Remembering Lodi Gyari

NED President Carl Gershman makes remarks at Lodi’s memorial service

I’ve been asked to speak about Lodi under the heading “Introduction to the United States of America.”  I assume this means that I need to explain why Lodi would often refer to me as his “oldest friend in Washington.”

When Lodi arrived here in 1990, I remember that he said he had reached out to me at the suggestion of George Fernandes, an Indian leader whom Lodi was very close to.  George was the Chairman of India’s Socialist Party and had been a key leader of the resistance to Indira Gandhi’s suspension of democracy in 1975.  He was also Tibet’s best friend in India. I almost hesitate to say that I knew George through the Socialist International, where I represented a small U.S. group in the 1970s.    I didn’t know George well, but he was aware that I was at NED and thought I might be helpful, so he told Lodi to contact me.

Lodi didn’t need me to introduce him to Washington.  He was, as we all know, a master diplomat and political strategist.  But we immediately established a strong personal and philosophical rapport, and with Lodi’s guidance and encouragement, NED became significantly engaged on the issue of Tibet.  We developed a sizeable program of grants to Tibetan NGOs, became a locus of advocacy for Tibetan rights, and provided a platform for His Holiness to explain his thinking about the importance of democracy for Tibet and for all mankind.

I benefited from Lodi’s counsel far more than he did from mine.  He educated me about India, which I had previously not paid much attention to because it’s a long-established democracy and NED typically doesn’t work in such countries.  Lodi tutored me on Indian politics and helped me understand why the success of India’s democracy was crucial to the future of democracy in the world.  Lodi encouraged NED to partner with India, which we did by launching the World Movement for Democracy in New Delhi twenty years ago last month.

With Lodi’s help, a controversy associated with the World Movement’s founding assembly had a happy ending.  His Holiness had agree to speak at the opening of the assembly, but the Indian government, which didn’t object at first, suddenly reversed itself and said that his speaking at such a meeting would violate its policy prohibiting the Dalai Lama from making political statements on Indian soil.  George was Defense Minister at the time in the Vajpayee government, and he protested furiously and got the government to reverse its position once again.  But by that point His Holiness, not pleased with how he had been treated, said that the Tibetan new year would prevent him from leaving Dharamsala.

Quite typically, Lodi thought that this foul-up offered a good opportunity for us to go to Dharamsala to brief His Holiness on the assembly.  That we did with several very dear friends, and for me it turned out to be an unforgettable journey of pure joy for which I’ll be forever grateful. To top it off, it was George who ended up speaking at the World Movement assembly, and he didn’t mince words about the behavior of his government.

I should note that George, following a long illness, passed away just three months after Lodi, and he also is in our prayers today.

We remember Lodi today for his wisdom and humility.  He continues to influence our thinking and our lives in many ways.

The rise of China and the global crisis of democracy have given momentous new meaning to Lodi’s belief in the importance of India to the future of democracy.

In addition, Beijing’s rejection of the Middle Way Approach, which Lodi pursued with such patience and persistence, along with its refusal to speak with His Holiness until he accepts the transparent lie that Tibet has always been a part of China, gives us a prism through which to view a regime that today poses the gravest challenge to our own values and security.

Most of all, we remember Lodi because he reminds us not to forget who we are.  A friend of mine, a rabbi, said recently that who we remember and how we remember them tells us who we are and what are our values and priorities.  Memory, he said, is about the present even more than it is about the past.

Who among us doesn’t believe, at a time when America is so divided and we seem to have forgotten how to talk to each other, that by remembering Lodi, with his quiet dignity and grace, we can become a better and more unified country?

May his memory be a blessing to us all.