India's Gandhi gets London statue near nemesis, Churchill

Sat Mar 14, 2015 6:10pm EDT
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By Andrew Osborn

LONDON (Reuters) - A statue of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi was unveiled on Saturday in London's prestigious Parliament Square, a space packed mostly with monuments to men who served the British Empire that Gandhi helped destroy.

In an ironic twist noted by the Indian government, Gandhi's likeness now shares the same space as a statue of Britain's former leader Winston Churchill, who tried to thwart Indian independence and who despised Gandhi and his aims.

Churchill famously called Gandhi "a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Vice-regal palace."

But almost seven decades after India won independence from Britain in 1947, thanks in large part to Gandhi's peaceful civil disobedience campaign, relations between the two countries are strong with both keen to boost economic ties.

Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley unveiled the 9-foot-tall statue opposite the British parliament, marking the 100th anniversary of Gandhi’s return to India from South Africa to start the struggle for self rule.

"It ... marks an important, historic moment celebrating the strong bond between our two nations," Jaitley said.

"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."

Prime Minister David Cameron, who looked on as Jaitley removed an orange drape from the statue, said the monument celebrated the special friendship between the world's oldest democracy and its largest.   Continued...