Report from:
International Conference on Gandhi, Disarmament and Development

October 4-6, 2013

Indore, Madhya Pradesh, India

By Dave Webb

See also the conference website:
Thanks to Manisha Gaur and Dr.S.M.Anas Iqbal for some of the p

India is a truly amazing country - life comes at you from every angle and all speeds. Indore is the largest city of the state of Madhya Pradesh and is described as the commercial capital of the state. Indore is situated some 190 km west of Bhopal, the state capital with a population of over 2 million.

Central Indore is the financial capital of the Madhya Pradesh and property there is among the most expensive in the state. There is a large student population and a number of important colleges and universities in Indore - it is the only city in India to house both an Indian Institute of Technology and an Indian Institute of Management.

I was met at the airport by Rao and my host Manohar Dev who is an engineer and vice chair of the Indian Red Cross Society in Madhya Pradesh. I was so well looked after during my stay and I am very grateful to Mr and Mrs Dev for making me so comfortable and ensuring I enjoyed so many different types of wonderful food and the occasional glass of Scotch! It was also a great opportunity to meet so many people active in the peace movement in the region. But more of this later ...

The conference was initiated by Global Network Board member J Narayana Rao who works from Nagpur but wisely thought that Indore could host a bigger, international event. He managed to help put together an amazing organising committee consisting of:

Anand Mohan Mathur (Sr. Advocate and Ex Advocate General, Madhya Pradesh);
Dr. Narendra P. Jain (Former Indian Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Former Ambassador to UN, EU, Belgium, Nepal & Mexico);
Prof. A. A. Abbasi (Ex Vice Chancellor, Indore University);
Dr Savita Inamdar (Ex Chairperson, M.P. Mahila Ayog);
Rameshwar Patel (Ex Minister, Madhya Pradesh).

The conference was also organised in collaboration with a number of local and regional organisations, including:

  • All India Peace & Solidarity Organisation (AIPSO), M.P.
  • Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust, Indore
  • Devi Ahilya Vishwa Vidyalaya, Indore
  • Gandhi Peace Foundation New Delhi
  • Centre for Cultural, Educational, Economic & Social Studies, Nagpur
  • National Youth Project, New Delhi
  • Antar Bharti, Pune
  • Harmony Foundation, Indore
  • Abhyas Mandal, Indore (Citizens Forum)
  • Gandhi Mazdoor Memorial Trust, Indore

The programme was expansive and covered many issues over 3 days. There were two languages used - English and Hindi and, although some presentations were given in both languages there were many in Hindi that unfortunately I could not follow. However, not everyone in the audience could follow English easily so it was important that the should not feel frustrated by the proceedings. It was a great audience with many young people from local schools and colleges.

He is a brief rundown of the sessions over the three day period:

Day 1 - October 4, 2013

9.00 – 10.00 am

Registration of Delegates

10.00 – 12.00 am

Inaugural Session

12.15 – 1.30 pm

Session 1: “Relevance of Gandhi in the 21st Century”

1.30 – 2.15 pm

Lunch Break

2.15 – 5.00 pm

Session 1: Continued

5.00 – 5.30 pm

Tea Break

5.30 – 7.00 pm

Cultural Programme

These are some papers of interest and relevance to the Sessions of Day 1:

  • Vishnu Bhagwat spoke on "The Economic Ideology of Mahatma Gandhi". Former Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Bhagwat was a special guest of honour at the conference and gave several extended presentations. He is a former Admiral and chief of the naval staff of India, appointed on 30th September 1996 and then fired on 30th December 1998, two days after he took over as chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Committee. The sacking was a consequence of the former Admiral's refusal to accept the government's appointment of Vice-Admiral Harinder Singh as deputy chief of the naval staff. A relevant 2010 paper of his published by Global Research is entitled "Globalization and Militarization: The Root Causes of the Worldwide War against Humanty".

