By Amit Roy
JO JOHNSON has kept a low profile since he resigned as universities minister from his brother Boris’s government, but he made an effort to turn up for the commemoration of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150 birth anniversary in Parliament Square in London last Wednesday (2).
Johnson is something of an old India hand, as 10 years ago he was the Delhi-based south Asia bureau chief of the Financial Times.
After three days of stormy weather and heavy rain, Gandhi’s bronze statue was lit up by bright autumnal sunshine. Sculpted by Philip Jackson, the statue was unveiled in 2015 when David Cameron was prime minister. Two prime ministers have come and gone since then, with the country now bitterly split by Brexit.
After rose petals and bouquets were placed at Gandhi’s feet, India’s high commissioner to the UK, Ruchi Ghanashyam, said: “We come here every year on October 2, but this year is very special.
“The message of Mahatma Gandhi remains as relevant today as it was in his time, perhaps in some ways even more relevant in a world divided along so many different lines. So this occasion reminds us of the need to remember his message of non-violence, of love of humanity and of acceptance of everybody.”
Four years ago, fundraising for the statue was done by a committee headed by the Asian peer, Lord Meghnad Desai.
To those gathered in front of the statue, he pointed out: “Gandhi was a Londoner.”
He said the Gandhi statue was “perfectly situated between the two South Africans, (Nelson) Mandela and (Field Marshall Jan) Smuts and very near (Winston) Churchill”.
He could also have said referred to the building directly behind Gandhi. This is the supreme court which ruled that the prime minister’s decision last month “to prorogue parliament was unlawful”.
Lord Desai revealed that in order to organise the floral tribute, the Greater London Authority had made him fork out £1,000 so the occasion could be insured for £5 million.
“They were afraid that if something happened, if there were counter demonstrations, they would be liable,” he said.
In a comment piece in the proBrexit and pro-Boris Daily Telegraph, the Tory peer Jitesh Gadhia said: “Gandhi’s life story provides a timely reminder of why political leadership does not need to be bombastic and how public discourse can be conducted in a civilised way. At a time when these virtues are in scarce supply in British politics, it is ironic that the UK played such a significant role in Gandhi’s success.
“During his 78-year lifespan, Gandhi visited the UK on five separate occasions.
“Such was the impact of his early experiences that Gandhi wrote his own Guide to London for other students and travellers, saying, ‘Next to India, I would rather live in London than any other place in the world.’”
Lord Gadhia added: “The UK shaped Gandhi, but in turn Gandhi shaped the destiny of the UK.
“As well as being the father on the Indian nation, we are entitled to claim a part of Gandhi in this country, too. His formative experiences in London and UK shaped the future Mahatma.
“And his ideas and ideals continue to resonate now more than ever. For this reason, Gandhi rightly deserves an eternal second home here in the United Kingdom.”