London, Sep 29 (PTI) The award-winning Scottish artist behind the iconic sculpture of Mahatma Gandhi at Parliament Square in London believes that the apostle of peace is the most revered of world leaders who occupy that historic site opposite the Palace of Westminster, which houses the UK Parliament.
As Britain joins in marking the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on October 2, Philip Jackson relives the painstaking hours he spent studying one of his most challenging subjects before recreating his likeness based on the Indian leader’s last visit to the UK for a Round Table Conference in 1931.
“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,” said Jackson, who describes feeling “doubly honoured” at being the one to execute the project in 2015 at Parliament Square already home to world leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill.
“When in 2015 the sculpture of Gandhi was placed in Parliament Square, he became the eleventh sculpture in front of the Palace of Westminster of which nine were Prime Ministers and two were Presidents. Much of the fame and popularity of the other sculptures has faded but the popularity and respect for Gandhi has grown,” said the 75-year-old artist, known for his emphasis on form and honoured by Queen Elizabeth II in 2009 for his contribution to the world of art.
“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,” he noted.
The artist based his work on a photograph of Gandhi on the steps of Downing Street for his meeting with then Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and also on discussions with Gandhi’s grandson Gopal Gandhi on his grandfather’s determination, strengths and compassion.
Jackson was selected by the Gandhi Statue Memorial Trust after a worldwide fundraising campaign for the sculpture which has since become an important pit stop for visiting Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“Mahatma Gandhi acquired his rightful place in his favourite city, at the centre of the Empire whose demolition he began, not far from Churchill, his principal detractor, between Smuts and Mandela with Abraham Lincoln behind him at a respectable distance,” notes Lord Meghnad Desai, the key driver of the project as Chair of the Trust.
He had even light-heartedly suggested going on satyagraha in true Gandhian style to see the project through.
“Many people helped in this endeavour and hopefully hundreds if not thousands will enjoy visiting the site. He was the first global politician straddling the nineteenth and the twentieth century. He taught us that resistance against power wasn’t just possible but a winning technique,” added Lord Desai, who recently unveiled scholarships in memory of Gandhi to coincide with the 150th birth anniversary celebrations.
The Trust has committed to donating a sum of 100,000 pounds as an endowment towards a number of Gandhi scholarships to be set up at the London School of Economics (LSE), which would go towards supporting Indian students in their educational journey at the prestigious London-based UK educational institution.
“In this world of conflict, Gandhi’s message of non-violence is more relevant than ever before. A giant among men and women, his presence at Parliament Square is only befitting,” notes Lady Kishwar Desai, Trustee of the Gandhi Statue Memorial Trust, who played an active role in the project.
“I particularly like the fact that people can actually sit or stand next to the statue and be photographed. Gandhi was a man of the people and the statue represents that,” she said, confirming that the Trust has plans for a tribute event on the morning of October 2.
The Parliament Square statue is expected to be just one of many focal points for the 150th birth celebrations in the UK, including an even older Gandhi statue nearby at London’s Tavistock Square, which has been the site for Gandhi Jayanti celebrations led by India League over the years.
The Indian national movement leader has inspired a number of projects across the UK to commemorate his work in the form of sculpture, including one in the city of Leicester which captures him in his characteristic marching mode.
A memorial in the Welsh city of Cardiff was unveiled in 2017 to mark the 148th birth anniversary celebrations with a six-foot-high sculpture made of Indian bronze after years of fundraising by the Hindu Council of Wales (HCW).
Most recently, it was the turn of Scotland to get its own Gandhi statue when a 6-foot 4-inch bronze statue was unveiled at Ayr Town Hall to commemorate the 150th anniversary earlier this month.
That sculpture, gifted to South Ayrshire by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, will be at the heart of Scotland’s celebrations for Gandhi Jayanti on October 2 this year.