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Explained: What is Congressional Gold Medal of which Gandhi may become first Indian recipient?

The History, Arts and Archives section of the US House of Representatives notes that since the American revolution, Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.

If given the award, Gandhi would become the first Indian to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, which is the highest civilian award in the US and has been awarded to the 1980 US summer Olympics team, Robert F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela and George Washington among many others. (Express archive photo)

Ahead of India’s 75th Independence Day, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from New York has reintroduced a legislation in the US House of Representatives to posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to Mahatma Gandhi for his contributions made through his methods of non-violence.

If given the award, Gandhi would become the first Indian to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, which is the highest civilian award in the US and has been awarded to the 1980 US summer Olympics team, Robert F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela and George Washington among many others.

In every session of the Congress, the legislation to award Congressional Gold Medals are introduced. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) notes that in the 113th session (2013-2014), 52 bills were introduced, 34 in the House and 18 in the Senate, to award a gold medal. In the 114th Congress (2015-2016), 52 bills were introduced, in the 115th Congress (2017-2018), 55 bills were introduced and in the 116th Congress (2019-2020), 57 bills were introduced.

Significantly, the CRS notes that in recent years the number of gold medals awarded has “soared from four or five per decade for most of its history to an average of almost twenty in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s,” citing Civic Art.

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What is the Congressional Gold Medal?

The History, Arts and Archives section of the US House of Representatives notes that since the American revolution, Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.

The first recipients of the medal were participants of the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Mexican War, Congress subsequently broadened the scope of the medal to include actors, authors, entertainers, musicians, explorers, athletes, humanitarians and foreign recipients among pioneers in some other fields.

Most recently, the medal was awarded to the US Capitol Police and those who protected the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, the day of the siege.

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It is necessary that all Congressional Gold Medal legislations be co-sponsored by at least two-thirds of the Members of the House. As of now, there is no statutory limit on the number of such medals that can be awarded during a given year, even though such legislation has been introduced previously.

Why has Maloney introduced this legislation now?

This is not the first time that Maloney has made efforts to get the Congress to give the award to Gandhi. In 2018, Maloney introduced this legislation that was co-sponsored by four Indian-American lawmakers, Ami Bera, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Ro Khanna and Pramila Jayapal. The bill was introduced in Congress in February 2019 but it did not receive a vote.

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“Based on the number of measures offered in both chambers, some Members of Congress clearly feel it is important to recognize individuals and groups for their patriotic, humanitarian, and artistic achievements. Several considerations appear important when Members decide to introduce gold medal legislation,” CRS notes.

These considerations include who should be honoured, how many medals should be awarded in a given Congress and if specific design elements should be prescribed for the medal design. For instance, the bill introduced by Maloney mentions under Section 2 that for the purposes of the presentation of the medal, the Secretary of Treasury “shall strike a gold medal with suitable emblems, devices, and inscriptions to be determined by the Secretary”.

“Mahatma Gandhi’s historic Satyagraha (Sanskrit for “soul-force”) movement of nonviolent resistance inspired a nation and the world. His example energises us to devote ourselves to the service of others. His legacy inspired civil rights movements around the globe, from Martin Luther King Jr.’s movement for racial equality to Nelson Mandela’s fight against apartheid. As a public servant, I am inspired everyday by his courage and example. Let us all follow Gandhi’s directive to ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’” Maloney said in a statement.

As a member of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, Maloney was also involved in efforts to lead the US Postal Service (USPS) to create a commemorative Diwali stamp.

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First published on: 14-08-2021 at 07:14:22 pm
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