Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan will join Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley at the unveiling of a permanent memorial to Mahatma Gandhi in London’s Parliament Square on Saturday 14 March, the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced today.
The unveiling ceremony will be open to the public and feature several prominent speakers, including the Mahatma’s grandson, and former Governor of West Bengal, Gopalkrishna Gandhi as well as Lord and Lady Desai of the Gandhi Statue Memorial Trust (GSMT).
The event is part of Mr Jaitley’s packed schedule on what is his first official visit to Britain during which he is also expected to meet with government ministers and business leaders.
Mr Jaitley said the memorial is but one of the lasting legacies of the enduring relationship between Britain and the UK.
“The statue marks an important, historic moment celebrating the strong bond between our two nations.
“India and the UK share the same values and we are a partnership of equals. This lasting friendship is just one of many legacies left by Gandhi, which I am keen that we work hard to strengthen further.”
The GSMT had originally hoped to unveil the statue in late January to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s historic voyage from South Africa to India where he took up the reigns of the independence movement.
It was rumoured that organizers had delayed the unveiling in the hope that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi would schedule a visit to the UK.
The memorial, first announced by Chancellor George Osborne during his visit to India in August, has been a contentious issue.
One campaign, led by historian Dr Kusoom Vadgama, criticized plans for the memorial citing Gandhi’s questionable relationship with his female relatives.
Some members of the British Asian community questioned the need for a second London memorial to Gandhi – one already exists in Tavistock Square, not too far from Westminster.
However, support for the statue was considerable and it is to the great credit of the indomitable Lord Desai that the GSMT has managed to raise the £750,000 required for the statue, particularly after public donations were not as instantly forthcoming at first.
The peer was even moved to hint that he would embark on a – GP advised – fast to raise awareness for the initiative.
In the end a visit to the doctor proved unnecessary especially as wealthy donors – including Infosys founder Narayan Murthy, industrialist Rahul Bajaj and steel tycoon Laxmi Mittal – pledged hundreds of thousands of pounds, prompting a minor tsunami of public pledges and donations in the past few weeks.
Fittingly, the 9-foot tall statue – created by acclaimed British sculptor Philip Jackson – will be the last memorial in the square.
The Mahatma joins other historic – and equally divisive – figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Jan Smuts and Nelson Mandela in the famous patch of green, keeping an eye on those getting up to various intrigues inside the Palace of Westminster.