WASHINGTON: America’s legendary civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis has introduced a bill in the US House of Representatives to promote the legacies of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr and sought a budgetary allocation of $ 150 million for the next five years.
Introduced to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi, the House Bill (HR 5517) affirms the friendship between the two largest democracies of the world and honours the legacies and contributions of Gandhi and King.
Among other things, the bill proposes establishing a Gandhi-King Development Foundation, which will be created by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Indian laws.
The bill seeks a budgetary allocation of $ 30 million every year for the next five years to the USAID for this foundation.
This foundation would have a governing council convened by governments of the US and India and would oversee grants to NGOs in the areas of health, pollution and climate change, education and women empowerment, the bill says.
It is being co-sponsored by six other Democratic lawmakers, three of whom are Indian-Americans – Ami Bera, Ro Khanna and Pramila Jayapal.
Three other Congressmen are Brenda Lawrence, Brad Sherman and James McGovern.
The bill proposes the establishment of a Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative with an allocation of $ 2 million for the next five years till 2025.
It will comprise an annual educational forum for scholars from India and the US held alternately in the two countries. The conference will focus on the study of the works and philosophies of Gandhi and King and visits to historical sites.
It also seeks to establish a Gandhi-King global academy, which would be a professional development training initiative on conflict resolution.
The bill proposes an allocation of $ 2 million for each fiscal year from 2020 through 2025, implemented through the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).
Welcoming the introduction of the bill, India’s ambassador to the US Harsh Vardhan Shringla said it “reinforces the close cultural and ideological bonds” between India and the US.
Noting that Gandhi and King were dedicated leaders fighting for social justice and social change, peace and civil rights, the bill says that the use of non-violent civil disobedience is a shared tactic that has played a key role in defeating social injustice in India, the US and other parts of the world.
Observing that King’s effective use of Gandhi’s principles was instrumental to the American civil rights movement, the bill says that there is a long history of civil and social rights movements in the US and in India.
This bill, which has the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is being considered as a significant landmark initiative by the United States Congress to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi.
There are two other resolutions on Gandhi pending in the Congress – one by Senators Bob Menendez and Ted Cruz in the Senate and other by several other lawmakers led by Congressman Raja Kishnamoorthi in the House of Representatives.
Sent to the House Foreign Affairs Committee for necessary action, the bill christened “Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative Act” says the people of the United States and India have a long history of friendship and the world will benefit from a stronger US-India partnership.
Gandhi never visited the US. But King travelled to India, which he described as a pilgrimage. In February 1959, King and his wife Coretta Scott King travelled throughout India.
By the end of his month-long visit, King said, “I am more convinced than ever before that the method of non-violent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity”.
Fifty years after King’s visit, All India Radio discovered a taped message by him that emphasised the intellectual harmony between messages of King and Gandhi on non-violent social action.
“Mohandas Gandhi, who employed the principle of satyagraha or fighting with peace, has come to represent the moral force inspiring many civil and social rights movement around the world,” the bill notes.