Manchester students want statue of ‘racist’ Gandhi rejected

Manchester should reject a statue of Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi because of his “well-documented anti-black racism”, student activists have said.

The 9ft (2.75m) statue has been given to the city council to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth.

In an open letter, the students demanded the council acknowledges his “vile comments” and issues an apology.

A council spokeswoman said the statue was intended “to spread a message of peace, love and harmony”.

The letter – which refers to the social media hashtag #GandhiMustFall – stated the anti-colonialist had referred to Africans as “savages”, “uncivilised” and “dirty”, comments which were “well documented throughout his earlier correspondence and writings”.

It added Gandhi was being “used as a propaganda tool… by the current Indian government”, adding: “We demand that Manchester City Council refuse to be complicit in this, especially given the city’s history of anti-racist action.”

It also demanded the council “redistribute” any funds used to “instead commemorate a black anti-racist activist with connections to Manchester, such as Olive Morris or Steve Biko”.

He was born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to an elite family in India in 1869 and moved to South Africa in 1893, where he was struck by the ill treatment of Indian immigrants.

Biographer and grandson Rajmohan Gandhi said he was undoubtedly “at times ignorant and prejudiced about South Africa’s blacks”, but the “imperfect Gandhi was more radical and progressive than most contemporary compatriots”.

Other authors have argued over his legacy in recent times – Ramachandra Guha wrote that “to speak of comprehensive equality for coloured people was premature in early 20th Century South Africa”, while Ashwin Desai describes him as a man who “supported more taxes on impoverished African people and turned a blind eye to the brutality of the Empire on Africans”.

An authority spokeswoman said there would be “no cost to the council for the statue”, which went through the “necessary planning process” in August without objection. It is currently in storage ahead of a planned unveiling in Manchester next month.

She said that while the council was “aware there is some debate about Gandhi’s life”, most people would see the statue, which was given to the city by the Shrimad Rajchandra Mission Dharampur (SRMD), “in the context in which it was intended – to spread a message of peace, love and harmony”.

A spokesman for the SRMD said it was “non-political and is not aligned with any national government”.

The organisation welcomed “a searching public discussion of the past [but] it is misleading to fixate on comments made in Gandhi’s early life”, he said.

“Gandhi inspired African leaders, including Nelson Mandela, [and] this call is an extreme and limited interpretation [of him].

“Mahatma Gandhi is a citizen of the world and an icon of peace. The Manchester statue will celebrate the universal power of his message.”

The group behind the letter has been approached for comment.