William Hague and George Osborne have unveiled plans for a statue of peace icon Mahatma Gandhi – a day after confirming a £250m arms deal with the Indian government.
The Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor, in Delhi for a meeting with their Indian counterparts and to see the country’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, said the statue would be built in London’s Parliament Square.
“Gandhi’s view of communal peace and resistance to division, his desire to drive India forward, and his commitment to non-violence left a legacy that is as relevant today as it was during his life,” said Mr Hague, during a visit to the site of Mr Gandhi’s assassination by a Hindu extremist in 1948. “He remains a towering inspiration and a source of strength.”
In a statement, the ministers said it is hoped the statue of Mr Gandhi will be paid for by charitable donations and sponsors.
“As the father of the largest democracy in the world, it’s time for Gandhi to take his place in front of the mother of parliaments,” said Mr Osborne. “He is a figure of inspiration, not just in Britain and India, but around the world.”
In pictures: India elections 2014
In pictures: India elections 2014
A polling official (R) marks the finger of an elderly man with indelible ink before he casts his vote at a polling station in Kunwarpur village
Indian man rides on a motorcycle in a street of downtown Varanasi ahead of the frontrunner's convoy
A supporter of Indian election frontrunner Narendra Modi cheers as he listens to his speech during a rally in Rohaniya
Indian residents of Varanasi wait to watch a convoy carrying India election frontrunner Narendra Modi in a streets of downtown Varanasi
Indian Congress Party supporters wait alongside posters bearing the image of party Vice President Rahul Gandhi and President Sonia Gandhi at an election rally in Kolkata
National Congress party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi (L) delivers lecture as he attends an election campaign event before ninth phase of the parliamentary elections, North of Calcutta
A supporter of India's main opposition and Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party holds up a cutout of the party's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi during an election campaign rally in Varanasi
Indian election workers check voting machines before leaving a central collection point for polling stations in Leh, Ladakh
Polling officials leave for their assigned polling stations after collecting the electronic voting machines and other material from a distribution centre ahead of the ninth phase of general election in Faizabad district in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh
Village women and children attend an election rally addressed by Congress party Vice President Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh
Elderly Indian voter Mohinder Kaur shows her inked finger after casting her vote at a polling station during the seventh phase of parliamentary elections at village Sultanwind near Amritsar
The announcement of plans for the statue came a day after Mr Osborne confirmed a £250m deal for British manufacturers to provide missiles to the Indian Air Force. Reports said the Indian authorities will receive the air-to-air missiles from MBDA, a weapons maker that is a joint venture between BAE Systems, the Franco-German group Airbus and Finmeccanica of Italy.
The two senior British ministers are also promoting the sale of the Eurofighter Typhoon jet, which is partly built in Britain. India is looking to buy 126 fighter jets and had identified the French Rafale as its preferred choice. Yet repeated delays on signing the deal have left Britain hopeful that India may yet opt to buy the Typhoon.
However, news of the proposal has lead to accusations of "false worship".
Tushar Gandhi, a social activist and the great-grandson of the independence leader, said it was ironic the ministers had announced plans for the statue during a visit partly taken up with promoting weapons sales.
“It’s a nice way to apply a soothing balm to their consciences, to raise a statute. How can anybody say they approve of this?” he said. He said he hoped at least a few people would see the statue in London and take away the message of non-violence.
“The rush to do business with the new government is based on profits and not ethics...It’s pure business,” he added.
Yet he said he he was not surprised by the proposal for the statue. “I have seen such false worship for 60 years, so I have stopped feeling queasy.”
India is the world’s largest importer of arms, accounting for 14 per cent of total sales. It has increased imports by more than 100 per cent over the last five years. Its purchases far exceed those of China and Pakistan, which are the second and third largest importers of arms, according to data collated by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.