Richard Nixon photo

Toasts of the President and Prime Minister Gandhi of India

November 04, 1971

Madam Prime Minister, our very distinguished guests from India, and our very distinguished guests from the United States:

Madam Jha, the wife of the very able Ambassador to the United States from India, said a moment ago that for her this was a very historic occasion. I think all of us should realize that this is, indeed, a very historic occasion for a very historic room.

As I sit here tonight by the Prime Minister of India, my mind goes back to the other times that I have been in this room. My memory goes back, as does, I am sure, the memories of most here, to the dinners that have been held in this room, not a large room compared with the great rooms of Europe and Asia and the rest, but it is the room where Presidents of the United States for over 190 years have entertained state guests.

In the chair that the Prime Minister now occupies, in my time I have seen Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Chancellor Adenauer, Prime Minister de Gasperi, Kishi of Japan, Sukarno of Indonesia--large countries, small countries-all honored men, honored women, who have occupied the place of head of state or head of government visiting the United States of America.

I think of what makes this occasion particularly special, particularly historic, in a room that has seen so many historic occasions. I am reminded of the fact that just 2 nights ago in the East Room-where tonight we will hear or see one who has been described as America's outstanding ballet dancer--2 nights ago we heard a man who was described by Time magazine, when he completed his 25th year at the Metropolitan Opera House, as the best tenor in the world--Richard Tucker.

Afterwards we went upstairs, and I had a chance to talk to him a bit. He told me about his sons. He had three sons. He was very proud of them. One was a doctor. One was a broker in New York City. Another was a very successful businessman.

I said to Mr. Tucker, "But no tenor, no singer?" He said, "No, Mr. President." He said, "You will find that in the field of music that it is the exception." As a matter of fact, he could think of no case where it was not the case that the great talent that one in the field of music has is transferred to the second generation. Sometimes to the third, but never to the second. So his sons--a doctor, a broker, a businessman.

Naturally, tonight our thoughts go to the field of politics. Is the great genius that we see in the field of politics transferred to the second generation or to the third or the fourth, or what is the case?

I think back to the year 1957. Prime Minister Nehru sat in this chair. President Eisenhower sat in this chair. Our distinguished guest of honor was here with Prime Minister Nehru. She sat in that chair.

I think what has happened since that time, and I think back to what Mr. Tucker said about music--that the genius and talent of a great star is not repeated in the second generation. Then I think of the career of our honored guest.

I could speak of her tonight as representing, as she does, the greatest democracy in terms of numbers in all the history of the world--500 million people. I could also speak of her as one who, as I mentioned earlier today when I welcomed her on the South Lawn, who received more votes through the parliamentary system than any person has ever received in the whole history of the world. I also could speak of her as one who, in the field of politics, has never lost an election, and that really impresses me.

I could also speak of her as the daughter of Prime Minister Nehru, as a woman. But today we honor her not because she is a woman heading the largest democracy in the world, not because she is the daughter of one of the world's most legendary and distinguished statesmen, but because in her own right, as demonstrated by a fantastic, brilliant success in an election in a free country, she won.

She represents her people. She has a mandate from her people. And so she is with us today as one who deserves our honor and our respect because of the country she represents, because of her own achievements, and because of, also, what she stands for.

I have understood that Prime Minister Nehru--whom many in this room have had the opportunity to meet, as Mrs. Nixon and I did, both in 1953 and 1957 when he was here had as one of his favorites among poets our American poet Robert Frost, and that on his desk, until the day he died, he had a little saying, an excerpt from Mr. Frost's poems, which went something like this: But I have many promises to keep, and many miles to travel before I sleep.

Prime Minister Nehru did not live to see his promises kept. But in this historic moment, how proud he would be to see his daughter honored as we honor her-not because she was his daughter, but because in her own right she represents his country, because in her own right she is working to fulfill the promises that he made.

Those promises are ones that we share: the promise of progress for people who want it and need it and deserve it; the promise of progress through freedom, a great experiment in democracy when it would be so easy to turn to a totalitarian system to solve such difficult problems; and the promise of peace.

I shall never forget the conversation I had with Prime Minister Nehru on the occasion that he received us so graciously in 1953 when I was Vice President. On that trip around the world, of 73 days in 20 countries, I asked every head of government and state what he wanted most for his country. Some said roads; others said industrial development; others said better agricultural development; others said education. Prime Minister Nehru did not answer in that way. He thought a moment, and he said: What India needs, what the world needs, is a generation of peace.

