Gandhi statue unveiled in London

A statue of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi is unveiled in London’s Parliament Square.

LONDON, ENGLAND, UK (MARCH 14, 2015) (REUTERS) – A statue of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi was unveiled on Saturday (March 14) in London’s Parliament Square, a place packed mostly with monuments to men who served the British Empire that Gandhi helped destroy.

“Nations transcend bitterness and acrimony. In Parliament Square, there is also a statue of Sir Winston Churchill, arguably the man who opposed Gandhi most resolutely. Some would detect an irony in the great prime minister sharing a public space with the man he once described as a half-naked fakir,” said Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley who was in London on a two-day visit.

Churchill famously called Gandhi “a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the east, striding half-naked up the steps of the Vice-regal palace.”

But almost seven decades after India won independence from Britain in 1947, thanks in a large part to Gandhi’s peaceful civil disobedience campaign, relations between the two countries are strong, with both keen to boost economic ties.

Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley unveiled the nine-foot-tall statue opposite the British parliament, marking the 100th anniversary of Gandhi’s return to India from South Africa to start the struggle for self rule.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the bronze statue, made by British sculptor Philip Jackson, was inspired by Gandhi’s visit to the residence of the British prime minister.

“The image of Gandhi we see today is based on a picture of him on the steps of Downing Street in 1931. On that same visit, he also went to see King George the fifth. Arriving bare-chested in his dhoti, and marching ahead with his stick, Gandhi was asked if he felt underdressed. And he replied, ‘The king is dressed for both of us.’,” said Cameron.

The prime minister also paid tribute to the Indians who have made Britain their new home.

“I think of the one and a half million Indians that do so much to make Britain the country it is today. I think of the growing trade between our nations. But I also think of the way we have both pursued Gandhi’s vision of different faiths living together in harmony,” he said.

Popular Indian film star Amitabh Bachchan and Gandhi’s grandson Shri Gopalkrishna Gandhi were also in attendance.

Visitors attending the unveiling event said they felt inspired by Gandhi’s peaceful efforts.

“Whenever I personally get stuck in life I always remember his words, ‘Be the change you want’, and that’s what I live by,” said Sonal Shah.

British-Indian peer Lord Karan Bilimoria also paid tribute to Gandhi’s resolute non-violence.

“In the three decades after he went back to India he was instrumental, through his non-violent means, in obtaining India’s independence. And every time there was violence and the horrific incidents that took place, for example in Amritsar, Mahatma Gandhi’s attitude was never to retaliate,” he said.

The statue is lower than others on the square, a deliberate decision made by the Gandhi Statue Memorial Trust, which raised money for the monument, to reflect the fact that Gandhi considered himself a man of the people.

Although the square is mostly filled with statues of former British prime ministers, Gandhi has been placed close to monuments of former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and South African President Nelson Mandela.