  • Niloufer Bhagwat (wife of the above) also presented an excellent paper in Session 1 on "The Political Relevance and Global Impact of Mahatma Gandhi" which was later published on the web by "My Catbird Seat". Niloufer is a lawyer, Professor of Comparative Constitutional Law at University of Mumbai, Vice President of the Indian Lawyers Association and an International Tribunal Judge. She is also, like her husband, a passionate and powerful speaker.

The cultural event was a wonderful programme of music and dance performed by performers such as Suhasini Maheshwari (performing the Saraswati Vandana Mantra, recitfor knowledge and wisdom), Ms Lily Dawar, Deepraj (monologue on Gandhi), Dr Yadav (Mandolin Vadan recital); Urvi Dalal, Noopur Soneja and Naveen Ghodapkar (Singing "Vidhvansha ki Kalpana"). There were also group performances from students of Christian Eminent (performing a tabloid on Gandhi); students of Manovriddhi,; Kasturba Gram Rural Institute; Choitram College of Nursing and Barali Development Institute.

Day 2 - October 5, 2013

10.00 – 12.00 am

Session 2: “People Oriented Development and Corporate Oriented Development”

12.00 – 2.00 pm

Session 3: “Disarmament, Abolition of Nuclear Weapons and Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space”

2.00 – 2.45 pm

Lunch Break

2.45 – 4.30 pm

Session 4: “Disarmament, Reduction of Global Military Expenditure”

4.30 – 5.30 pm

Group Discussion

The main contribution from Global Network members (i.e. Rao and me) was on Day 2 during the session 3 on "Disarmament, Abolition of Nuclear Weapons and the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space". Other speakers on the panel were:

G. Parthasarthy, former Indian Ambassador to Myanmar (1992-95); High Commissioner of India to Australia (1995-98); High Commissioner to Pakistan (1998-2000) and High Commissioner to Cyprus (1990-92). He later became spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office and is now a Visiting Professor in the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi (see his blog), a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and a member of the Executive Committee of the Centre for Air Power Studies in New Delhi. He is regarded as a "hawk" when it comes to matters of defence and policies on Pakistan and terrorism. He addressed the conference in Hindi.
Dr Ajay Lele, from the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Delhi. Whose expertise is in Weapons of Mass Destructions with a major emphasis on Biological Weapons, Space and National Security and Non Military Threats. His recent publications include Asian Space Race: Rhetoric or Reality? (published by Springer, 2013) and Strategic Technologies for the Military: Breaking New Frontiers (a SAGE Publication, 2009). Unfortunately his presentation was also in Hindi so I cannot comment further but it was well received by the audience!
N.D. Jayaprakash, political activist, Joint Secretary of the Delhi Science Forum, Member of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP) and author of "The Tragic Fate of Rajiv Gandhi's 'Action Plan'" which was published in Counter Punch in June 2013. He is also Co-Convener of the Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (BGPSSS) – a coalition of organizations supporting the cause of the Bhopal gas victims. He can be reached at:
Bernie Meyer, long-time peace activist who, dressed in traditional dhoti with walking stick, brings the legendary Mahatma Gandhi to life. Bernie began portraying Gandhi in the US in February 2002 and was first invited to India in 2004, where he is now known as "the American Gandhi.” He continues to bring Gandhi to the issues and needs of the day, Gandhi shows us the way he says - we can 'be the change' we want.
  Manasi Mahanty, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Dept. of Political Science, University of Hyderabad.



In addition:

  • Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's speech on "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons" to the UN General Assembly in June 1988 was often referred to, it contains a quote from Mahatma Gandhi "The moral to be legitimately drawn from the supreme tragedy of the bomb is that it will not be destroyed by counter bombs, even as, violence cannot be destroyed by counter- violence. Mankind has to get out of violence only through non-violence" and also a statement that has become even more important: "the new structure of international relations to sustain a world beyond nuclear weapons will have to be based on the principles of coexistence, the non-use of force, non-intervention in the internal affairs on other countries, and the right of every state to pursue its own path of development."

