Brown says he hopes to be a leader like Gandhi

Click to follow

Gordon Brown chose a visit to the spot where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated to declare his vision of the sort of Prime Minister he intends to be. Speaking to journalists after paying his respects, he said: "I could never compare myself to Gandhi and all the other heroes of mine but I do take inspiration from the way they dealt with the challenges they found."

Seeming to spell out a moral vision of his expected premiership, Mr Brown said he hoped Gandhi would inspire "the way I will deal with the challenges the country and the world face, including the security challenge. That means having the strength of belief... to do what is right for the long-term even when there are easier short-term gains on offer."

The Chancellor was trying to regain control of a tour of India that has not gone according to script. He came here to prove he can perform as a statesman on the world stage, only to be sucked into the controversy over Big Brother and the alleged racist attacks on the Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty that have overshadowed his visit.

Mr Brown was speaking after strewing rose petals and laying a wreath at Rajghat, the spot where Gandhi was cremated on the banks of the river Yamuna in Delhi. The Chancellor was wearing what looked like the flimsy white slippers given out for free at expensive hotels to comply with the Hindu requirement to remove his shoes.

Rajghat is India's memorial to its national hero and it is customary for visiting foreign dignitaries to pay their respects here. But rather than just politely following the custom, Mr Brown seemed to want to use it to claim Gandhi as his own inspiration.

It is the second time he has referred to the Mahatma on his visit. He ended a speech to the Confederation of Indian Industry by quoting Gandhi on Tuesday.

He is in tune with national sentiment in India, where interest in Gandhi is undergoing a revival. But Mr Brown has some way to go before he can claim to be walking in Gandhi's footsteps.

The Indian independence leader lived among the poor. By contrast, for all the fine words, Mr Brown's visit has so far largely stuck to the usual script, moving from the headquarters of one major company in Bangalore to another, and posing for pictures on the manicured lawns that are a world away from most of India.

The only glimpses of India's poor have been the slums where the people have watched indifferently as his motorcade swept by.

Mr Brown did break with the script to visit a school for underprivileged children yesterday. A banner at the school read: "We the children of India heartily welcome our friends from the British government."

But Mr Brown has found himself unexpectedly having to defend Britain's reputation in India, after the allegations of racism on Big Brother. Mr Brown came here to do serious business, including trying to persuade the Indian government to relax restrictions on foreign investment so that British companies can move into the Indian economy.

But the Shilpa Shetty affair has refused to go away, and yesterday at a joint press conference with the Indian Finance Minister, Big Brother again dominated the questions.

Mr Chidambaram swatted the questions but Mr Brown seemed intent on seeing the moral dimension in everything. "There will always be one or two of these incidents which make you focus on to the big questions," he said. "And when you focus on it you realise what distinguished our two countries is our commitment to fairness and tolerance."

It is unlikely that Big Brother will go away today. Mr Brown is to make a trip to Ms Shetty's world, with a visit to a Bollywood film studio in Mumbai.