On behalf of the whole country I want to thank Lord and Lady Desai, Jo Johnson, in my policy unit who has played a key role, and all those who have supported the Gandhi Statue Memorial Trust in making this sculpture possible.
The image of Gandhi we see today is based on a picture of him on the steps of Downing Street in 1931. 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 whether he felt under-dressed. He replied: “The King is dressed for both of us.”
British sculptor, Philip Jackson, has done an incredible job. This stunning 9 foot bronze statue is a magnificent tribute to one of the most 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.
An eternal home for Gandhi in our country
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 Mandela and whose doctrine of Satyagraha became the inspiration for the civil rights movement across the world. That inspirational man worked out who he was and what he stood for right here in Britain. It was in London as a young man that Gandhi first learnt to petition, to draft letters and make speeches. It was here - where he was treated equally by his colleagues at 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 are proud of him.
Britain and India - a special friendship
Second, 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. I think of the growing trade between our countries. But I also think of the way we have both pursued Gandhi’s vision of different faiths living together in harmony. We are proud to be multi-racial, multi-ethnic democracies. And we will always stand together against those who would seek to destroy the societies we have built. Gandhi said: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” Britain and India stand together for humanity.
Power of Gandhi’s message
Finally, this statue celebrates the universal power of Gandhi’s message. 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. 85 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 bhagavān. I hope that as Gandhi takes up residence in this square at the heart of our politics and democracy that we can all be blessed with the wisdom of Gandhi today, tomorrow and for generations to come.