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In 1956, 34-year-old Garry Davis travelled to India on a quest. Having served as a bomber pilot through World War II, Davis was struck by the plight of millions rendered stateless once the war was over. For Davis, such suffering was sad and absurd, the forced consequence of a flawed and anachronistic system of nation states that governed the planet. In 1948, in Paris, he renounced the American citizenship of his birth and declared himself a world citizen with a world passport created on the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[1]. He soon picked up the support of the Alberts Einstein, Camus and Schweitzer [2].

What had spurred Davis was the idea of "one world" that had been articulated by former American Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie, and supported by the Alberts, by Bertrand Russell and by Gandhi [3]. By chance encounter, Davis met a disciple of the famed Narayana Guru while travelling at sea and decided then to visit India [4].

His journey was one of adventure since he belonged to no country and possessed only his self-made documents. But India granted him a visa and he soon found himself granted an audience with Prime Minister Nehru, not 'to seek any favours. but only to seek the blessings "from the greatest moral authority," which Mr Nehru was' [5].

As news broke of his visit with Nehru, Davis was invited to meet with dignitaries as varied as the Maharani of Kapurthala and the Director General of All-India Radio. He returned to Bangalore, where he had set up his base, and issued The Memorandum of World Government, along with his guru, Dr Natarajan. A short while later, Davis was speaking by invitation before the students and faculty of Punjab University [6].   

In 1945, just before the conference to create the United Nations got under way in San Francisco in the United States, Mahatma Gandhi declared that India's 'nationalism spells internationalism'. In an interview following up on this statement, Gandhi declared: "Yes [I would have a world government.] I claim to be a practical idealist. I believe in compromise so long as it does not involve the sacrifice of principles. I may not get a world government that I want just now but if it is a government that would just touch my ideal, I would accept it as a compromise [7]."

As India enters its 66th year of Independence, it is worth remembering the high ideals for which the founders of the republic stood, and the many around the world they inspired. Perhaps it is time for us to forego narrow nationalism and stand once more for a better world for all.

[1] "World Citizen No. 1," Barry James, The International Herald Tribune, 5 December 2011, p. 2.

[2] Garry Davis, My Country is the World, Putnams, 1961, p. 48.

[3] Ibid. pp. 17-18.

[4] Ibid. pp. 90-93.

[5] "World Citizen Calls on Nehru," The Hindustan Times, 9 June 1956.

[6] Davis, pp. 129-136.

[7] Manu Bhagavan, The Peacemakers, HarperCollins 2012, pp. 47-48.


More about Manu Bhagavan

Manu Bhagavan is the author of "The Peacemakers: India and the Quest for One World" and associate professor of history at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

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