UK GenNext critical of Brit rule

The unveiling of the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in London would have gone unnoticed had it been anywhere else other than the prestigious Square in front of the British Parliament.

Unveiled jointly by British Prime Minister David Cameron and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on April 14, 2015, the statue marks a defining moment in the centuries-old relations of the two countries.

Mahatma Gandhi is the first Indian and the only person never to have been in any public office to be honoured with a  statue in Parliament Square where there are 10 eminent personalities already represented.

Besides seven former prime ministers of Great Britain like Robert Peel, Palmerstone, Winston Churchill etc, prime minister of South Africa Jan Smuts, former American President Abraham Lincoln, and    African leader and former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela stand in the green of the Square. Gandhi’s nine foot statue sculpted by Philip Jackson, renowned British sculptor, is the 11th in the square.

India had been subjected to  British colonial rule for more than two centuries. Indian interests were subordinated to the British economic interests.  What they did in India can be summarised as “development of under development in India”.
But along with the intensification of imperialism, Indian national movement started to spread and became more pronounced with Mahatma Gandhi coming on to the political scene in 1915. He led successive popular movements like the Non-cooperation, the Civil disobedience and Quit India Movements that took the  struggle close to independence in 1947.

For decades, Independence Day celebrations were occasions to recall the nature of the  un-British rule.  Bashing of the British administration dominated the pedagogy at such festive gatherings in schools and colleges. But over the years, this trend  appears to be giving way from harping on what the British rule did or did not do.

The present generation  even in the United Kingdom appears to be critical on the nature of the British rule in India. The youth, particularly, have not excused their forefathers for having perpetuated the kind of rule they carried here. The decision to unveil the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square is indicative of this changed attitude of Britain towards India.

David Cameron, a product of the Brasenose College, Oxford, seems a true representative of the present day liberal young. He is the only prime minister other than Margaret Thatcher to be re-elected immediately after a full term with a greater share of seats. 

Impressive progress

As the prime minister, he made impressive progress after the nation’s financial crisis of 2000 by giving more emphasis  to welfare measures, immigration laws, education and health care, besides the austerity measures he adopted. The Scottish Independence referendum in September, 2014 was a big test from which he emerged with telling success.

Ever since he became the prime minister, Cameron has been acquitting himself in his disposition with India. He has visited India in these years more times than his Indian counterparts could reciprocate. He went to Amritsar in February 2013 and described the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919 as “deeply shameful event in British history”.

“We shall not forget what happened here’’ he wrote in the visitors’ book at the Jallianwala Bagh. He paid his respects in  the holy shrine, Golden Temple, head covered by the customary blue scarf and  walking bare foot.

The regard with which Gandhi and his teachings are held by the present generation in UK is reflected in the observation Cameron made while unveiling the Statue, “This statue is a magnificent tribute to one of the most towering figures in the history of world politics and by putting Mahatma Gandhi in this famous Square, we are giving him an eternal home in our country”.

With Gandhi’s standing in the company of a galaxy of former prime ministers, will the independence  day celebrations in India be the same as before?

(The writer is retired professor of History, University of Hyderabad)

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