DAVID CAMERON rose to the occasion at the unveiling of Gandhi’s statue last Saturday (14) with a speech that is bound to win him new friends in the 2.3 million-strong Indian community.
“The image of Gandhi we see today is based on a picture of him on the steps of Downing Street in 1931,” he said.
“On that same visit he also went to meet King George V. Arriving bare chested in his dhoti and marching ahead with his stick, Gandhi was asked if he felt under-dressed. And he replied, ‘The King is dressed for both of us.’”
There was a brief pause before the crowd got one of Gandhi’s famous jokes. Then followed a warm tribute to the quality of the statue.
“British sculptor, Philip Jackson, has done, I am sure you will all agree, an incredible, magnificent job,” said the prime minister.
“This stunning 9ft bronze statue is a magnificent tribute to one of the towering figures in the history of world politics.
“And for me there are three reasons in particular why I believe this statue is so important for our country,” continued Cameron.
“The first is that in putting Gandhi in this famous square we are giving him an eternal home in our country. The man who turned the politically unimaginable into the politically inevitable; whose work in South Africa paved the way for [Nelson] Mandela; a man whose doctrine of satyagraha became the inspiration for the civil rights movement across the world.”
Cameron reminded everyone: “This inspirational man worked out who he was and what he stood for right here in Britain. It was in London that as a young man Gandhi first learnt to petition, to draft letters, to make speeches. It was here – where he was treated equally by his colleagues at the Inner Temple – that the foundations were laid for his battles with segregation and discrimination.
“And even years later when he was striving for Indian independence, his respect for the people of this country shone through. If Gandhi could have lived anywhere in the world outside India, he said it would have been London. We should be proud of that. And we should be proud of him. “Second,” Cameron went on, “this statue celebrates the incredibly special friendship between the world’s oldest democracy and its largest. I think of the one and-a-half million Indians who do so much to make Britain the country it is today (the actual population is between 2.3-2.5 million). 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. We are both proud to be multiracial, multi-ethnic democracies. And we will always stand together against those who would seek to destroy the societies that we have built.
“Finally, this statue celebrates the universal power of Gandhi’s message,” Cameron concluded. “Many of his teachings remain as potent today as when he first said them. ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’ ‘Be the change that you want to see in the world.’ There are so many timeless, profound and inspiring words of wisdom.”
There was a reference to Gandhi’s ‘Salt March’: “Eighty-five years ago this week, Gandhi led his followers on the 241-mile ‘Salt March’ to Dandi. As they sang the traditional song that we have heard this morning, they asked that everyone should be blessed with real wisdom – sab ko sanmati de bhagwan (bless everyone with real wisdom, Lord). “I hope that as Gandhi takes up residence in this great square at the heart of our politics and democracy that we can all be blessed with the wisdom of Gandhi today, tomorrow and generations to come.”