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Toasts of the President and Prime Minister Gandhi of India

March 28, 1966

Madam Prime Minister:

I have heard--and I do in part believe-that Queen Victoria, speaking in a different age and under different circumstances, once gave the following estimate of two of her prime ministers.

"Mr. Gladstone," said she, "talks to me as if I were a public meeting--but Mr. Disraeli speaks to me as if I were a woman."

Tonight I am very pleased to tell our friends who have assembled here that we have spoken to our gracious visitor not only as a woman with an understanding heart-but also as a leader with a sense of vision-and a builder with a valued view of faith.

India is a vast and varied land. The roots of freedom and justice run deep in the Indian past. Its culture was full and strong centuries before the dawn of the Christian era.

The world has listened to the wisdom of India spoken through the voice of an eloquent leader.

Once, many years ago, he said: "Democracy demands discipline, tolerance, and mutual regard. Freedom demands respect for the freedom of others. In a democracy changes are made by mutual discussion and persuasion and not by violent means."

These were the words of Prime Minister Nehru. This was the belief of Prime Minister Shastri. Their fidelity to freedom's cause created, with Mahatma Gandhi, a new nation--conceived in struggle, grown strong in sacrifice.

And now tonight Prime Minister Gandhi comes to this house and to this table, the custodian of her nation's hope, and the steward of her nation's dreams.

Today we here in the White House talked about the work and the sacrifice that is needed to make those dreams a modern reality. Together we discussed the practical ways that India and the United States can help to build a world where life is hopeful and where life is happier for all our peoples, as well as the peoples of all lands.

Prime Minister Gandhi's goal is to weld the Indian nation into a land where the words of its founding fathers come true and their views of its future become real.

There is much that binds India and the United States together. Both our nations have the deep-felt obligation to the basic dignity of man--and the conviction that people can solve their problems by free choice far better than they can by any arrangement of force. There is in India and there is in this country the strong tradition of freedom that just will never die.

I remember very clearly tonight my visit to India in 1961.

I remember what I saw and what I felt and what I heard throughout that great land. The thousands of students along the roads and in the cities--each of them quite impatient to know and to learn. I saw the teachers and the scholars, the public servants, and the people, searching, yearning, discovering, hoping. And I think of our young people here and what we have done in the last year to achieve a new revolution in education--beyond the wildest dreams of just a decade ago.

Now, how can we bring into closer union the spirit and the courage of these people, and particularly of these two countries?

I have given a good deal of thought to that in the last few months, and tonight I would propose that we mark this historic visit of Prime Minister Gandhi with a lasting endowment for the benefit of inquiring young minds in the Indian nation.

So may we, Madam Prime Minister, with the permission of your Government and the American Congress, launch a new and imaginative venture. We shah call it an Indo-American Foundation. I would propose that this Foundation be established in India, and that it be endowed with $300 million in Indian currency owned by the United States. Other foundations all over the world will cooperate, I am sure, with an enterprise of this kind.

I would suggest that this Foundation be organized as an independent institution-with distinguished citizens of both our countries on its board of directors. I would propose that the new Foundation be given a broad charter to promote progress in all fields of learning--to advance science--to encourage research--to develop new teaching techniques on the farms and in the factories--to stimulate, if you please, new ways to meet old problems.

The journey to our future is over a very long and a very winding road. Every mile will be challenged by doubt. But together, Madam Prime Minister, we must avoid the detours that intrude on our safe journey toward a time when, as your father promised, life will be better for all of our people.

So, ladies and gentlemen, let us honor those who are so welcome here tonight. Let us ask you to join in honoring the Chief of State whose wise and gifted Prime Minister we have enjoyed so much today, and that we welcome so warmly this evening.

I should like to ask those of you who are assembled here to join me now in raising your glass in a toast to the great President of India.

Note: The President proposed the toast at 10:35 p.m. at a dinner in the State Dining Room at the White House. Prime Minister Gandhi responded as follows:

Mr. President, Mrs. Johnson, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:

Your words, Mr. President, were exceedingly moving. You have spoken of India and her wide variety. We who live there are naturally deeply conscious of it, while at the same time we are fully aware of the underlying and the basic unity which binds together all our people.

You have quoted some words of my father. I should like to quote something which you yourself have said. You said, Mr. President, "Reality rarely matches dreams, but only dreams give nobility to purpose."

In the United States you have matched your dreams in many ways. Yet you still seek, and rightly, to offer the American people a better and a more purposeful life. You have called this idea "The Great Society." In India we also have our dreams, which may seem trite to you who sit here, because they appear so simple--food barely sufficient to keep one from hunger, shelter to keep out the wind and the rain, medicines and education by which to restore the faith and the hope of our nearly 500 million people.

But everything in life is relative. There is an old proverb in my country. A person says, "I complained that I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet."

Mahatma Gandhi said once, and it is something which my father often repeated, that we in India had to work to wipe the tear from every eye. That, of course, is a big task and I doubt if it can be done in any country. And yet we have been trying to do that for 18 long years. Two centuries of subjugation cannot be washed away so easily. It takes time. It takes work. It takes courage.

