Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech unveiling Statue of Mrs Gandhi at India House

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: India House, Aldwych
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text (THCR 5/1/5/604)
Editorial comments:

1145. The text incorporates MT’s handwritten changes.

Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 1288
Themes: Foreign policy (Asia), Terrorism, Autobiographical comments

Significance of the Ceremony

First may I thank you very much, High Commissioner, for inviting me to come here today to unveil this sculpture of Mrs. Indira Gandhi. And may I take the opportunity to congratulate the sculptor, Mr Radha krishnan, on his very fine work, which we shall unveil in a moment. [end p1]

I know how much this occasion means to you, High Commissioner, to your countrymen and to the many people in this country who have ties of family or history with India. [end p2]

I am honoured to share the occasion with you; and honoured also to pay tribute to the memory of Mrs. Gandhi who I admired enormously both as a statesman and as a friend.

This ceremony comes at the start of the centenary year of Pandit Nehru 's birth. I know this is to be celebrated with many different events over the next twelve [end p3] months, marking the great respect in which he was held in this country.

The fact that we are today honouring his daughter, to whom he was so devoted and of whom he had so much reason to be proud, reminds us all of the remarkable contribution made by that family to the life of India and of Britain. [end p4]

Personal Recollections of Mrs. Gandhi

Indira Gandhi blazed a trail for many present and future women Prime Ministers. I knew her over a number of years. One could not meet her without recognising at once her strength and her quality.

Admiration grew into real friendship when she invited me to India in 1981. I was looked after not just as another [end p5] visiting Head of Government but as an honoured friend. Nothing was too much trouble for her and we spent many hours together discussing political matters and exchanging personal experiences. I always looked forward to our meetings. I specially enjoyed the meals we had together in her home. [end p6]

Indeed, I like to think that, in a very special way, Indira Gandhishe and I had something in common. We were both Prime Ministers. We were both fortunate in having a wonderful family. And I think that we both understood what to some people is a paradox—that one can be warm, human, loving, knowing all of the little things of life; and at the same time firm, determined, decisive. [end p7]

It was a paradox which we both understood.

We understood, too, the loneliness of the work. Whenever I spoke to Mrs. Gandhi there was a quality which was not present when I spoke to other Heads of Government.

Of course we didn't always agree on politics— [end p8] our meetings would have been less invigorating if we had.

But we were able to talk things over with the frankness, good humour and respect which is always there between friends.

For me, these meetings stood for all that is best in the relationship between Britain [end p9] and India.

Mrs. Gandhi 's Role as India's Leader

Indira Gandhi had outstanding qualities not just as a person, but as a Leader of her people.

She could be firm when she had to be and one does have to be firm as Prime Minister. But she always tempered that with a marvellous [end p10] understanding of the extraordinarily complex people and society she governed. And ordinary Indians everywhere responded to that with great devotion and respect.

She not only understood the rhythms of traditional Indian life, she built on the legacy of her father, Pandit Nehru to make India strong, united, and more prosperous. [end p11]

Under her leadership India's industry performed better than ever before.

Self-sufficiency in food production was achieved—an astonishing feat in a country until then regularly visited by famine.

And India took her place in the front line of scientific and space research. [end p12]

In short, under her leadership India became a country with world-wide influence and standing.

And may I say that Mrs. Gandhi 's son, your present Rajiv GandhiPrime Minister, has sustained and developed that legacy with great courage.

His policies have taken India further in the same direction, while introducing a new [end p13] quest for efficiency and quality into India's industries.

The reward has been excellent economic growth in the past few years.

This economic success, and India's remarkable political stability and maturity, bear witness not only to the wisdom of his [end p14] policies. They are also testimony to the strength of the foundations on which Rajiv Gandhi has been able to build.

Mrs. Gandhi 's World Role

Internationally, too, Mrs. Gandhi 's contribution was immense. We all had enormous respect for her work [end p15] in the Commonwealth and as a World Statesman in the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement.

My particular memory is of how we worked together at the Cancun Meeting in Mexico at a time when the world faced unprecedently difficult economic problems, and her practical wisdom and experience were very evident. [end p16]

I would recall, too, her part in founding the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation. This was typical of her farsightedness, setting in place an institution in which the common problems which affect South Asia as a whole can be sorted out.

The Message of Mrs. Gandhi 's Tragic Death

The tragic and terrible manner of Mrs. Gandhi 's [end p17] death was made all the more poignant for me by the message she sent me only a few days previously following the Brighton bomb. In it she said, “All terrorism and violence are condemnable and contemptible” .

Britain shared in India's mourning and deep sense of loss that day, and so did I. [end p18] We shared the sense of sorrow and loss at the treacherous deed.

I remember in particular the deeply impressive funeral, impressive because of its dignity, its oneness and the fact that we all felt united with the family of India in mourning its great loss. [end p19]

The Fight Against Terrorism

High Commissioner, we condemn unreservedly all those who espouse violence and terrorism—and never more so than today, Martyrs' Day, the anniversary of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Another occasion when violence deprived us of a greatly loved and respected figure.

We condemn equally those who condone or [end p20] support their activities, even though they do not personally fire the gun or plant the bomb.

Those who finance and plan death and misery from thousands of miles away, are just as much terrorists as those who kill and maim.

The close co-operation that we have built up [end p21] between the Indian and British Governments in the fight against terrorism is a very significant development. I am determined to see it grow closer still.


The position of a Head of Government is always and inevitably a lonely one, and for me it has been lonelier without Mrs. Gandhi. [end p22]

One of my happiest memories of her is when she came to London in 1982 for the enormously successful Festival of India.

That was an opportunity to put aside the normal burdens of political life and just enjoy the atmosphere of celebration of the close relationship between our two countries. [end p23]

For my part, I believe greatly in India. I loved it the day I first visited it and I love it still. It has a remarkable past. And a great future awaits it.

High Commissioner, from now on, as you and your staff at India House come and go on your daily business of maintaining and [end p24] developing the great complex of links and relationships that bind Britain and India, you will do so under the watchful eye of Indira Gandhi. Her presence will continue to be felt in our relationship, just as the values and standards she stood for will continue to enrich it. [end p25]

She will be closer than ever to us as, in this Nehru centenary year, we celebrate that relationship, and work together to make it still deeper and closer—as she would have wanted.