Some 52 years later, the Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Cultural Co-operation has taken shape and it is projected to open shortly.
On the invitation to visit to the centre by Shri Anniruddha Das, second secretary, Indian High Commission, last week Tuesday, I was amazed at the magnificent edifice fitted with modern-day theatre logistics, seating capacity in excess of 700, library facilities and offices. It is unique, even though it took so long in coming.
This centre was first promulgated by then-Indian Prime Minister Shrimati Indira Gandhi and the then-Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams, both of whom are now deceased. It is a great tribute to both outstanding leaders to have inked such an institution.
Mrs Gandhi, the first Indian Prime Minister to touch our soil, visited T&T for two short days, and this could well be the most outstanding feature of her visit here. Now, the progenitors of this cultural edifice are no longer, and it must be a tribute for the wisdom that today this establishment is now a full reality. And the genesis began in October 1968. However, 58 years late is better late than never.
Following the furore that evaporated in local politics, and to assure the government of India, then-Prime Minister ANR Robinson sent his Deputy Prime Minister Winston Dookeran in 1988 to meet with then-Indian Deputy Prime Minister Moraji Desai, to assure him of the T&T government’s confirmation to have the Mahatma Gandhi Cultural Centre established in this country, and to reconfirm the protocols.
While the populace felt the construction of the centre was a lost dream after some 38 years in abeyance, it was given a new stimulus by the then-Vice President of India, Shri Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, during a visit here in April 2006, when he promised the long-awaited centre would become a reality-and 14 years later, it is.
The Gandhi Centre is now a living reality and a visible manifestation for the approximate 700,000 people of East Indian extraction, a strong Indian diaspora.
At the ‘Bhoomin Puja’ in April 2000 at Mt Hope, the late Indian High Commissioner to T&T, Prof Parimal Kumar Das, called it, ‘the Sangam’, the point of confluence between the cultures of India and T&T.
Then-Minister of External Affairs Ralph Maraj termed it ‘the noble cause of national unity as it is even important for those who do not know enough of Indian culture to take full advantage of the opportunity that comes with the establishment of Mahatma Gandhi Institute’.
The first concrete step was taken with the signing of the Cultural Agreement in 1987 by then-Minister of External Affairs Basdeo Panday and the visiting Indian Foreign Minister, Narain Dutt Tewari. Four years later, in November 1991, a protocol was signed between the two governments.
On that occasion, Ralph Maraj, who was Minister of Foreign Affairs in the PNM government, handed over to the Indian High Commission the deed of lease for the five-acre plot of land at Mt Hope for the construction of the centre.
And prior to the then-Prime Minister Basdeo Panday’s sojourn to India, the United National Congress government, in January 1996, provided a Caroni (1975) Ltd bungalow-Caroni, as a temporary centre. It is projected that the institute will provide opportunities to Indian cultural enthusiasts to learn Indian music, culture, the arts, dance and Hindi. And it is aimed for the people of T&T to preserve and promote the heritage of the ‘Mother Culture’ through the vicissitudes of history. Another focus is that this institute will serve as a meaningful extension to the Indian diaspora.
The construction of the Gandhi Centre is a living testimony and an urgent need to re-enact another movement or vehicle, to re-translate in the hearts of our leaders-religious, political, social, community and international agencies and organisations-to take a serious and scientific look and spread Gandhi’s universal message of truth, non-violence and peace to all mankind.
Over the years, it is acknowledged that subsequent Indian diplomats took up the task to ensure that the centre was activated. They included Virendra Gupta, Malay Mishra, Bishwadeep Dey, and now it is Kumar Sahu to finally deliver it.
The Mahatma Gandhi Cultural Centre remains a serious and deliberate memoriam to his life. This institute will benefit all the peoples of T&T, as the culture of India is an integral factor of the heritage of all humanity, now and in the future.
It is against this background that all the peoples will visit and apply the eternal social, political, religious and philosophical imperatives of Gandhi in a troubled world.