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Visit of Prime Minister Desai of India Toasts at the Working Dinner.

June 13, 1978

THE PRESIDENT. If I could have your attention a minute, I'd like to say just a few words; first of all, to welcome all of you who have come to the White House this evening for one of the most delightful and fruitful evenings of my administration.

I've learned to know and to respect and, if he'll excuse the expression, even to love the Prime Minister of India. He represents a country of greatness in many respects, and he is indeed a unique man himself.

He's traveled the breadth of our country, he's made a major speech at the United Nations, he's come all the way over here from India, he's been working hard all day. He's still as fresh and as young as anyone in the room, perhaps even more so. He's just explained to me that he's only 20 years old; he's celebrated 20 birthdays so far, having been born on the 29th of February. [Laughter] He's forgotten that every year that goes by, he gets older. He just doesn't get older. And I think that this is a characteristic of his that's derived from an inner strength and an inner peace with himself and convictions, social and religious and philosophical convictions that don't change. But he's a man also without arrogance, and he has an ability to understand the perspective of others who might disagree strongly with him.

He's a worthy leader of a country that's particularly close to me. My mother is about the same age as Prime Minister Desai. And I told him a few minutes ago that her brief stay in India was almost a time of rebirth for her, because she really started a new life there with a new perspective and a new appreciation of her fellow human beings. She went there expecting to do other people a favor as a member of the Peace Corps, but she came back realizing that the Indian people with whom she lived had provided her with much more of a contribution than she ever made in that village in which she lived.

I had a chance to visit one of the villages in India with our guest tonight, and I considered myself kind of an expert on India after I got back home. I asked him tonight how many villages there were like the one I visited. He said there were 550,000. [Laughter] So, he represents a nation that is the largest democracy on Earth; a people who provide the largest free electorate that the world has ever known. And he was elected at a time when his own country was torn apart by dissension and by discouragement and even by animosity. And he helped, with his leadership, and those who have come here with him, who served with him, to protect the purest principles of democracy and the fabric of the law.

I enjoy being with Prime Minister Desai, to speak to him privately and to seek his counsel and advice. When I was there, he gave me this dual bust on my left, which I think demonstrates the ties between our countries.

He is a great admirer of Lincoln, primarily because of his humility and because of his recognition that to live in public office is an opportunity to serve others. He suffered because of his beliefs. Mahatma Gandhi, a great religious and political leader, did the same. And they, too, had an inner strength that sustained them in time of testing, in time of crisis, even turmoil.

Prime Minister Desai sets an example for all those who serve in positions of leadership, I think, to analyze his philosophy of life and the principles of his government. He is an inspiration to all of us who know them.

He believes in peace, in all the aspects and meanings of that word. He believes in disarmament. He made an outstanding speech, as you well know, at the United Nations earlier this week. He is a man who gets along with leaders of different countries and respects each one; a superb representative of the nonaligned movement. I think he would agree that he recognizes the fact that Cuba is not indeed a nonaligned country. But he respects the harmony within that movement and hopes that Cuba will change in the future.

We have had long discussions about some of the attitudes of other countries. He's seeking now to have an improved relationship with Pakistan, to draw together that country, Afghanistan, Iran, India, into a recommitment of harmony and peace in that part of the world. They've been able to bridge the gap between the democracies and the totalitarian governments.

And they are trying to repair the strained relationships between India and China, the People's Republic of China, I think successfully, because of his broad mind and his willingness to analyze his own position and that of his country in an objective fashion.

This is a time, also, to recognize India's great and staunch commitment to the principle of protecting basic human rights.

And I think that in that country, where in the past so many people have suffered, that we've always cherished as a friend, it's indeed gratifying to him and those who serve with him to know that India's production of food now is adequate for their own needs. They have a reserve supply of food on hand, even the capability of exporting basic food items. And this is a symbol of the vigor of their great country, one of the most advanced technological nations in the world, and a real leader in almost every aspect of that word.

