Gandhi Must Not Fall

Mahatma Gandhi is now in the proverbial firing line in the United Kingdom as demonstrators, protesting against the killing of George Floyd, daubed anti-racism messages on his statue in London’s Parliament Square and wrote “racist” near the base this past Sunday. This mirrors efforts in Manchester and now Leicester that #GandhiMustFall not only because he said awful things about South African blacks but because, apparently for his sins, he is also the reason Kashmir is currently a maelstrom of political violence and religious diffidence, because you know it’s not like he didn’t take a bullet or two to uphold the rights of Muslims, Kashmiri or otherwise.

Gandhi went through his own significant spiritual reformation during the most turbulent times of Empire and his words in South Africa are diabolical. He campaigned in favour of racial segregation, arguing that Indians as a race were superior to “savages or the Natives of Africa”. He used the racial slur ‘Kaffirs’ to refer to black Africans.

Yet the key point to remember here is that Gandhi did not live in 2020. The Mahatma arrived in South Africa in the 19th century – 1893, to be precise. He was 24. We should judge people from the standards of the time they lived in and not by how any group feels today. Indeed, this means we will have monuments to despicable people – but if we removed everything in that category, we should surely destroy the Roman Coliseum, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Brandenburg Gate, Incan pyramids, as well, not to mention bring in the unpalatable history of Gulf satrapies towards black slaves.

Public sculpture is a dialogue between the past and the present, and if the present finds something about the past repellent, monstrous or abhorrent, then it is well within their rights to fight to modify the education and curricula around what that sculpture represents; merely to tear them down and throw them in the river to satisfy emotional bloodlust (or Sadiq Khan’s non-Louis Farrakhan supporting musings ) is counterintuitive and intellectually bankrupt.

A free society is not maintained by the brute force of easy answers, but with sometimes incredibly difficult compromises. Tyranny offers the easy answer of eliminating all the statues that displease us. History tells us that the statues should stay. If we embrace the easy answer, soon there won’t be any statues left.

The left’s version of tolerance is just an endless civil war that pits groups against each other. It stirs up division and hatred under the false façade of justice. Its only possible outcome is to force everyone to accept one myopic version of history while prohibiting everyone from having their own versions.

Behind the self-righteousness with which the left vandalizes memorials for historical figures like Gandhi is also a great deal of hypocrisy. The double standards immunize comrades on the left from accountability and judgement. For there will always be those who believe a country this mighty, sophisticated and liberal can be directed by noisemakers in the streets. They will always be countermanded by citizens who understand the legal system and the exercise of democratic institutional power from cities to counties to states.

And why Gandhi of all people? Like any human being, he too was extremely fallible. He had a lifetime of great work and many instances of human frailty and political error almost torpedoed his efforts and almost led to an early grave of innumerable occasions. That is what makes him more human. More inspirational. You know else falls into that category? Martin Luther King.

After the completion of the Montgomery bus boycott, the clearest demonstration of Martin Luther King’s admiration for Gandhi was a five-week trip to India he made with his wife Coretta in February and March of 1959. During that trip, King met with Jawaharlal Nehru, G. Ramachandran of the Gandhi National Memorial Fund, and Gandhi’s disciple Vinoba Bhave. When Martin Luther King arrived in New Delhi on February 10, 1959, he gave a prepared statement that made clear his admiration for Gandhi and how Gandhian principles were a major influence on the civil rights struggle in the American South.

Is King therefore a useful enabler of racism for his tacit support of Gandhian principles? Should we daub graffiti on his monuments, something to the effect of ‘he supported a racist’? Or would ‘He was human’ be more apt?

The monumental error in the strategy of tearing down statues without offering anything coherent in its place is that such a movement believes that others have a responsibility to agree with its views, and that anyone who fails to do so is evil and must be destroyed to the greatest extent possible. It is hard to understate how profoundly different this is from every successful social movement ever.

As the great African leader and follower of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela put it, “the prejudice was obvious, but Gandhi was reacting here not to African natives in general but to criminalized Natives.” Mandela added, “Here we are looking at the young Gandhi yet to become the Mahatma, when he would be without any human prejudice save in favour of truth and justice.”*

Now will Mandela and King’s statues and monuments be next in line or is moral relativism only seen through the most convenient prism of logic?

