The list is long, diverse and awe-inspiring. Here’s what the world’s greatest leaders and thinkers of the 20th century had to say about Mahatma Gandhi. Read on.
While Winston Churchill, the man who famously dismissed Gandhi as a “half naked fakir,” may have been no fan of the Father of our Nation, Indians can take great pride in the fact that some of the most well-known personalities of the 20th and 21st centuries cite the Mahatma as their role model.
1. Barack Obama
In 2009, when Barack Obama was visiting Wakefield High School in the US, a ninth grader asked the would-be President: “If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?” Obama chuckled and answered: “Well, dead or alive, that’s a pretty big list. You know, I think that it might be Gandhi, who is a real hero of mine.”
2. Aung San Suu Kyi
Nobel Peace Prize winner and prominent Burmese freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi, while addressing students at Columbia University in New York in 2012, said Gandhi had been one of the major influences in her life and she urged the students to read his works.
3. Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela, great leader of the South African people and another giant of the 20th century anti-colonial struggle, often cited Mahatma Gandhi as one of his greatest teachers: “Gandhi’s ideas have played a vital role in South Africa’s transformation and with the help of Gandhi’s teaching, apartheid has been overcome.”
4. HH Dalai Lama
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, monk and exiled leader of the Tibetan people, has always said he is a follower of Mahatma Gandhi. Both the leaders were representatives of the idea that political change must be secondary to spiritual evolution. “I have the greatest admiration for Mahatma Gandhi. He was a great human being with a deep understanding of human nature. His life has inspired me,” said the Dalai Lama.
5. John Lennon
British musician and member of the revolutionary band, The Beatles, John Lennon referred to Gandhi as an influence on his music. John and his wife Yoko Ono protested for non-violent interactions in the world, and for the end of the Vietnam War.
6. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Christ gave us the goals and Mahatma Gandhi the tactics,” said Martin Luther King Jr., the beloved civil rights leader in the United States of America, who adopted non-violence as the weapon of choice to help millions of African Americans fight for their rights.
7. Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein and Gandhi were big admirers of each other and exchanged letters frequently. Einstein called Gandhi “a role model for the generations to come” in a letter, writing about him. “I believe that Gandhi’s views were the most enlightened of all the political men in our time,” he said.
8. Al Gore
Former US Vice-President and environmentalist Al Gore acknowledges Gandhi’s influence on him, especially in his fight against global warming: “Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of satyagraha can be translated to mean truth force. It is this truth force which can help us to fight this battle honestly and with people’s participation.”
9. Steve Jobs
When Steve Jobs started his second innings at Apple in the year 1997, he stood before a giant portrait of Mahatma Gandhi and said these words before a packed audience: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers…because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” It is believed that Mahatma Gandhi inspired these words.
10. Rabindranath Tagore
Although Rabindranath Tagore and Gandhi had some sharp differences, the former was the first notable contemporary to refer to the latter as Mahatma. “Mahatma Gandhi came and stood at the door of India’s destitute millions…who else has so unreservedly accepted the vast masses of the Indian people as his flesh and blood…Truth awakened Truth,” he said.
11. Pearl S. Buck
Noted American writer and novelist, Pearl S. Buck, had this to say after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi: “He was right, he knew he was right, we all knew he was right. The man who killed him knew he was right. However long the follies of the violent continue, they but prove that Gandhi was right. ‘Resist to the very end’, he said, ‘but without violence’. Of violence the world is sick. Oh, India, dare to be worthy of your Gandhi.”
12. U Thant
The third Secretary General of the United Nations, U Thant: “Many of his principles have universal application and eternal validity, and I hope the passing years will show that his faith in the efficacy of nonviolent pressure as an agent for peaceful change is as justified today all over the world as it was in his time in India.”
13. Will Durant
American historian, Will Durant, best known for writing The Story of Civilization, spoke some of the most inspirational words ever about the Mahatma: “Not since Buddha has India so revered any man. Not since St. Francis of Assissi has any life known to history been so marked by gentleness, disinterestedness, simplicity of soul and forgiveness of enemies. We have the astonishing phenomenon of a revolution led by a saint.”
14. Richard Attenborough
Film director and producer Lord Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi swept the Oscars in 1983. Speaking of his inspiration, he said: “When asked what attribute he most admired in human nature, Mahatma Gandhi replied, simply and immediately, ‘Courage’. ‘Nonviolence’, he said, ‘is not to be used ever as the shield of the coward. It is the weapon of the brave.”
15. Ho Chi Minh
Vietnamese communist revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh, was also an admirer of Gandhi: “I and others may be revolutionaries but we are disciples of Mahatma Gandhi, directly or indirectly, nothing more nothing less,” he said.
16. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan
Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as the ‘Frontier Gandhi’, was a political and spiritual leader known for his belief in non-violence and the methods of opposition to the British adopted by Mahatma Gandhi. The two remained close friends and worked with each other right up to 1947.
17. Cesar Chavez
Gandhi had a great effect on Mexican-American labor movement and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez and his advocacy for Latino farm workers. Chavez modeled many of his tactics, like boycotts and huger strikes, on Gandhi’s methods. “Not only did he talk about non-violence, he showed how non-violence works for justice and liberation,” said Chavez.
18. Louis Fischer
Famous Jewish-American journalist Louis Fischer who penned The Life of Mahatma Gandhi, inspiration for Attenborough’s award-winning film Gandhi, said on Gandhi’s assassination: “Just an old man in a loin cloth in distant India. Yet when he died, humanity wept.”
19. Haile Selassie I
Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I, was a Gandhi admirer. “Mahatma Gandhi will always be remembered as long as free men and those who love freedom and justice live,” he said.
20. George Bernard Shaw
And finally, no one of course could say it better than Nobel-prize-winning Irish playwright and passionate socialist, George Bernard Shaw: “Impressions of Gandhi? You might well ask for someone’s impression of the Himalayas.”