were sent to 50 Portuguese schools across the country. For older students, a Gandhi Exhibition was held at the University of Coimbra and a week-long Festival of Gandhi was organised by Casa da India.
The Covid-19 pandemic has not dented the enthusiasm. A ‘Gandhi Katha’ was held to learn how we could embrace Gandhiji’s wisdom and wellness practices to stay safe from Covid-19. The grand finale of these two-year celebrations will be the installation of Mahatma Gandhi’s bust in the “Jardim dos Ilustres” in Albufeira, with the kind support of the Albufeira Municipality. In Lisbon, the Hindu Community will host a blood donation camp while the Centre for Indian Studies in the University of Lisbon will organise a lecture on “Gandhi and Contemporary World Post-Covid”.
It is important to remember and honour this saint or else the golden words spoken by Albert Einstein about Gandhiji may well come true: “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”