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Remembering the Mahatma

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Some figures from history fade with time, but others not only endure, they thrive and become something greater. Gandhi is one of those who has transcended into the mainstream culture of India, Africa, the Americas and in the UK. The year 2019 is iconic, as it celebrates the 150th Anniversary of the Indian leader who shook the world in his gentle way, followed the path of Satyagraha, non-violence and non-cooperation to give India Purna Swaraj. He is none other than Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi – Bapu, the father of the Indian nation who requires no new introduction. 

Gandhi and his path of non-violence continues to be significant, holding an impact on London. If you want to talk about peaceful protesting, the first name you come up with is Gandhi. He showed us how one man could make a difference and that did not require violence. There have been very turbulent times in the UK’s history where rioting was seen as the answer. It’s probably fair to say that Gandhi’s influence has helped to temper that, as well as inspiring other figures who went on to change the world through peaceful protests against what seemed like insurmountable odds, like Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela.

You only have to think about the success that the movie ‘Gandhi’, directed by Richard Attenborough and released in 1982, had in the UK to see how he has passed into popular culture too. Everyone knows who Gandhi is in a general sense, even if they don’t know the details of his life.  

It’s clear to see his enduring popularity and his ever-relevant nature. There’s not only a statue that’s in Tavistock Square Gardens, just round the corner from University College where he studied for a time, which was erected in 1968, but there’s also another newer statue in Parliament Square which was put up only a few years ago in 2015. 

The Gandhi statue at the Tavistock Square in Central London is the first of its kind to be erected in the heart the central London, with it’s locational advantage for tourists, students and residents who attach a historic significance to the spot where one of the four bombs blew a bus, killing 13 people and injuring over 40 innocent civilians in July 2005. 

“It’s great to see him remembered so positively. You can wander through central London, the ever-bustling heart of the UK, and see him staring wisely back at you. It always makes me stop and think,” said Jon Howell a PhD student from the University College. 

The Gandhi statue erected at the square was gifted by the Indian High Commissioner in Britain in 1967 and was unveiled by the then Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Funded mainly by India League, the statute is a mark of collaboration between the two Indian institutions and the Camden Council in London.  

Sculpted by the famed Polish sculptor Fredda Brilliant, the statue is a unique seated figure of Gandhi, in a contemplative, meditative mood. The hollow pedestal was made to accommodate floral tributes to the global influencer, leader and peace campaigner who shook the world without raising a stick. 

To commemorate Gandhi Jayanti on October 2 and Niewana Diwas on January 30, the Indian Indian High Commission in association with the India League organises a function at Tavistock Square every year.  These are occassions for prominent Indians, diplomats and the common people to come together to garland him, sing Gandhi’s favourite hymns to remember his teachings and offer Bushiest prayers by Japanese monks.  The Indian High Commissioner, the Mayor of Camden and the Chairman of India League, CB Patel, the Publisher and Chairman of India League addresses those gathered every year. 

To remember Gandhi’s prayer for peace, here are are few words from him:

I offer you peace. I offer you love.
I offer you friendship. I see your beauty.
I hear your need. I feel your feelings
My wisdom flows from the highest source
I salute that source in you
Let us work together for unity and love

Gandhi was a huge supporter of the India League. He has reassigned India League to Dr Annie Besant, a British supporter of Indian nationalism, a propagator of Home Rule and the first President of the Indian National Congress to promote India’s Independence in the UK. According to Gandhi, “when real independence comes to India, the Congress and the (India) League will be nowhere unless they represent the real opinion of the country.”

Annie was a theosophist and her reform-programs were not shared by many participants. However, as a social reformer, women’s rights activist and politician, she was greatly supported by Mahatma Gandhi, her close confidante. Gandhi managed to reinstall and retain unity amongst the different sections of the Congress when he took up leadership between 1915 to 1948.

Annie continued to be in politics, but was eventually sidelined. She started the India League in London, but had many notables subsequently like Micheal Foot, the Chairman of the India League and V Krishna Menon who campaigned for the Socialist League and campaigned for the inclusion of India in the application of the principles of freedom set out in the Atlantic Charter, Lord Sorensen, Lord Fenner Broadway and speaking at numerous League meetings. 

The India League was one of the pioneer associations in London at that time and in 1947, the League took out a publication called the India Weekly and brought a club called the India League Trend. The league was the flag-bearer for the India’s independence movement and even after 1947, continued to maintain strong links with the British establishment in London. The British held the reins and heavily influenced the India League when it was started, but luminaries like VK Krishna Menon, who went on to become the first Indian High Commissioner to the UK, look over and passed it on to eminent professionals like Dr Tarapada Basu as a deliberant organisation representing India.  

Menon supported the Labour Party in London, and as a socialist wanted to reach the working class and gain support of the Indian Labour Associations. He was able to bring together many Indian Labour organisations in Birmingham and Manchester through its East Branch, in the 1940s. 

India League continues to function to improve and strengthen lies between India and the UK and fight imperialism across the globe. In the mid eighties, the Indian Community Organisations evolved and began arranging events to engage politicians, entrepreneurs, professionals in the Indian community. Established journalists and academics like Dr Tarapada Datta, Premen Sen, Dr Salvankar and others formed the the Indian Journalist Association in London in 1947 and continued the India League journal.

The India League has now been kept alive in the safe hands of Mr C B Patel, the Publisher and Editor of Asian Voice and Gujarat Samachar. CB has been closely involved with India League for over 52 years, working closely with the likes of VK Krishna Menon and Dr Tarapada Basu. “The charm of India League is that we are a non-party organisation. Several Prime Minister from India visiting London have paid their respects to the statue when they were in London and the India League has worked with every party in India,” he said.  

The India League is important. It represents India and has a permanent legacy. It was instrumental in shaping the course of India in London, said CB.

As we celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Gandhi, the significance of his continued existence through the India League and other supporting organisations becomes a topic of paramount importance, and one that requires very special mention. Some of Gandhi’s quotes to end with:

Peace cannot be built on exclusivism, absolutism and intolerance. But neither can it be build on vague liberal slogans and pious programs gestated in the smoke of confabulation.

The first principle of non-violent action is that of non-cooperation with everything humiliating.

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. Be the change that you want the world to be.

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I wrote this story as a contributing writer for Asian Voice London, published earlier this month for their pool of readers in the UK and overseas. With barely three days away from celebrating Gandhi’s 150th Birth Anniversary, this write-up is a tribute to him, and a story I feel will be informative for our readers too. 

Smita is a multi-cultural freelance journalist, writer, and filmmaker based out of London, Hong Kong, and India. Global Indian Stories is her brain-child and she created the platform to help people share their stories, get published, and reach out to their diaspora across the globe.