Many of you have heard me speak of a generation of peace. India is committed to that great goal. The Prime Minister is committed to it. I am. Our Government is certainly committed to it.

And so tonight, Madam Prime Minister, we honor you not simply as the daughter of a great leader, but as Prime Minister of the world's most populous democracy, but as one who is working to fulfill those promises, those dreams of progress and freedom and peace for your people and all people in the world.

That is why this is truly an historic occasion.

Let us raise our glasses to the Prime Minister.

Note: The President spoke at 10:01 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

Prime Minister Gandhi responded as follows:

Mr. President, Mrs. Nixon, distinguished guests:

This room is indeed full of history, as indeed is this house in which we are today. This house has been the home of many great men whose ideas and actions have influenced events far beyond the boundaries of the United States.

I remember how thrilled I felt when I was a small girl, when my father first introduced me to the stirring words of Lincoln and Jefferson. Much has happened in the world since those days, many ups and many downs. But certain ideas and certain ideals have helped people get together.

I think, although there is so much difference between your country and mine--many miles of land and oceans separate us--but there is also much in common between our two peoples. We are both large societies, composed of diverse ethnic elements, proud of our regional diversity, resentful of imposed uniformity. Our peoples are friendly and generous, wanting to be liked, quick to give expression to their feelings, and equally ready to forgive.

Naturally, there have been differences of assessment and emphasis. And since our people and our legislatures live by speaking out, there have been moments of awkward candor. But let us also remember that in both our societies the most forthright critics are within ourselves.

I think that a functioning democracy converts this weakness into strength. During our fifth general elections last March, to which you referred so generously, Mr. President, our people demonstrated the ability of the democratic process to find answers to national problems. They gave the nation a clear and coherent sense of direction, a renewed self-confidence in and a fresh impetus to our long struggle against poverty.

The instability of the 1960's which had enervated our growth was overcome. Our plans of development have benefited by the long-range capital assistance and food aid so generously given by your country. Foreign aid is important because of its direct economic contribution and also as a symbol of the involvement of advanced nations and, most especially, of the United States in the developing world.

But the effort towards progress in our country is overwhelmingly and increasingly that of the labor and sacrifice of our own people.

Today we are self-sufficient in food grain. Net foreign credits constitute a small but useful part of our resources. All this was achieved not easily, and though we smiled through these years, you know, Mr. President, how very difficult they were for India.

There was the drought during which many people thought we just would not survive. But it was that very time that we used to introduce our new agricultural strategy which today has made us self-sufficient.

You spoke of our elections. They were not easily won. I was telling Mrs. Nixon just now that in 43 days--we had a very short time at our disposal because we decided to hold them 1 year, or more than a year, a year and a quarter earlier than we need have because we were just tired of people telling us, "You are the minority government. You have no right to do this, you have no right to do that." We said, "All right, let's have elections."

In 43 days I traveled 36,000 miles. I had 375 meetings, all over 100,000 people, some 200,000 or 250,000. This was one person's effort but it also naturally needed the efforts of thousands--hundreds and thousands--of other people. Why we won the elections was not merely because of our effort, but because we were able to convince the people who are in a majority--the poor people, the smaller businessman, the smaller farmer, those who had been underprivileged, the minorities, and, above all, the young people of all classes--that we had something to offer which others did not.

So, the campaign became not a campaign of a political party, but a campaign of the people. And some of our workers, as perhaps--I don't know what happens in the States--but not all our workers were equally enthusiastic about all our candidates.

THE PRESIDENT. It is the same. [Laughter]

THE PRIME MINISTER. So, in many places, although in some places naturally we thought we had the best candidate, in some places we sometimes didn't, for various reasons, but there were many places where we thought we would not win because there was not cooperation between the two of them--the candidate and those who were supposed to make him win. But this is where the people came to the fore, and they said, "Well, if this is a candidate belonging to Mrs. Gandhi's party, we will make him win, whether the party wants him or anybody else wants him." This is how we won these elections.

But we had met in the new parliament for only a week and, like all politicians, we were still busy patting each other on the back and congratulating one another when suddenly our entire world changed and what seemed to be a path full of sunlight, just waiting for us to go ahead and solve the problems which remained, was covered with a very large shadow, a dark shadow. And without warning, a major crisis erupted across our frontiers and well nigh engulfed us, seriously threatening our hard-earned stability.

What has happened is now part of contemporary history. I shall not dwell on it, but may I recall the sheer magnitude of the problem? Can you think of the entire population of Michigan State suddenly converging onto New York State? Imagine the strain on space, on the administration, on the services such as health and communications, on resources such as food and money--and this not in conditions of affluence, but in a country already battling with problems of poverty and population.

