In London’s Parliament Square Gandhi comes to stands alongside his tormentors Churchill and Smuts
Vijay Rana, London, 14-03-2015,
“It is pleasing and heart warming to see Mahatma Gandhi, the conscience keeper of the humanity, standing in Parliament square and gazing at the Palace of Westminster whose mighty empire he helped to dismantle with the most humane weapons called Satyagraha and non-violence. ”
This is what I would say to Gandhi’s chief tormentor Winston Chruchill if I ever met him.
In the 1930s Churchill found it “alarming and nauseating” to see “a seditious fakir striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace.”
The times have changed. Today a 9ft tall statue stands in Parliament Square in the strange company of followers and foes. Gandhi stands alongside his archenemy Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill. A few yards away to his left stands Gen Jan Smuts of South Africa against whose government Gandhi launched his first Satyagrah. And to his right stands Nelson Mandela, who devoted his life to end the abhorrent apartheid regime that Smuts helped to create in South Africa.
The statue was unveiled by India’s Finance Minister Arun Jetley in a ceremony attended by the British Prime Minister David Cameron, Gandhi’s grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan. Jaitley said, “Even Churchill would have acknowledged the resolve and determination and cunning that he showed in standing up to the mighty military machine that threatened the existence of a proud and free people.”
The ceremony was open for public. As thousands of people arrived, London’s busy Parliament Square was closed for traffic. The forty minutes long ceremony began with the recitation of Gandhi’s favourite bhajan – Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said: “This statue is a magnificent tribute to one of the most towering figures in the history of world politics and by putting Mahatma Gandhi in this famous square we are giving him an eternal home in our country.”
One of Britain’s most famous sculptor Philip Jackson was commissioned for this extraordinary three quarters of a tonne of bronze statue. Jackson’s other famous works include the statue of Queen Mother, legendary footballer Bobby Moore at Wembley Stadium and the revered Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby at Old Trafford. After the ceremony Jackson said, “It’s a day of great pride for me.”
The project cost more than £1million. Lord Meghnad Desai, the head of Gandhi Statue Memorial Trust , worked tirelessly to raise the funds. While thousands of small donations came from ordinary public money, the shortfall was finally filled by large donations from some of the leading Indian and British businessmen.
Gandhi is the only world leader whose statues could be found in many capital cities of the world from Buenos Aires in Argentina to Beijing in China and from Amsterdam in Holland to Honolulu in Hawaii. And often Gandhi is found in his familiar attire, wearing a dhoti and holding a lathi.
There are only two exceptions in the world. The first one is in Gandhi Square in Johannesburg, South Africa, where Gandhi stands wearing a barrister’s robe and now the second one would be seen in London where he is covering himself in a woollen shawl. The statue was inspired by photographs of Gandhi outside 10 Downing Street on a visit in 1931 when he came to London to attend the Round Table Conference.
Towards the end of the ceremony the most moving tribute came from Gandhi’s grandson Gopalkrishna Gandhi, “The fact that London, the capital of the then imperial power, raises a statue for him, even as India has some people contemplating a temple for his assassin, shows that Gandhi’s world for freedom of belief and expression succeeds in the most unbelievable ways.”