Mahatma Gandhi would have liked Indians to focus on the issue of climate change, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has said, stressing that the fight against this global challenge is much larger than just renewable energy and involves a virtual overhaul of the lifestyle.
In his remarks at an event to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi at Library of the US Congress, Mr Jaishankar said, "Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked at an event in United Nations what it would have been like had Mahatma Gandhi been born in a free country."
"The answer obviously is not a simple one because Gandhi-ji's outlook and thoughts spanned a very broad spectrum of human activity. But to the extent we can define it within sharper boundaries, they are best captured by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that the world seeks to achieve today," Mr Jaishankar said on Wednesday.
These goals range from ending poverty and hunger, securing education, health and employment, achieving gender and income equality, combating climate change and adopting an environment friendly lifestyle, adapting our consumption and production habits accordingly, and undertaking domestic and global partnerships for sustainable development, he said.
"In fact, each of these themes is reflected in Gandhi-ji's writings, advocacy and example. He was truly a figure ahead of his times and the relevance of his teachings has only grown in the modern era," he said.
Climate Change is one of the challenges that Gandhi-ji would have liked us to focus on, Mr Jaishankar said.
Through a mix of policy and advocacy, there has been fundamental shift in the way in which India approaches the issue of climate change, Mr Jaishankar said.
"At Paris, it was our mediation that brought together different constituencies and interests. The founding of the International Solar Alliance there led to a massive global adoption of solar technology. India itself has now built a renewable capacity of 120 GW, well on our way to reach the target of 175 GW by 2022," the minister said.
India's new ambition is to establish 450 GW of renewable capacity by 2030, he said.
"But as you all know, the fight against climate change is much larger than just renewable energy and greater energy efficiency. It involves a virtual overhaul of our lifestyle, whether it be smarter cities, mass transportation, sustainable agriculture or water usage. These are today integral elements of the Government''s larger strategy to combat climate change," he said.
Mr Jaishankar said the the Modi government got a resounding mandate from the people at the 2019 elections due to the effective delivery on the ground of socio-economic services and benefits that are so much in consonance with this approach.
"Indeed, the national campaigns of the Modi government capture the essence of the SDGs fully, whether it is Swachh Bharat (Clean India), Beti Padhao Beti Bachao (Educate and empower your daughter), Ayushman Bharat (Healthy India), Jan Dhan Yojana (Financial inclusion), Namami Gange (Clean rivers), Smart Cities, Digital India, Skill India and Start up India. They are today supported by ambitious initiatives to provide rural housing as well as universal access to electricity, cooking gas and water," he said.
"Since 2014, 99 million toilets have been built covering virtually the entire population. 15 million affordable rural homes were completed and 20 million more are underway. 80 million women received free cooking gas connections. 200 million micro credits were provided, 75 per cent to women. 360 million new bank accounts were added, receiving US dollar 60 billion as transfer of benefits," Mr Jaishankar said.
He said the next five years will not only see the existing initiative taken forward but supported by a raft of new campaigns, the latest being against single use plastics.
"When these programmes began, they too were received with the same condescension that Gandhi-ji's ideas were a century ago. The very idea of an Indian Prime Minister even talking of girls toilets in a national address was termed bizarre," he said.
"The elite forgot a famous saying of Gandhi-ji that cleanliness was next only to Godliness. Or that human rights were best delivered in their most practical form: access to sanitation, housing, health, education and livelihood. Clearly, the people of India had a different appreciation and convey that emphatically when the time came," he added.
Stating that US House Speaker Speaker Nancy Pelosi has shown commendable leadership on a similar set of priorities in the US, Mr Jaishankar said, "Your commitment towards clean governance and green development is widely recognised."
"Your presence here underlines the impact that the life and message of Mahatma Gandhi has had on your own endeavours from your early youth. You have rightly highlighted in the past the influence that he had on Martin Luther King, the iconic civil rights leader. It is this underlining of our shared values that demonstrates why the Indian-American community serves as such an effective bridge between us," he said.
"This event has surely contributed to greater awareness on both Mahatma Gandhi and the contemporary challenges that his ideas can help address," Mr Jaishankar said.