Gandhi Must Not Fall

Mahatma Gandhi is now in the proverbial firing line in the United Kingdom as demonstrators, protesting against the killing of George Floyd, daubed anti-racism messages on his statue in London’s Parliament Square and wrote “racist” near the base this past Sunday. This mirrors efforts in Manchester and now Leicester that #GandhiMustFall not only because he said awful things about South African blacks but because, apparently for his sins, he is also the reason Kashmir is currently a maelstrom of political violence and religious diffidence, because you know it’s not like he didn’t take a bullet or two to uphold the rights of Muslims, Kashmiri or otherwise.

Gandhi went through his own significant spiritual reformation during the most turbulent times of Empire and his words in South Africa are diabolical. He campaigned in favour of racial segregation, arguing that Indians as a race were superior to “savages or the Natives of Africa”. He used the racial slur ‘Kaffirs’ to refer to black Africans.

Yet the key point to remember here is that Gandhi did not live in 2020. The Mahatma arrived in South Africa in the 19th century – 1893, to be precise. He was 24. We should judge people from the standards of the time they lived in and not by how any group feels today. Indeed, this means we will have monuments to despicable people – but if we removed everything in that category, we should surely destroy the Roman Coliseum, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Brandenburg Gate, Incan pyramids, as well, not to mention bring in the unpalatable history of Gulf satrapies towards black slaves.

Public sculpture is a dialogue between the past and the present, and if the present finds something about the past repellent, monstrous or abhorrent, then it is well within their rights to fight to modify the education and curricula around what that sculpture represents; merely to tear them down and throw them in the river to satisfy emotional bloodlust (or Sadiq Khan’s non-Louis Farrakhan supporting musings ) is counterintuitive and intellectually bankrupt.

A free society is not maintained by the brute force of easy answers, but with sometimes incredibly difficult compromises. Tyranny offers the easy answer of eliminating all the statues that displease us. History tells us that the statues should stay. If we embrace the easy answer, soon there won’t be any statues left.

The left’s version of tolerance is just an endless civil war that pits groups against each other. It stirs up division and hatred under the false façade of justice. Its only possible outcome is to force everyone to accept one myopic version of history while prohibiting everyone from having their own versions.

Behind the self-righteousness with which the left vandalizes memorials for historical figures like Gandhi is also a great deal of hypocrisy. The double standards immunize comrades on the left from accountability and judgement. For there will always be those who believe a country this mighty, sophisticated and liberal can be directed by noisemakers in the streets. They will always be countermanded by citizens who understand the legal system and the exercise of democratic institutional power from cities to counties to states.

And why Gandhi of all people? Like any human being, he too was extremely fallible. He had a lifetime of great work and many instances of human frailty and political error almost torpedoed his efforts and almost led to an early grave of innumerable occasions. That is what makes him more human. More inspirational. You know else falls into that category? Martin Luther King.

After the completion of the Montgomery bus boycott, the clearest demonstration of Martin Luther King’s admiration for Gandhi was a five-week trip to India he made with his wife Coretta in February and March of 1959. During that trip, King met with Jawaharlal Nehru, G. Ramachandran of the Gandhi National Memorial Fund, and Gandhi’s disciple Vinoba Bhave. When Martin Luther King arrived in New Delhi on February 10, 1959, he gave a prepared statement that made clear his admiration for Gandhi and how Gandhian principles were a major influence on the civil rights struggle in the American South.

Is King therefore a useful enabler of racism for his tacit support of Gandhian principles? Should we daub graffiti on his monuments, something to the effect of ‘he supported a racist’? Or would ‘He was human’ be more apt?

The monumental error in the strategy of tearing down statues without offering anything coherent in its place is that such a movement believes that others have a responsibility to agree with its views, and that anyone who fails to do so is evil and must be destroyed to the greatest extent possible. It is hard to understate how profoundly different this is from every successful social movement ever.

As the great African leader and follower of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela put it, “the prejudice was obvious, but Gandhi was reacting here not to African natives in general but to criminalized Natives.” Mandela added, “Here we are looking at the young Gandhi yet to become the Mahatma, when he would be without any human prejudice save in favour of truth and justice.”*

Now will Mandela and King’s statues and monuments be next in line or is moral relativism only seen through the most convenient prism of logic?

*In Search of Gandhi: Essays and Reflections By B.R. Nanda

Guest Author:

Saurav Dutt  LLB (Hons) Law LLM (Master of Laws) International Business Law PGDip Law

Author, Political Analyst

Video Below shows Keith Vaz and residents from Leicester protecting the Gandhi Statue.

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