Arun Gandhi shared his grandfather's nonviolent legacy in Modesto on Saturday night with about 500 people and urged them all to remember Mahatma Gandhi's injunction to first "Be the change you want to see in the world."
The standing-room-only crowd in the Mary Stuart Rogers Learning Center at Modesto Junior College West Campus received Gandhi with warm applause. Neither the controversy about his recent resignation from the peace institute he founded nor 30 protesters waving hand-lettered posters dampened the crowd's enthusiasm.
A film tribute to Yolanda King by Wes Page and a poem by Tiffany Hamilton also drew enthusiastic applause in preparation for Gandhi's appearance.
Gandhi linked his grandfather and Martin Luther King Jr. (who never met) with a story from the 1960s. King, his family and entourage were the guests of the Indian government and during a tour of Gandhi's grandfather's home in Bombay, King asked if he could go inside the Mahatma's private office, now encased in glass as part of a museum. After King was allowed access, he wouldn't leave until he had spent the night.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Modesto Bee
Gandhi said that King emerged from the room at 10 a.m. the next day and pronounced, "Now I feel strong enough to go back and lead my people."
Gandhi said he also has organized a celebration of both men from the coincidence of their assassinations 20 years apart, in 1948 and 1968. He calls the time between Jan. 4 when his grandfather was killed and King's assassination on April 4, the "season of nonviolence." He said it's a time for each locality to do what it deems most appropriate to recognize the moment.
Gandhi's speech was sprinkled with anecdotes about his grandfather's principles and personal growth.
He said his grandparents were married at 13, and his grandfather was determined to be a good husband and read books about how to achieve that.
"Grandfather came home and told grandmother she could no longer go anywhere without his permission." Gandhi said his grandmother ignored the new rules and explained that she thought she was supposed to obey her elders. In that home, weren't his parents her elders, she asked. If she wasn't supposed to obey his mother anymore, would he kindly explain that to her.
Gandhi stressed that to have peace, there must be positive re- lationships. In a question-and- answer session after the speech he explained and apologized for the uproar over some anti-Semitic comments in a blog he wrote for The Washington Post. After writing that the Jews and Israel were at the heart of a world culture of violence, Gandhi said he was sorry for any offense and that he was writing a blog under deadline pressure and his remarks were ill-conceived. Besides, he said, before that he "didn't think anyone read the blog."
Asked whom he would want to become president, he said, "I've thought about it a long time and I think Barak Obama --" His sentence was cut short by a loud burst of applause. Gandhi then finished with "would be a breath of fresh air in the stagnant atmosphere of Washington, D.C."
He also took a cue from an anti-war question and said the solution in Iraq was for the United States "to admit its mistake and then sit down with all the Arab countries and figure out what's best for all."
Appropriately enough, there was a peaceful and polite demonstration by The Organization for Indian Minorities.
About 30 protesters waved signs at passing cars and handed out anti-Gandhi literature to those attending a reception in Arun Gandhi's honor at the King-Kennedy Center. When they held up signs to the windows outside the reception, Tommie Muhammad, host of the MJC event, asked the protesters to please step back, which they did.
Muhammad said the protesters had a "cultural beef with the Gandhi family" but that wouldn't detract from the celebration. "The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. took a part of Gandhi's nonviolent philosophy and made it a worldwide event for the betterment of everybody."
Bhajan Singh, of Manteca, acting as spokesman for the protesters, said Gandhi's history of bigotry meant that he should never be compared to King. He said the protesters wanted to protect King's legacy.
Almost all of the protesters were Indians and half identified themselves as Sikhs.
Others of Indian heritage who attended the reception and speech said they believe Mahatma Gandhi's legacy is still bright. Jatinder Khanna of Sunnyvale said Gandhi deserved to be made "a saint."
Ryan Maharaj, a Christian from Fiji, echoed Khanna. "He is like a hero for his legacy in India."
Staff writer Roger W. Hoskins may be reached at email@example.com or 578-2311.