It is an honor, Mr. Prime Minister, to have you in our country. And from the perspective of the Presidency of our Nation, from the perspective of a personal friend, from the perspective of a member of a family who looks with great favor and appreciation on your country, I would like to propose a toast to a great leader and a personal friend, Prime Minister Desai, to the wonderful people of India, and to the enhanced prospects of world peace for which you strive so vigorously.

Thank you, sir.

[At this point, the toast was offered.]

I might say that those of you who like to drink water can thank the Prime Minister for his beneficent influence tonight. [Laughter]

THE PRIME MINISTER. I don't know that that would be as much welcomed. [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. It's good for us all. Would you like to say a word?

THE PRIME MINISTER. I think it is quite good.

Mr. President, you have so overwhelmed me with your gracious words in attributing to me many qualities which I am struggling to possess, but have not yet fully attained. It was very kind of you to have invited me here to this great land with which we have much in common, in ideals and attitudes alike and in human qualities.

I have been here many times, and every time I have come here, I have been not only happy but I have always learned something, not only in life but also in the matter of democratic values.

I belong to a country which is poor in material resources—not that it was poor at a time when others were poor in other riches—but in the course of time, it has become the poorest today. But it is the richest in spiritual values which we have inherited from the holy past. And yet I can't say that we are quite a true specimen of that great heritage, but we hope that we shall be able now, after passing through several trials, be able to catch again that spirit and be of some service to the world.

We have no ambition of affluence as it is understood in the present day. We would be satisfied if our people have enough to be happy and we are able to serve the human society in such a way that the world becomes one family. That has been what we have been always advised and instructed.

We have always said the whole world is a family and so they would be able to overcome, as I said in the United Nations Assembly. And we have tried to live up to that, and with your help, we hope to do well.

This is a young country, but it has also very deep spiritual foundations. The country was founded by pilgrim fathers who protested against oppression, religious persecution and fanaticism, and came here and founded this country. It is that which gives the real urge for humane values to the people of this great country.

I think the world has yet to cite any example of a country which has helped very nearly the whole world in many ways and also has set that example before others. And it is that which inspires us. It is therefore that I admire this country, and more particularly, I have struck a common chord with you, Mr. President, and I find that we believe in the same values.

There can therefore be no misunderstanding between us. There can be some difference of opinion in some things. If we did not do that, we would cease to be intelligent. Therefore, that is also a proof of human values in my mind. But even if there are differences, we understand each other very fully and try to find out a way which is common, so that we are able to succeed in our common mission of achieving peace in this country and banishing war so that the world becomes one family of human beings.

We have to achieve it. There are many prophets of the dark whose prophecy is doom for this world. Personally, I think the world is going up and becoming better. But it is always passing through difficulties and sufferings that we can become better. Without suffering, there is no test of goodness, and without suffering, there is no acquisition of truth as we have been taught by our sages. And it is that also which attracts me here, because I find there is a regard for truth which I see everywhere I move.

Of course the world is not perhaps full of truthful people, and yet they all admire truth and they want truth. There is a great hope for the world.

And it is a matter of great pleasure and happiness for me that you very graciously invited me here to this great land and gave this opportunity of meeting various friends, discussing with them common problems and getting more and more friendliness. And for that, I am deeply grateful to you.

I only hope that you will visit us again and see the countryside and spend not less than 10 days. I don't know whether it is possible for such a busy President who has problems that are far more annoying than I have. And yet, may I say that we will see that you will forget those problems, and we might also be helpful in seeing that your problems are solved so that we are helped by you in solving other problems. It is more selfishness for which I am selling you.

I have passed the last few days very happily, and going from one end to the other, San Francisco, and coming back from there, I have met many Indians, the largest of them, largest numbers perhaps on record, in this country so far. That was also due to your kindness, because you are painting such a picture about me that they are all attracted. And for that, I am deeply grateful to you and thank you very much.

May I request, friends, to join me in drinking to the health of the President, his family, and eternal friendship between our two countries and world peace.

Note: The President spoke at 8:36 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

Following the dinner, the President and the Prime Minister visited the Lincoln Memorial.

Jimmy Carter, Visit of Prime Minister Desai of India Toasts at the Working Dinner. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/248632

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