A permanent memorial to Indian independence icon Mahatma Gandhi will be unveiled in London’s Parliament Square on 14 March, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced.
The nine-foot bronze statue by acclaimed British sculptor Philip Jackson will stand alongside other iconic historical figures like Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela.
Mr Cameron said the memorial, first announced in August by chancellor George Osborne during his trip to India, would help strengthen relations between the UK and India.
“The statue in Parliament Square not only marks his huge importance in the history of both our countries, but will enrich the firm bond of friendship between the world’s oldest democracy and its largest”, Mr Cameron said.
“Our ties with India have remained close throughout history and continue to go from strength to strength – through mutual respect as equals, through cooperation, trade, and of course through the one-and-a-half million Indian Diaspora living in Britain today who bring our two nations closer, to the benefit of both”, the Prime Minister added.
The statue will be the final memorial in the famous patch of green in front of the Palace of Westminster.
The date of the unveiling was announced as donations for the Gandhi Statue Memorial Trust crossed the £1 million mark and pledges continue to pour in.
According to reports, the family of London-based steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal donated £100,000 to the Trust following donations of £250,000 each by Indian industrialists Narayan Murthy and Rahul Bajaj.
London-based economist Lord Meghnad Desai, who chairs the Trust, said: “Generous donors have contributed sums from a pound up to hundreds of thousands of pounds from UK, India and around the world.
“On behalf of the Gandhi Statue Memorial Trust we thank all who made it possible for us to exceed our target of a million pounds within six months. As Gandhi said ‘ If the cause is right the means will come ‘.”
The memorial will be the focal point for a number of events marking the 100th anniversary of the Mahatma’s passage from South Africa to India to spearhead the independence movement.
When the memorial was first announced it divided opinion within the British Asian community with author and historian Dr Kusoom Vadgama leading calls to abandon the idea altogether, citing the murkier aspects of Mahatma Gandhi’s life, not least his questionable relationships with his young nieces.
Many however, including the likes of multi-millionaire business tycoon Rami Ranger and other prominent figures, came out in support of the initiative, citing the divisive nature of many of those immortalized in Parliament Square.
The statue itself is inspired by a picture of Gandhi taken outside 10 Downing Street in 1931 after he had met with then-Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald for that year’s famous Round Table conference.
The original picture shows a 62-year-old Gandhi smiling widely at reporters, his slight frame appearing to drown in an immense shawl.
Jackson’s statue tones down the image somewhat and gives Gandhi a more measured, earthier expression.
Gandhi’s will be the most contemplative of all the iconic statue in Parliament Square.
Jackson told the UKAsian that his work was inspired by his perception of Gandhi as a “thoughtful, kind, compassionate and, above all, a very determined man”.
Mr Jackson – whose previous works include a statue of King George VI, the last emperor of India – added that the Gandhi statue will also enjoy the best position in Parliament Square.
“At night when all the tourists have gone and the Palace of Westminster is quiet, he has to his left Jan Smuts, to his right Nelson Mandela, behind him Abraham Lincoln and in front of him Winston Churchill.
“What could be better than that?”