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Ghana-India relations and Mahatma Gandhi

Fri, 30 Sep 2016 Source: Larweh Therson-Cofie

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By Larweh Therson-Cofie

Should a statue of an important person or a hero be the subject of a row in a country – in a way that makes pulling down of the object a necessity? The answer is yes or no.

I answer yes, if the statue’s presence does not represent or work for the benefit of the greatest majority of humanity.

My answer is no, if the statue represents a universal idea and promotes national and international peace, love and unity.

Last week, it was reported that lecturers of the University of Ghana, Legon, presented a petition to the council of the University calling for the pulling down of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of India’s independence from British colonial rule.

The petition was reportedly signed by 1,500 lecturers including professors.

The lecturers wanted the statue erected on the campus of the University removed because it smacked of racism and anti-Africanism.

“In the context where our youth know so little about our own history, such statues can serve as an opportunity for such learning to occur,” the petition stated.

“Why should we uplift other people’s heroes at an African university when we haven’t lifted up our own? We consider this to be a slap in the face that undermines our struggle for autonomy, recognition and respect.”

“At world class universities, even former bastions of slavery, apartheid and white supremacy, statues and other symbols associated with controversial persons have been pulled down or removed,” the petition added.

Several observers in Ghana and abroad have commented on the development.

One of the petitioners, Dr Obadele Kambon, a research fellow of the Institute of African studies, University of Ghana, said “Ideally, in its place or elsewhere, statues of classical, traditional and modern African heroes could be erected to enhance levels of self-knowledge, self-respect and self-love.”

Professor Kofi Asare Opoku, Chairman of the Kwabena Nketia Centre for Africana Studies, said “However great Gandhi is, he may be great for India, but for us, we have our own heroes, men and women in African history that we don’t know about; so we need our own heroes because they are the ones who can inspire us.”

Professor Mike Ocquaye, a Professor of Political Science of the University of Ghana, lawyer and political historian, said that the demand for removal of Gandhi’s statue was not necessary.

To Professor Ocquaye, a former Ghana Ambassador to India, pulling down the statue might have implications on diplomatic ties between Ghana and India.

“It will be most unnecessary, most uncalled for and not in the supreme interest of Ghanaians and we must know what serves our interest best,” he said.

“Some people in India wanted diplomatic relations with Ghana to be broken over the way we sometime back spited them, but caution prevailed and they kept their cool to show that they understand diplomacy and the ups and downs of international relations; and today, the relationship is a bit better and we look forward to it being better still,” Professor Ocquaye pointed out.

He asked the petitioners to be tolerant of divergent views which he said was the hallmark of academia.

Bharati Shahida, commented online: “Gandhi fought for Africans as soon as he realised what he had been taught and why: to stop Indians and Blacks from working against the Empire.”

Another online commentator, Jagan Mohan, said “Gandhi stands for non-violence which is universal. The statue recognises non-violence and the principle behind it, not just the person.”

The grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Rajmohan Gandhi and biographer of his grandfather, wrote of him: “… on racial equality, he was greatly in the advance of most, if not all, of his compatriots; and the struggle for Indian’s rights paved the way for the struggle of Black rights.”

On derogatory remarks Mahatma Gandhi made about Black South Africans, Rajmohan said, “Gandhi must be forgiven for these prejudices in the context of the time and the circumstances.”

The late Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia was quoted as saying the following of Mahatma Gandhi: “Mahatma Gandhi will always be remembered as long as freedom and those who love freedom and justice live.”

The Gandhi’s statue at the University of Ghana is a donation from the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, who visited Ghana in June, 2016.

He unveiled the statue after delivering an address at the university on cooperation between Ghana and India on youth development and education.

In the address, President Mukherjee advised Ghanaian students to “emulate and concretise” the ideals of Kwame Nkrumah and Mahatma Gandhi.

Both Kwame Nkrumah, first President of the Republic of Ghana and Mahatma Ghandi are controversial figures in world history. Dr Nkrumah was revered abroad but seen as a dictator and a tyrant in Ghana.

Mahatma Gandhi, known in early life as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, was revered in his country but was not liked in some countries.

Gandhi, like Nkrumah of Ghana, was one of the leading figures in the agitation for India’s independence.

Both of them were human beings who, like other human beings, had faults.

In his typical legal mind and posture, Gandhi argued for the rights of Indians in South Africa where he lived for 20 years practising law.

In the process, he obviously discriminated against blacks to get favours from whites, the apostles of apartheid in that country.

In the, “what went wrong lectures” after the overthrow of Nkrumah in 1966, Ghanaian academics dissected in a series of lectures, the economic, political and social policies of the late President in incisive and scathing terms.

Today, statues of Dr Nkrumah stand in parts of the country, including Accra where an imposing memorial park has been built in this honour.

Why in Ghana, Mahatma Gandhi should not be forgiven in the same way? Why should we gaze down the chimney of a golden palace and ignore its interior and exterior beauty?

Columnist: Larweh Therson-Cofie