The upcoming Gandhi statue at Parliament Square in UK continues to stoke controversy. Now, India-born British labour MP and Gandhian scholar Lord Bhikhu Parekh has said that the Indian community in the United Kingdom has shown little enthusiasm for the statue, mainly because of lack of “critical discussions” and controversies surrounding it.
Parekh, who is currently visiting his hometown Vadodara, rued the fact that barring a few industrialists not many Indians contributed to the statue. Lord Meghnad Desai, fellow Labour MP who has roots in Gujarat, heads the Gandhi Statue Memorial Trust, which is collecting donations. An image of the statue of the Mahatma, to be installed in London, was put up at the Gandhi gallery in Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar, during the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. It shows Gandhi completely covered with a shawl with clasped hands.
When contacted for his comments on the statue, Gandhi’s great grandson Tushar Gandhi said that he would prefer a statue of Gandhi that resembled a “half-naked fakir”. “The Indian community’s response has been rather poor. You want to raise £700,000, but there have been no critical discussion on why we need that kind of money. Indian community has taken the project for granted. It does not make any important difference to their daily life. The statue will make no difference to them, partly because of the controversy which is irrelevant, and partly because people are not fully clear as to why it costs so much money,” said Parekh.
The main donors include Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy (£200,000), Bajaj Auto chairman Rahul Bajaj (£200,000) and Rami Ranger, director of Sun Mark Limited (£100,000). “To get that much money from 15 lakh Indians living in the UK would have been a very easy thing to do. We didn’t do that. I feel slightly uneasy that rich people are propping up rather than others,” said Parekh. A Sikh group in the UK and a feminist writer were vocal in their opposition to the statue.
Sculptor Philip Jackson, who has made the figure inspired by photographs of Gandhi on the steps of 10 Downing Street during the latter’s London visit in 1931, has charged £250,000. Another £100,000 will go to the police for the arrangement on the day of its inauguration. Parekh said people are not in the know of the process of selecting sculptor. “Was it put to bid? Were sculptors invited from other parts of the world? Were Indian sculptors invited? All this is shrouded in mystery. For all these reasons, people do not feel engaged.”
Gandhi’s great grandson Tushar Gandhi told this paper, “The sculpture in Parliament Square is just another ritual, but it will at least remind the British of its follies in India. My only wish was that they had kept him the way Winston Churchill described him as half-naked fakir, instead of covering him up. A more fitting statue standing next to Churchill statue would have been of him only in his dhoti”.
On lack of small donations from Indians for the statue, Gandhi said that public subscription required “more effort and conviction” which was lacking. During a fund-raising speech in New Delhi in December last year, UK High Commissioner to India, Sir James Bevan , who also visited the Gandhi gallery at PBD, had said the sculpture will mark the recognition by Britain that Gandhi was “an honoured part of our history too, as well as India’s, that he was a truly unique individual whose message is as relevant today as it was in his lifetime; and that the man who attracted so much hostility in the UK during the independence struggle, who fought the British and won, is now not just accepted, but revered in the UK.”
He had also said, “It will be the last statue in Parliament Square and the first of an Indian. It is fitting that the father of the world’s largest democracy will take his place in front of the mother of parliaments.”
The sculpture will come up in the Parliament Square next to an existing statue of Nelson Mandela, the anti-Apartheid activist and former South African president who died last year. It will be the last statue in the Parliament Square where ten more statues stand, including those of Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln. It is not going to be inaugurated before the British Parliament election to be held on May 8. The date will also depend on when PM Narendra Modi visits Britain for the same.