By Prarthana Mitra
A proposed statue of Mahatma Gandhi has stirred up controversy in Blantyre, the commercial capital of Malawi. Around 3000 petitioners from the town have written to the government claiming that Gandhi, who had practised law in the continent early in his career and is renowned for having fought against the apartheid, was, in fact, racist.
He never did anything for us, the petitioners claimed, two months after the construction of the statue began along a named also named after Gandhi.
Paranoia or power move?
According to the government, the statue was being erected in lieu of a New Delhi-sponsored convention centre in Blantyre, worth $10 million. While it is not clear how the construction of the statue figures as a part of the deal, the Malawi government had unconditionally agreed to the terms and issued a glowing statement on the statue and its muse.
At the same, the agitators are rallying as a front known as Gandhi Must Fall (GMF), saying that they feel that the statue is being forced upon the people of Malawi and “is the work of a foreign power aiming at promoting its image and dominion on the unsuspecting people of Malawi.”
While history knows Gandhi as a fervent champion of South Africans, and for fighting segregation laws in the country during the apartheid era, Wonderful Mkutche, a member of GMF told AFP on Saturday, “We are not comfortable with imperialistic and neo-colonial ideologies that seek to impose…foreign influence which deprives us of honour.”
Now more than ever, our nation must rise above pettiness and weakness in international deals, he said. “This must mean that we should only accept investments, partnerships… that are responsible, fair, equal, honourable, sustainable, efficient and transparent,” Mkutche further added.
Here’s what Malawi government said
Senior foreign ministry official Isaac Munlo defended the project saying, “It should be recognised that Mahatma Gandhi promoted values of simplicity, fight against social evils, promoting human and civil rights as well as uplifting of social well-being of people.”
Munlo insisted, “It is also worth noting that all African freedom fighters that fought against colonialism and oppression and thus demanded independence were influenced by what Mahatma Gandhi fought for. In other ways, Mahatma Gandhi is a role model of a human rights campaigner for both Africa and India.”
This is true for Gandhi as well, who regarded the lessons learnt from his participation in Africa’s civil rights movement in high regard. Time and again, he claimed to be inspired by the civil disobedience and resilient resistance put up by his compatriots and lawyers in the South African community.
Malawi and India established diplomatic ties in 1964. New Delhi has been one of its foremost and powerful donors ever since.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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