Last week, Meghnad Desai told the Press Trust of India that he would embark on a hunger strike to help raise the £1 million required for a permanent memorial in London to Mahatma Gandhi, prompting concerns among some social media users about the UK-based Indian writer and economist’s’ hair.
On Wednesday, Lord Desai emphatically denied that he had ever mentioned ‘hunger strike’, saying the practice was “corrosive”.
Addressing a press briefing at the House of Lords, the peer said he would instead stage a 24-hour fast, provided he gets the go-ahead from his GP.
“I’m not going on a hunger strike. I never, ever used those words. I’m against hunger strikes. It’s a corrosive method. All I said was that I will go on a 24-hour fast to raise awareness of this project.
“But first, I have to obtain permission from my GP because I’m a diabetic and I have to get advice even if it’s a 24-hour fast”.
Whatever he meant, Lord Desai claimed that the story about him doing a ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ resulted in an instant spike in interest in the project.
“Let me tell you, it worked! More people talked about the hunger strike than the Gandhi statue. If everyone who asked me about the hunger strike gave me £100 the funding would have been done”.
Despite the peer’s claims, the London correspondent for PTI maintains the phrase was used during the interview.
Semantics aside, a precarious blood-sugar level appears to be the least of Lord Desai’s concerns.
Three months since Chancellor George Osborne announced a permanent memorial dedicated to Gandhi, to be placed in London’s famous Parliament Square, the Mahatma’s iconic status hasn’t translated into pounds as easily as many had imagined.
According to some reports, the Gandhi Statue Memorial Trust – set up and manned by Lord Desai and his wife Lady Kishwar Desai – has thus far received just over ten percent of the total sum required, a surprisingly low amount, even at this relatively early stage, particularly given the influence and prosperous nature of the large British Asian community.
Lord Desai, whilst remaining confident of seeing the project through to completion, didn’t inspire much confidence when he said he was “pretty sure” that the funds would be raised and declined to put a figure on the amount raised so far, “because you should never, ever reveal your accounts until you have to”.
“We have a lot of pledges. Money is coming through from the website. I have also written to my colleagues in the House of Lords for help as well. I haven’t raised enough and I want more”, he declared.
However, pledges – including a “six figure sum” promised by an India-based industrialist – don’t necessarily translate into cold, hard cash.
Lord Desai appeared intent on adding to concerns, when he expressed his uncertainty about when the statue would be declared open to the public, after initially pinpointing 30th January as the day of the official unveiling.
“I don’t think one should make any future plans. There’s something called randomness. The best laid plans of mice and men, etc.
“It will be sometime in 2015. Exactly when, I don’t know.”
When the memorial was first announced – during Mr Osborne’s trade visit to India in August – 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 highly 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.
The news made headlines around the world and Lord Desai claimed that donations have been coming in from as far apart as Spain and America.
Just not enough, it seems.
Sculptor Philip Jackson
The man charged with creating the 9-foot statue that will join other, equally divisive, figures such as Winston Churchill, Nelson Mendela and Abraham Lincoln, in Parliament Square said that a slow start was characteristic of projects of this nature.
Acclaimed sculptor Philip Jackson – whose numerous public works, intriguingly enough, include a statue of King George VI, the last emperor of India – added that the recent unveiling of the clay model of the statue, which will eventually be cast in bronze, will inspire potential donors.
“It goes through a predictable cycle with these projects. Funds come in comparatively slowly to begin with. What makes the big difference is when there is actually an image. That’s when funds start coming in and in increasingly large quantities as well.”
If ever there was an image to spur a million Indians to donate a pound each – as one senior journalist put it – it is Jackson’s latest magnificent creation.
Icon: What the permanent memorial to Mahatma Gandhi will look like
The statue 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 the famous Round Table conference.
The original picture shows a 62-year-old Gandhi smiling widely at reporters, wrapped up warm in an immense shawl that appears to drown the slightly-built independence leader.
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.
“I seem him as a thoughtful man. A thinker. A kind man, a compassionate man. Above all a very determined man”, Jackson says.
Fittingly, the Gandhi statue – once it is eventually and hopefully placed on its plinth – will be the final memorial in the famous patch of greenery in front of the Palace of Westminster and will, according to Jackson, enjoy the best position.
“Mahatma Gandhi will look directly at the Palace of Westminster. At his back will be the Supreme Court which would please him.
“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?”
Hear more from Philip Jackson on how created the Mahatma Gandhi memorial and Lord Desai on how he’s feeling “sanguine” about the fundraising drive:
To make a donation, visit www.gandhistatue.org