Far-left UK protestors have been calling for the removal of Mahatma Gandhi’s statue in Belgrave Road in Leicester city. The City Council will look into the demand put forth by Black Lives Matter protesters through an online petition filed by activist Kerri Pangulier which received more than 5000 signatures. This comes days after the Gandhi statue was defaced by some miscreants outside the Indian Embassy in London on 2 June, an incident which Donald Trump called “a disgrace”.
According to Leicester Mercury, Kelly gave a statement on June 13, “I have received an update from Leicester City Council requesting me to close the petition and formally submit it with presenting arguments. Therefore, I want to finally thank all of you for your support, signatures and sharing”.
In a response to the petition, Labour Party MP Claudia Webbe said that Gandhi was an integral “part of creating a movement in the same way that Martin Luther King created” and called the petition “a massive distraction” from the Black Lives Movement. Former Leicester MP Keith Vaiz claimed that the statue was going nowhere and stood around the statue along with a group of people in a human chain in a symbolic gesture.
It all started with the custodial death of George Floyd in Minneapolis where a police officer kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes ignoring his words “I can’t breathe”. The incidents triggered worldwide protests across the globe. On 7 June protesters toppled the statue of Edward Colston, which led to a series of petitions to bring down the statues of several other prominent figures of history including Winston Churchill who preached racial discrimination.
The reason Gandhi is being clubbed with them is because of his views about native Africans in the 19th century. Several academics and historians believe that Gandhi, during his two-decade stay in South Africa persistently fought for Indians living there and kept the Indian Civil rights movement exclusive to that of African Blacks. On multiple occasions, Gandhi described Native Africans as “Kaffirs”, “uncivilised” and “savages”. He once in 1893 wrote to Natal Parliament that “general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are a little better if at all than savages or natives of Africa”. In an opinion piece written by Gandhi’s grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi, to The Indian Express, it was revealed that younger Mohandas was “At times ignorant and prejudiced about South Africa’s Blacks“. The reason being, as Rajmohan describes, the provocation by the conduct of his fellow Black convicts in South African prisons but also added that “The imperfect Gandhi was more radical and progressive than most contemporary compatriots”.
Last year in Manchester, a similar demand, named #GandhiMustFall, surfed when students demanded the removal of a Gandhi statue outside the Manchester Cathedral. They termed Gandhi a “racist” in an open letter and slammed the Indian Civil Rights leader for “well documented anti-black racism and complicity in the British Empire’s actions in Africa”. The statue was installed on Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary to spread the message of peace and harmony. The council responsible for the statue demanded the acknowledgement of these vile statements and an apology.
A petition was also filed in 2016 when former President of India, Pranab Mukherjee unveiled the statue of Gandhi at the University of Ghana. That followed a petition by various students and lecturers to remove the statue because of Gandhi’s initials claims of Indians being infinitely superior to native Africans. The statue was finally removed from the university premises in 2018. Various Gandhian advocates expressed distress over the incident including the Chairman of the Pietermaritzburg Gandhi Memorial Committee, David Gengan, who said, “I think the lecturers, students and others are being short-sighted in judging the Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who came to this country as a 23-year-old lawyer. He left here after 21 years as a Mahatma because his whole philosophy of life had changed”
Many rational people who acknowledge younger Gandhi’s racist comments do not support the idea to club him in the category of Thomas Rhodes, King Leopold or Robert Milligan. Not to forget Gandhi led the Indian Independence movement that inspired Martin Luther King Jr. for the American Civil Rights movement against systematic white oppression. In 1929, Gandhi had written a note that came to be known as “message to the Negros” which reads, “Let not the 12 million Negroes be ashamed of the fact that they are the grandchildren of slaves. There is no dishonour in being slaves. There is dishonour in being slave-owners. But let us not think of honour or dishonour in connection with the past. Let us realise that the future is with those who would be truthful, pure and loving”. Howard Thurman who was a mentor to Martin Luther King was profoundly influenced by Gandhi’s ideas of non-violence after the two met at Bardoli, Gujarat in 1936.
He was the universal face of peace and non-violence as Nelson Mandela himself said in 2007: “In a world driven by violence and strife, Gandhi’s message of peace and nonviolence holds the key to human survival in the 21st century”. Gandhi was imprisoned five times in South Africa and was discriminated against on the grounds of his colour including being thrown out of the train for riding in first class. Black Lives Matter is a modern age movement against the oppressors, not the oppressed.
In response to this recent petition which calls Gandhi “fascist, racist and sexual predator”, Former Leicester MP Keith Vaiz on 13 June claimed that the statue “was going nowhere” and stood around the statue along with a group of people in a human chain in a symbolic gesture.