MAHATMA GANDHI AND THE SCULPTOR

British Prime Minister David Cameron unveils Mahatma Gandhi statue in London. Photo: ©British Crown copyright/Arron Hoare.
– A personal view by Harvey TORDOFF
“Bearing in mind he was a thorn in the flesh of the British Government during most of his life it says a great deal about his legacy that he has been honoured in sight of Parliament and says a lot about Britain that they should place his sculpture where it is.”
– Philip Jackson, Sculptor

“It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious Middle [Inner] Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Viceregal palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor.” Thus spoke Winston Churchill about Mahatma Gandhi in the year 1931 when the sun was finally setting on the British Empire.  The fact that Churchill, one of the most powerful men in the world, should be so alarmed illustrates how effective was Gandhi’s campaign of civil disobedience. 

His full name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, but he was often referred to simply as ‘Mahatma’ which means ‘Great Soul’.   It was no surprise that in 1973 a statue of Churchill was unveiled in Parliament Square in London, the home of modern democracy, on the spot chosen by him in the 1950’s.  But what couldn’t have been anticipated is that in 2015 a statue of the half-naked fakir would be unveiled alongside Churchill in that most prominent location.

A passionate campaign had been launched by The Gandhi Statue Memorial Trust which was set up in 2014. Its Chair Lord Desai felt that Parliament Square was a fitting place for a statue of his hero amongst the other parliamentarians and statesmen. In commemorating the man, the sculpture would symbolise his contribution to the advancement of human rights, citizenship, and the promotion of racial harmony.  The trust patrons included Countess Patricia Mountbatten and Lady Pamela Hicks, who joined the trust to acknowledge the long association of their father Lord Mountbatten with Gandhi. As the last Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten oversaw the transfer of power in India in 1947.

More than £1m was raised within 6 months for the work which was described as a “magnificent tribute”. The unveiling of the statue marked 100 years since Gandhi returned to India from South Africa to begin his struggle for independence. 

I am fortunate to live in the beautiful county of West Sussex, in a country that owes its freedom to the strength and determination of Churchill, and yet today Gandhi’s message of peace is what the majority of the world’s population identifies with.  I live quite close to Philip Jackson, Commander of the Royal Victorian Order and Deputy Lieutenant of West Sussex, who sculpted the nine-foot bronze statue of Gandhi, and he was kind enough to talk to me about his work.

Philip Jackson with one of his sculptures outside his home in
West Sussex (photo by Harvey Tordoff)
Q.  How did it come about that the British Government decided on a statue in Parliament Square to honour Mahatma Gandhi, a man who helped prise India, the Jewel, out of the Crown of the British Empire?

PJ.  It was the brainchild of David Cameron who wanted to strengthen links between Britain and India. I dealt with Savid Javid and Jo Johnson and a number of people from the Foreign Office. It was wanted in a great rush to meet the anniversary of the Mahatma’s death but in the end, although I finished on time India could not get a VIP over on the day for the unveiling. In fact the sculpture had two unveiling’s firstly with the Indian Minister of Finance and then a few months later with Mr Narendra Modi the Indian Prime Minister. Although it was effectively commissioned by the Government it was paid for by private donations from the Indian business community in Britain. This was arranged by Lord Desai a formidable member of the House of Lords.

Q.  The Mahatma lived to a great age.  How did you decide what age he should be in your sculpture?

PJ.  Gopal Gandhi the Mahatma’s grandson was very helpful to me and talked about his grandfather, his determination, strengths and compassion. Through him and with the help of Ranjan Mathai, the then Indian High Commissioner, I was able to build up a picture of the great man and then translate that into the sculpture.  I needed also to link my image of Gandhi to London. Fortunately, he came to London at the age of 62 and visited the then Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald at 10 Downing Street and was photographed on the steps. These photographs gave me the images I was looking for to base my interpretation on.

Q.  You have sculpted many favourite people in your career.  How does this one stand out in your memory?

PJ.  When In 2015 the sculpture of Gandhi was placed in Parliament Square  in front of the Palace of Westminster he joined nine Prime Ministers and two Presidents. Much of the fame and popularity of the other sculptures has faded but the popularity and respect for Gandhi has grown. He is visited by hundreds of people every day and although I have no way of proving it I believe he is the most revered in Parliament Square. Bearing in mind he was a thorn in the flesh of the British Government during most of his life it says a great deal about his legacy that he has been honoured in sight of Parliament and says a lot about Britain that they should place his sculpture where it is.

M
Q.  Final words?

PJ.  I am honoured to have a sculpture in Parliament Square and doubly so that it should be of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi showed that you could win your argument and impose your will by peaceful means and in this troubled world that is an example to be followed.

END.

British Prime Minister David Cameron unveils Mahatma Gandhi statue in London. Photo: ©British Crown copyright/Arron Hoare.
British Prime Minister David Cameron unveils Mahatma Gandhi statue in London. Photo: ©British Crown copyright/Arron Hoare.
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