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Blow to India’s soft power: Why Gandhi is hated in Malawi


Blantyre (Malawi), Nov 7: Mahatma Gandhi is often seen as a man whose legacy spreads across global barriers. He had a close connection with South Africa where he had also spoken against racial inequalities. However, in Malawi, another nation located in southern Africa, India's 'Father of the Nation' is not as popular as he is elsewhere. In fact, the local sentiments against the man are so strong that a local court recently stalled work on the erection of a statue of Gandhi which was scheduled to be inaugurated by Vice President Venkaiah Naidu during his recent tri-nation tour of Africa.

Mahatma Gandhi

On October 31, activists opposing construction of the statue won an injunction to temporarily stop the work on the statue which was to be made as part of a $10-million deal with India in Blantyre, the African nation's commercial capital. Gandhi, whose 150th birth anniversary falls next year, was accused of using racial slur and spreading hate during his stay in the continent.

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The Indian vice president did not make any direct reference to the statue issue after he returned to India and only mentioned about the Government of India's 'India for Humanity' initiative, which aims at spreading Gandhi's message to all parts of the globe.

In Malawi, Naidu said it was in Africa where the iconic leader had drawn sustenance for his crusade against discrimination and colonial domination with the help of truth and non-violence.

But not all are convinced about Gandhi in Malawi. It is said that Gandhi has a negative image in the southeast African nation because of some alleged statements that he made after reaching South Africa in 1893. Those remarks were extracted from a controversial book on Gandhi's life in South Africa and from the 'Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi' and they have led to protests against honouring the freedom fighter, a report in The Quint said.

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As per a book titled 'The South African Gandhi: Stretcher - Bearer of Empire', the leader had often slammed Africans as "savage" and "raw" who lived a life of "indolence and nakedness", the report said, adding that he allegedly also used terms like "kaffirs", a racial slur used against black Africans.

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According to a report in Washington Post, authors Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, both professors at the University of Johannesburg and University of KwaZuku Natal, the halo that surrounds the Indian leader today was a result of a repackaging that was done cleverly.

"As we examined Gandhi's actions and contemporary writings during his South African stay and compared these with what he wrote in his autobiography and 'Satyagraha in South Africa,' it was apparent that he indulged in some 'tidying up.' He was effectively rewriting his own history," the authors were quoted as saying.

Malawi saw the launch of a campaign named 'Gandhi Must Fall' by a group of over 180 people who protested after learning that the Indian government had talks with Blantyre City Council over a proposal to build a statue of the leader who was assassinated on January 30, 1948, months after India attained independence.

A petition asking the Malawian government to stop the statue's construction was signed by around 3,500 citizens of the country, The Quint report added.

One of the organisers of the campaign, Mpambira Aubrey Kambewa, said the statue was being built as a "precondition" to the Mahatma Gandhi Convention Centre in Blantyre, which India had pledged to put funds into.

"Our main protest is aligned to the fact that Gandhi is a known racist. He propagated racist sentiments against black people. He has been well quoted, including in some of his own work, saying that black Africans are sub-human and that they are at a lower level than Indians and Europeans - mainly during his time as a lawyer in South Africa," Kambewa was quoted as saying by The Quint.

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