GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI’S speech was, by common consent, the most moving and powerful at the unveiling of his grandfather’s statue.
Gopal was born on April 22, 1945, which means he, the youngest of 13 grandchildren, was not even three when Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948. But Gopal, who served as a diplomat, Nehru Centre director in London and governor of West Bengal, learnt what Gandhi had meant.
In his speech, Gopal began with the very moment of the Mahatma’s martyrdom.
“He looked rather like this 68 years ago – to his assassin. He looked straight into his eyes – quite exactly like this. Gandhi was walking, of course, not standing, as he walked into those three bullets. Had he lived he would have asked to have the man who shot at him freed. He had, after all, been greatly influenced by Jesus Christ.” Gopal spoke of Gandhi’s commitment to the truth.
“We need him in India today more than we ever have,” he emphasised.
“He said there was so much left unfinished…” Gopal explained why he used “she” when referring to India.
“I have used ‘she’ for India with deliberation for that ‘she’, the woman in India, worshipped in concept but neglected, exploited, abused in reality, is one of the scorching truths of India.”
He referred indirectly to Nathuram Godse, Gandhi’s Hindu assassin who even today has a perverse following of admirers who justify the murder on the grounds he was too accommodating to India’s Muslims.
“The fact that London, the capital of the then imperial power he disengaged India from, raises a statue for him even as India has some people contemplate a temple for his assassin, shows that Gandhi’s work for freedom of belief and expression succeeds in the most unbelievable ways,” he said.
Turning to the statue, Gopal almost spoke to his grandfather: “You were not infallible, Mohandas Gandhi. You erred often, as your wife Kasturba knew more than any other person. But you owned your errors and tried always to be better than your best.”
He recognised how Britain, which had imprisoned Gandhi for years on end and tried to crush the struggle for independence, had changed.
“On behalf of your family – which means not just your biological descendants, for you did not elevate family descent – but all those anywhere who experience the tyranny of bigotry and exploitation and try to resist it, I felicitate Great Britain and Her Majesty’s Government for creating space for this Gandhi statue on this great square.
That large family celebrates the fact of his statue taking its place right beside that of his political descendant, Nelson Mandela.”
“How many countries celebrate the life of a man who opposed it with vehemence for more than three decades?” Gopal wondered.
“Not many. But Britain does. And Britain celebrates Gandhi today because while oppose it he did, he opposed it in a cause that Britain now sees was just and in a way the world now sees was fair. So fair as to have set an all-time example.”
Gopal concluded by praising both Britain and the sculptor: “On behalf of all present here today and the pedestrians, young and once young, from all nationalities and customs who will come here and see this statue, I offer to Britain’s sense of history congratulations, her wisdom appreciation. And to the master sculptor of this statue, Philip Jackson, salutations.”