In Pakistan, there are contradictory views about Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
In recent years, Gandhi has been officially acknowledged as an advocate of non-violence who was murdered for his acceptance of the position that Pakistan had the right to exist.
But in textbooks in Pakistani schools, Gandhi is represented as a shrewd politician who is a symbol of Muslim hatred and an enemy of Muslims. In fact, books in the Pakistan Studies course contain a famous couplet by Maulana Zafar Ali Khan suggesting that Gandhi and Savarkar shared the same line of thought.
Pakistani post-Partition Urdu literature contains many examples of hatred towards Gandhi.
But Gandhi’s detractors forget that the leader had numerous followers and great support in many parts of British India that later became Pakistan.
That was obvious from the many places named after him, among them a public park that is now the Karachi Zoological Garden and Gandhi Street in Rawalpindi. They have been re-named after Partition.
He sometimes appears in unusual forms. As journalist Akhter Baloch writes, “Gandhiji can be seen with his emblemised spectacles by the iron railing in front of one or two rickety buildings in the Tyre Wali Gali of the Urdu Bazaar in Karachi.”
Today, in Pakistan, only two statues of Gandhi still stand – both in Islamabad.
The older statue has travelled around a little. The life-size bronze statue had initially been installed outside the Sindh High Court in Karachi in 1931. It had been erected to commemorate the leader’s visit to the city for the Congress session that year.
Gandhi had recently been released from prison after the Salt Satyagraha. The Karachi Resolution passed at the session “reiterated the Congress Party’s commitment to ‘Purna Swaraj’ or ‘complete independence’,” notes the Constitution of India website. “In addition to fundamental rights which protected civil liberties, the resolution for the first time put forward a list of socio-economic principles/rights that the Indian state had to adhere to.”
It was at this session that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was elected president of Indian National Congress.
The statue of Gandhi had been funded by the Indian Merchants Association, whose members were mostly Sindhi Hindus. It is said that the plaque read: “Mahatma Gandhi – the reputability of freedom, truth and nonviolence.”
Moved to safety
Several months after Independence, on January 6, 1948, communal riots broke out in Karachi between the Hindus and Sikhs who had yet to leave the city and the Muslims migrant flooding in. Hundreds of people were killed and many properties and businesses were destroyed.
The Gandhi statue was moved to protect it from any potential damage. Today the site at which the statue stood is known as Kabutar Chowk or Pigeon Square.
Long-time Dawn columnist and businessman Ardeshir Cowasjee wrote in a column that when the riots broke out, Pakistan’s founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah asked his aide Yusuf Haroon to have Gandhi’s statue moved to a safe place.
Haroon sought the help of Jamshed Nussranwanji Mehta, a Parsi who had been a former mayor of Karachi. Mehta asked Cowasjee and his friends to wrap up the statue and take it to the Bai Virbaiji Soparivala school for safekeeping. This statue was moved at midnight and brought to the school by 3 am – but the watchman would not allow them to enter.
As a result, Cowasjee took the statue to his home. The group tried to shift it to the Indian High Commissioner’s home the next day but he refused to take it because he was afraid the rioters would burn down the house.
So the statue stayed with the Cowasjees for some weeks until it was moved to until it to the Indian consulate. Through all the moving, the only damage that resulted to the statue was that Gandhi’s glasses broke, Cowasjee said.
In 1981, the statue was brought to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, where it was installed on November 14, 1988.
The second Gandhi statue in Pakistan is a wax figure installed in the Pakistan Monument Museum in Islamabad.
This statue has been created not as a mark of respect to the Mahatma but to help visitors visualise Pakistan’s formative years.
The information board beside the wax statue reads, “Gandhi-Jinnah Talks – 1944. In September 1944, the Gandhi Jinnah talks took place in Mumbai to break the stalemate between the League and Congress and pave the way for the attainment of Indian independence. The dialogue, though failed, had a far-reaching impact on All India politics and Pakistan movement.”
In recent years, whenever there has been outrage in India over places and landmarks associated with Jinnah and anything associated with Pakistan, photographs of this wax statute emerge on social media with the claim that Gandhi has found acceptance in Pakistan. This statue has helped Pakistan to frame a counter narrative of itself as a tolerant and peace-loving country.
However, since Partition, no work has been produced in Pakistan about Gandhian politics and philosophy, the places in Pakistan Gandhi visited before Partition or about the memories of his friends.
Statues and memorials play a great role in shaping the historical consciousness of societies and reminding them of their past. But in the subcontinent today, such statues and the political diversity they represent have come to be perceived as a threat to dominant political ideologies.
Ammad Ali is a freelance journalist, historian and travel writer. He has extensively write on Hindu, Sikh and Zoroastrian heritage of Pakistan. This article is an excerpt from his work in progress, Gandhi in Pakistan.