  • A paper on US missile defence called "A Threat to Nuclear Disarmament" by GN member Vladimir Radyuhin, was also circulated although Vladimir was not present (at least I didn't see him). The paper has this interesting quote from Professor Alexander Radchuk, adviser to the Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, "Whereas in the 20th century nuclear weapons were a privilege of the powerful and technologically advanced nations, in the 21st century the opposite tendency is emerging: nuclear weapons attract countries that want to compensate for their technological weaknesses" - this is certainly the case for the UK! The paper also ends on a positive note - suggesting that there is a good relationship and understanding between the US and Russian leaders.

  • Iraklis Tsavdaridis, the Executive Secretary of the World Peace Council, presented an important paper on the "Abolition of Multilateral Military Bases and Military Alliances";

  • Ogata Yasup, co-chair of the World Conference Against A&H Bombs and vice-chair of the Executive Committee of the Japanese Communist party presented a paper on "Mahatma Gandhi and Japan - An Approach Towards East Asian Peace";

  • Another paper by Vishnu Bhagwat on "The Weaponization of Space: Corporate Driven Military Unleashes Preemptive Wars" was not presented at the conference but is well worth reading in its entirety.

Day 3 - October 6, 2013

10.00 – 11.30 am

Session 5: “Asian Union for Peace and Development”

11.30 – 1.30 pm

Valedictory Session

1.30 pm


This final session on an Asian Union for Peace and Development was very interesting there were some excellent papers and I learnt a lot about ASEAN and SAARC and the Asia Cooperation Dialogue.

The Valedictory session gave an opportunity for some of the speakers to give their impressions of the conference. I was on the panel alongside the following:

Chief Guest was Justice C. S. Dharmadhikari, a very well known and respected Indian independence movement activist, a lawyer, a judge and an author. He was acting chief justice of Bombay High Court and is President and Co-Founder of the Global Schools Foundation. He gave a long speech in Hindi which was much appreciated by the audience.
A.M. Mathur gave his review of the conference, also in Hindi.
Dr N.P. Jain presented the Indore Conference Declaration which had been put together and agreed by the conference organisers and presenters.
Ikralis Tsavardis, Executive Secretary-General, World Peace Council, welcomed the Declaration and presented his thanks to the organisers and best wishes for the future.
Ogata Yasup, Co-chairperson of the world conference against A&H Bombs, Vice Chairperson of the Executive Committee of the Japanese Communist Party and former member of the House of Councillors.
Ved Pratap Vaidik, eminent journalist and social activist.

The final session and singing of "We will Overcome"
A.M. Mathur, C. S. Dharmadhikari, Ved Pratap Vaidik, Ogata Yasup, Ikralis Tsavardis, N.P. Jain, Dave Webb, A. A. Abbasi, N. J. Rao

Dave Webb, Ved Pratap Vaidik (eminent journalist and social activist), Iraklis Tsavdaridis (Executive Secretary-General, World Peace Council), Manisha Gaur (life coach and peace activist)

Ogata Yasup, Niloufer Bagwhat , Manohar Dev and Vishni Bagwhat at Mr Dev's house during setting out for the visit to Maheshwar

After the conference my host Manohar Dev took a group of us for a trip out to the city of Maheshwar in the Khargone district, on the north bank of the Narmada River. This was the capital of the Malwa kingdom until 1818.

The Fort at Maheshwar

We arrived just as the evening was drawing in and walked around the battlements of the fort built by Maharani Ahilya Bai Holkar who was the Holkar Queen of the Maratha in the late 18th century. She established the capital here and her husband Khanderao Holkar was killed in the battle of Kumbher in 1754. 12 years later, her father-in-law, Malhar Rao Holkar, died and the following year she was made queen. To protect her kingdom from plunderers she personally led armies into battle and appointed Tukojirao Holkar as the Chief of Army. She was responsible for the development of Indore from a small village to a large, busy city. She also built a number of Hindu temples and Dharmshala (free lodgings) at a number of sacred sites. In "Discovery of India" (2004), Jawaharlal Nehru says that "The reign of Ahilyabai, of Indore in central India, lasted for 30 Yrs. This has become almost legendary as a period during which perfect order and good Government prevailed and the people prospered. She was a very able ruler and organizer, highly respected during her lifetime, and considered as a saint by a grateful people after her death."