India is changing, as no doubt your advisers who have been to India have told you, Mr. President. Nowhere in the world can the contrast be so striking. We have not only different levels of development between the different states, but even within each state. We have often several centuries existing side by side. We have some of the greatest irrigation works in the world, and yet in parts of our State of Rajasthan, desert families store precious water under lock and key.

During a tour of some of these border areas a couple of months or so ago, I myself experienced the great hardship of doing without water and measuring the miles from well to well. Some 12 million or more of bullock carts still churn the dust of our village roads. Yet in other parts of India we are building three nuclear powerplants.

Average agricultural yields are low, and at the same time there are areas where we obtain sugar cane yields that compare favorably with those in Hawaii or in Java.

A third of the illiterate people in the world are in India. Yet we are steadily conquering illiteracy.

In our State of Maharashtra, village after village vies to achieve total literacy. Parents learn from their children so that the honor of the village is upheld. In Madras people have banded together to improve their schools. They have given 100 million rupees beyond what the Government spends on their schools.

In the Punjab, little workshops make lathes and pumps that have revolutionized the countryside.

The seeming inconsistencies and conflicts of India are legion. The setbacks, and we have had many, are heartbreaking. Yet the signs of change are clear and constantly growing,

Sometimes critics point to an example of success and say, "This proves nothing. This is a mere drop in the ocean of Indian poverty." How wrong this is, for every success reinforces the prospect of further success. It shows that success is possible. The example and the confidence it generates radiates outward.

This, Mr. President, is really our major problem. Years ago when we visited the villages to persuade people to try for a better life, they turned to us and said, "There can be no better life; God wills it this way. This is our lot and we have to suffer it." Today not a single voice will be heard like this. There is only one demand, that we do want a better life. We want better schools and more schools. We want bigger hospitals and more hospitals, and all the other signs of progress and signs of raising the standards of living.
This I think is a very big achievement.

You talked, sir, of democracy. May I tell you one more story which I shared with the Vice President a short while ago. It happened during our first elections. I had gone to speak in a village where just the day before the leader of an opposition party had spoken. When my speech was ended, an elderly gentleman got up from the audience and said, "We have listened very carefully to what you have said, but just the day before somebody came"--so and so came--"and he said the exact opposite. Now, which of you was telling the truth?"

Now, this you can understand is an extremely tricky question to ask a public speaker. I said, "Well, I think that what I said was the truth, but I have no doubt that the gentleman thought that what he said was the truth.

"The whole point of democracy is that everybody should say whatever he thinks is the truth, and you, the people, have to really judge which is the correct version, and which is the right version or the right thing for you."

Well, this was a rather difficult explanation, fox them, and they said, "Now, you tell us, do you belong to the Congress Party?" I said, "I do.' "Is your party in power? Is it forming the Government?" I said, "Yes, it is." "Then what business have you to send somebody here who tells us incorrect things? It is your business to keep them away."

This was one of the stops where I was supposed to stay only 10 minutes, but I stayed for 2 hours trying to argue out the whole point about elections, freedom of expression, and so on. I can't say that I got any further at the end of 2 hours.

But now, years later, we find we have got further. Nobody today in India would put such a question. They know that the different parties have their points of view, and these points of view are put before the people, and the people judge, not always rightly, but I think they try to judge rightly. Certainly, from election to election they have shown a great maturity.

India very definitely is on the move. Mr. President, the United States has given India valuable assistance in our struggle against poverty, against hunger, against ignorance, and against disease. We are grateful for this act of friendship. But we also know that our own "Great Society" must and can only rest securely on the quality and the extent of our own effort.

This effort we are determined to make: we owe it to our friends, and even more so we owe it to ourselves.

Nevertheless, I believe that it is of the greatest importance, to use your own words, to bring into closer union the spirit and courage of both our countries. I welcome your intention to set up an Indo-American Foundation, which will give tangible shape and form to this union.

The present-day world offers the possibility of bringing together one people with another. The young men and women of your Peace Corps are well known and well loved in our country. Every endeavor to sustain and enlarge this people-to-people partnership is a good effort and is welcome.

Friendship with America is not a new thing lot us.

Those of us in India who have been involved with the struggle for freedom have known from our earliest days your own struggle here. We have been taught the words of your leaders, of your past great Presidents, and above all we were linked in friendship because of the friendship which President Roosevelt showed us and the understanding which he showed during some of the most difficult days of our independence struggle. I have no doubt it was also this understanding and friendly advice given to the British Government which facilitated and accelerated our own freedom.

But there again the major effort had to be on our own, and this is what we want today: that we should bear our burden, as indeed we are doing, but that a little bit of help should come from friends who consider it worthwhile to lighten the burden.

Because, Mr. President, India's problems today are her own, but they are also the world's problems. India has a position in Asia which is an explosive position. India, if it is stable, united, democratic, I think can serve a great purpose. If India is not stable, or if there is chaos, if India fails, I think it is a failure of the whole democratic system. It is a failure of many of the values which you and we both hold dear.

That is why, Mr. President, I welcome your words and I welcome this meeting with you, which has been most valuable to me.

I invite you, ladies and gentlemen, to join with me in drinking a toast to the President and Mrs. Johnson, our friends, the American people, and the Great Society, not just for America, but for all who dream of it, for all who struggle to transform those dreams into reality.

Lyndon B. Johnson, 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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