1India has said it will take up concerns over campaigns against Mahatma Gandhi in a few African countries, after the Ghanaian government decided to move his statue from the University of Ghana, Legon campus, bowing to pressure from academics who accused the Mahatma of being “racist.”

“A decision has been taken by the Ghanaian Foreign Ministry that instead of locating it [the statue] in the university which is obviously more excitable to move it to a safer place. They have issued a very, very good press statement highlighting the role of Mahatma Gandhi urging the people to focus on how the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi and he as an individual were shaped over a period and not focus on the excerpts from some of his earlier writings,” said Secretary (West) Amar Sinha, indicating the issue would be taken up with South African and Ghanaian leaders bilaterally.

Gift by Pranab

The Ghanaian government’s decision is particularly embarrassing as the statue of the Mahatma was unveiled as a gift from President Pranab Mukherjee in June this year. Since then, professors and students collected signatures for an online petition where they called on the University of Ghana to do the “honourable thing” by removing the statue, citing statements that Gandhi had made in the 1890s that were seen as racist, communal and casteist. “How will the historian teach and explain that Gandhi was uncharitable in his attitude towards the Black race and see that we’re glorifying him by erecting a statue on our campus?” the petition said.

Explaining its decision, Ghana’s Foreign Ministry said it wished to end the acrimony of the past few months, and decided to relocate the statue for “its safety” as the controversy over the Mahatma had become a “distraction” from historically strong ties between India and Ghana.

“The unfortunate verbal attack on Mahatma Gandhi is effectively an attack on an Indian nationalist hero and icon who is revered and cherished by over one billion people who are either citizens of India or persons of Indian decent,” said the statement from the MFA, adding that “the Ministry is urging Ghanaians to look beyond the comments attributed to Mahatma Gandhi and acknowledge his role as one of the most outstanding personalities of the last century.”

Granddaughter’s stand

In a letter made available last week, the Mahatma’s granddaughter Ela Gandhi, a peace activist and former South African MP, had written that “The claims that the statue is unacceptable is based on opinions expressed by a few scholars who interpreted some quotes he made in his younger days and in the context of the work he was doing at the time and the ethos in the country,” she had written, pointing out that some words used like ‘Kaffir’ for the “non-believers” or African natives was commonly used at the time.

“If they don’t want his statue, then by all means remove it,” she had added, referring also to a similar movement in South Africa, “But I would suggest do not discard the notion of non-violence, compassion and of respect for fellow human beings and for nature and the whole of the universe simply because these were the ideals Gandhiji stood for and was assassinated for.”