However, after the British defeated the Holkars, the capital was moved to Indore and Maheshwar's importance began to decline.

Ahilya Bal's temple (left in July 2012 and right as we saw it in fading light in October 2013)

As it got darker Manohar organised a flat bottomed boat to take us out to the centre of the river where we drifted along for a while in the quiet of the evening. We got back to the bank just as it started to rain and Manohar told us how the river had flooded a month or two earlier. There are increasing problems with flooding in the region and elsewhere, climate change is really starting to take a toll. The melting of snow and glaciers in the Himalayas is having a huge effects - leading to dramatic changes in water supplies and river flows.

Over the next few days I was looked after by Manisha Gaura local pace campaigner and activist. She took Rao and me to visits to a local college and a local school to talk about the militarisation of space, nuclear weapons and development. The first visit was to Vishisht School of Management and a symposium on "Disarmament and Development" with Manisha, Rao and me giving presentations. We were greeted by the Institute Director Mr  Naveen Narang and the Academic Director Dr. S. M. Anas Iqbal and led to the main hall where there was a presentation to speakers by the staff and a gracious introduction by students. Then the three of us spoke for about 15 minutes each.

There was a large audience of students studying business and management

Left to right: Academic Director S.M. Anas Iqbal, Me, Rao, Manisha and Institute Director Naveen Narang

Traditional lighting of the lamp at the start of the the meeting

Manisha Gaura speaks

Rao addresses the students

My turn to speak and press coverage of the event

Manisha and Rao spoke in Hindi as that is the first language of those present I spoke in English and Manisha translated. There was enough time for a number of very interesting questions from the students after we had spoken. It was great to see so much interest in disarmament and development issues from young people studying business and management - hopefully they will not be making the same mistakes as those western business people who put profit before people.

Thanks to all at the college for welcoming us and for recognising the importance of the issues.

Next day we visited The Vidhyanjali International School we had been invited to talk to the students there by the Principal Ms Ruchi Gandhi (who was at school with Manisha).

Traditional lighting of the lamp at the start of the meeting

Welcome from the senior students

Welcome dance from the students

Senior students and staff

This is a small, well resourced private girls' school affiliated to CBSE (the Central Board of Secondary Education) who approve their syllabus which is based upon the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). On arrival we were met by the principal who introduced a short programme of welcome - an excellent performance from the senior students. We started outside in the open but when the rain started to fall it soon became clear that the students were all so well organised. In a short time we had all moved under cover and were able to carry on with the programme.

After the formal session we were invited to an excellent lunch in the school dining room and in the Principal's office we were shown some of the work that the students had produced on peace and development issues.

During both of these visits (and the conference itself) it was enormously encouraging to see how seriously young people in India are taking these issues - they are reminded of the failures of western systems to address the needs of all people and there is a real desire to find alternative and more just methods to ensure a sustainable future development for the country and its citizens.

I hope very much they are able to achieve this and help create a world free from the threat of nuclear war the heavens void of military space objects.

I would very much like to thank again Rao for initiating these events and seeing them through; to all of those involved in putting the conference together and ensuring it ran smoothly; to  Mr and Mrs Dev for their wonderful hospitality; to Manisha Gaur for her time, her help and friendly guidance and to Anil Bhandari who took me to a wonderful dance celebration in a sports stadium on my final evening during the Hindu Festival that had just started during the run up to Diwali. To everyone who made me so welcome and helped to make this, my first visit to India, so interesting and rewarding - a huge thank you.


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