THE culture secretary Sajid Javid, who acted as master of ceremonies at the unveiling of Gandhi’s statue, introduced Amitabh Bachchan as probably “the greatest actor in the history of Indian cinema”.
As loud cheers greeted the announcement from beyond the VIP section, Javid quipped: “I think some of his fans are here this morning.”
“He is the star of almost 200 films,” he added. “Today he will be sharing an extract from Gandhi’s teachings.”
Before Bachchan read in a clear voice familiar to Indians, there was an evocative rendering of Gandhi’s favourite hymn, Raghupati Raghava Rajaram, by singers and musicians from the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Bachchan was preceded by the Indian finance minister, Arun Jaitley, who stressed how much Gandhi admired Britain and the British people, while seeking to end colonial rule in India.
“Nobody embodies the deep and enduring connections between the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy as well as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi – the Mahatma – whose statue is being unveiled in Parliament Square today,” Jaitley said.
Even as Gandhi “waged this struggle, he admired Britain, valued many of the things it stood for, and cherished his friendships with scores of Britons. During the Battle of Britain, he was moved to tears at the thought that Westminster Abbey might be bombarded.
“So great was his regard for British values that he would condemn many unfair and unjust practices as ‘un-British’,” Jaitley continued.
“One of his deepest spiritual bonds was struck with CF Andrews, the only person who called him by his first name ‘Mohan’, whereas the world referred to him more respectfully as Bapu or Gandhiji,” the finance minister recalled.
“In short, Mohandas Gandhi became the Mahatma not just because Britain gave him the cause that would define his life but also the human and other connections that made the fight for that cause possible.”
Jaitley referred to Britain’s wartime leader: “Mature 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 decried as a ‘half-naked fakir’.
“Maybe there is, but even Churchill would have acknowledged that the resolve, determination and even cunning he showed in standing up to a mighty military machine that threatened the very existence of a proud and free people was replicated by Gandhi in his seemingly unequal battle against the world’s mightiest empire.
“What will link Churchill and Gandhi together is their strength of character. But it is a greater tribute to Britain to recognise Gandhiji’s contributions and choose to place the ‘seditious, half-naked fakir’ next to his one-time nemesis, Churchill and, of course, next to the man Gandhiji inspired, Nelson Mandela.
Jaitley finished: “For that gracious gesture, my government and all of India are deeply thankful to the tireless work of the Gandhi Statue Memorial Trust, including its chairman, Lord Meghnad Desai, to the prodigious talent of sculptor Philip Jackson, and above all to the capacious, Gandhi-like spirit of the British government and its people.”
When the statue was unveiled, an appreciative buzz – “very nice” – went round the crowd. Many parents had brought their children. A number of the donors were present too – Lakshmi Mittal, Rahul Bajaj, NR Narayana Murthy and Rami Ranger among them.