It was a brief but poignant moment on Tuesday evening when a speaker recalled that a statue of Sardar Patel was unveiled in the Indian high commission here by LK Advani as deputy prime minister in 2002, and the gathering in Gandhi Hall cheered spontaneously.
The cheer was symbolic of both Advani's changing political fortunes over the years and the fate of the statue since it was unveiled on August 21, 2002 amid noisy protests against the Gujarat riots earlier that year.
Tuesday was the first time the statue was the focus of a Sardar Patel event in India House since its unveiling more than 14 years ago.
Pravin Amin, chair of the Sardar Patel Memorial Society who was central to the statue’s installation, recalled that the then Indian envoy, Ronen Sen, had promised to hold an annual event to commemorate the life and times of Sardar Patel.
“When Mr Sen left, he said he would leave a note that the event should be held every year, but there was a regime change in New Delhi, and nothing happened all these years, until now,” Amin told the gathering of more than 100 community leaders, diplomats and others.
Amin recalled the day when Advani unveiled the statue during a three-day visit to London, prompting cheers in the audience that included several individuals who sponsored and organised the statue’s installation in 2002.
The 2002 unveiling was marked by protests outside India House by groups such as the South Asia Solidarity Group against the Gujarat riots, as well as a boycott of Sen’s reception after the event by leaders of Indian Muslim organisations in Britain.
Dinesh Patnaik, India’s acting high commissioner, said Patel was a “strong proponent of liberal values”, and was at the forefront of protecting minorities. Patel was known more for unifying India after independence, but his achievements were equally exemplary before 1947, he said.
“We are a strong, diverse nation today because he created the framework of civil service. He was never seen among the greatest heroes of our freedom struggle, but now on October 31 will be celebrated as national unity day,” Patnaik said.