Gandhi’s Statue Divides NRIs In UK


LONDON – The campaign against the proposed installation of Mahatma Gandhi’s statue outside the British Parliament, which has revived the controversy over his ideology and lifestyle, has created a furore among his supporters in the UK, a large number of them are Punjabis.

Finding comments against Father of the Nation too offending, in a counter to the campaign, they are now urging the British government to speed up work on the project and have offered to donate funds for it. Many have taken to the social media and micro-blogging sites and called the campaign nothing but “false propaganda” to defame Gandhi and Indians.

“Their protest is unwarranted, unnecessary and above all, counter-productive. If Britain wishes to acknowledge the contribution of a leader who was also the architect of the end of British rule in India, it surely speaks volumes about the great man,” said Rami Ranger, chairman of the British Sikh Association while speaking to TOI from London.

Ranger, who has contributed a “substantive donation” for the installation project, informed that a committee has been set up to raise funds and is eliciting an encouraging response from Punjabi NRIs and other Gandhi supporters.

The fresh spate of Gandhi’s criticism began soon after chancellor George Osborne and William Hague, the then British foreign secretary, made an announcement about the installation of Gandhi’s statue in the British parliamentary square during their visit to Delhi last month. However, what really offended Gandhi’s supporters were remarks by Kusoom Vadgama, founder of the Indo-British Heritage Trust, who called the proposal “an affront” to Indian women and launched a public petition against it.

The 82 -year-old, who has authored several books on the history of India-British relations, and is chairwoman of this year’s 400th anniversary celebrations of Britain’s relationship with India, was quoted as saying that she grew up “revering” Gandhi for his anti-colonial struggle, but changed her mind when she read that he used young women for his “self-designed celibacy test”.

Prior to her, the Sikh Federation in England too had opposed the move. Its chair Bhai Amrik Singh had described Gandhi as a “sexual weirdo” and “anti- Sikh”. He wrote a letter to culture secretary Sajid Javid, who is leading the project, and asked him to stall the move.

Rami Ranger and other Gandhi supporters who have come forward to lead the initiative to counter the anti-Gandhi campaign are peeved and hold that those criticizing Gandhi are either misinterpreting his ideology or opposing him for “cheap publicity”.

In fact, quite a few youngsters and groups having their roots in India have now joined the initiative voicing support for Gandhi’s statue on social sites.

“Bapu’s message of peace and non-violent agitation has more resonance than ever in our society and I hope it inspires others. We need more statues of peacemakers not war-mongers in our midst,” said Sunny Hundal, an avid blogger.

Giving a fillip to the initiative, members of City Sikhs Network that comprises young professionals from the community in the UK have resolved to counter the anti-Gandhi campaign by spreading awareness about Gandhi’s preaching. The members took a resolution to support Gandhi’s statue while celebrating India’s Independence Day.

Arguing that historical figures are to be seen in a context, Jasvir Singh, chair and legal and media relations director of City Sikhs Network, said that the Parliament Square and central London, as a whole, was home to many a statues of leaders about whom divergent views exist.

Once installed, it may be a rare site as Gandhi, diametrically opposite to Winston Churchill, would be standing side by side, apart from other prominent figures.