We are paying the price of our traditions of an open society. of all peoples, surely those of the United States should understand this. Has not your own society been built of people who have fled from social and economic injustices? Have not your doors always been open?

Every nation must bear its own cross. Our people have faced this challenge with exemplary unity, self-reliance, and self-restraint. But from neighbors far and near and from others who value and uphold democratic principles, we expect understanding and, may I add, a certain measure of support.

None of our friends, and especially not those who share common ideals, would expect us to abandon our long-cherished democratic principles. If today we are beset with economic uncertainty and faced with a grave threat to our stability and security, it is because our democratic code and geographical proximity have made us the inevitable refuge of millions of helpless victims of a medieval tyranny.

The circumstances did not allow an analysis of the consequences to our own economy and our society. Our administration, already strained to meet the rising demands of our vast population, is stretched to the limit in looking after 9 million refugees, all citizens of another country. Food stocks built against drought are being used up. Limited resources scraped together for sorely needed development works are being depleted.

The occasion is too serious for the scoring of propaganda points. Our people cannot understand how it is that we who are the victims, we who are bearing the brunt and have restrained ourselves with such fortitude, should be equated with those whose action has caused the tragedy.

There is no foretelling how far-reaching will be its consequences. It is for the international community to try to remove the root cause of the trouble. India will not be found wanting in generous responses.

In the meantime, I cannot avoid the responsibility or my duty to safeguard the future of my people.

Mr. President, we are with you in your faith in freedom and democracy. The size of my country and the complex situations which confront us have led to many prophecies of despair. But India, like the United States, has the great resilience which is born of a free society, and out of the very crises emerge solutions and new resources of energy.

Mr. President, you have evoked admiration all over the world fos the imaginative manner in which you have taken bold decisions. I am sure that having a First Lady of such grace and charm is a source of strength to you.

This morning you spoke of sunshine, and indeed it was a very beautiful day. I don't know whether you were responsible for it or whether I was, because in India I do have the reputation of bringing the weather the people want. Usually, of course, it is rain, it is not sunshine at all, because our crops need rain, and even in the driest of the drought days, when I went somewhere it always rained--not enough to make any difference to anybody, but just two or three drops to say, "Well, I was there." So perhaps I had something to do with the sunshine.

But while that sunshine naturally added to the beauty of your very lovely garden and, house and the view we have from here, you referred to another sunshine, a deeper kind, which you hoped would lighten our friendship and give it a greater meaning and purpose.

I sincerely share that wish, not only I, not only as a person, but on behalf of the Government and, indeed, the entire people of India who have very great admiration and friendship for the people of the United States.

I have said how much our people were inspired during our freedom struggle by the words of great Americans, and afterwards also by the many deeds which your scientists and others, the many steps they have taken to add to the world's knowledge and progress.

Now, in India, of course, when we think of something to say--although many of us think forward into the future--but when we want something to say, we invariably look back into the past. There is always some act, word, or sentence written thousands of years ago that could very well have been written today, and these are some of the timeless parts of our history--and I am sure you have many in America--such as our great ideals which we would like to keep, no matter what other progress there is, what other advances mankind makes.

So, when you mentioned the sunlight, something rang a bell in my mind, but I could not think of the words immediately, but I did think of them later on. In one of our Vedas, which is the earliest existing literature in the world, I think, I found this little quotation: "As the lotus gets its radiance with the rise of the sun, in the same way the thoughts of friends are auspicious and bring prosperity."

So let us hope that the words of friends which have been spoken in this room will bring---of course your country is already very prosperous--but we hope that this prosperity will be shared with those who have not got it, and that you will also move to another kind of prosperity. You have the material prosperity, but the kind of, shall I say, receptivity which enables people to enjoy prosperity. We have found in many countries there is prosperity, but somehow people are not enjoying it; they are looking for something else. They don't know what they are looking for.

So it is important to have things, but just as important to know how to enjoy them, and how, through them, to share the enjoyment with others.

I would like to thank you once again for your invitation which has made my visit possible, by giving me the opportunity of having very useful and interesting talks with you, Mr. President, and tomorrow, I hope with some others, and of being present at this very gracious function in this lovely room with so many distinguished people.

May I ask you all to join me in a toast to the health of the President and the gracious First Lady, the future of the great people of the United States, and to friendship between our two countries.

Richard Nixon, Toasts of the President and Prime Minister Gandhi of India Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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