Letter: Renaming Middle Street after Mahatma Gandhi

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Dear Editor,

I have noticed the letters expressing disapproval of the proposal to rename Middle Street after Mahatma Gandhi. While it is not a nice thing to speak about persons, with respect to one of the writers, the least said, as others have already remarked, the better.

However, in the most recent of these letters, GKH Lall’s “Shake this blind obeisance to things and people foreign” (SN 10/7/2021), noted for its stridency and xenophobic fervour, the writer wonders how Indians would react to his proposal of naming a street in India after Cheddi Jagan. He feels they would think him presumptuous. Maybe not, as there are many places in India, especially streets in New Delhi, named after non-Indian persons.

Among the streets in New Delhi’s diplomatic district, Chanakyapuri, one is named after Kwami Nkrumah and another after Nelson Mandela. In fact, there is an Africa Avenue.

In other parts of the metropolis, streets are named after Leo Tolstoy, Alexander Kadakin, former Russian ambassador to India, former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, the French novelist and Minister of Cultural Affairs, Andre Malraux; Archbishop Makarios, and Benito Jaurez, a former Mexican President. Our communist friends in Guyana would be happy to know that there is a Josip Tito Road and, even more interesting, a Ho Chi Minh Street in Kolkota, which ironically houses the US and UK consulates.

As far as the proposal to rename Middle Street goes, which may not now become a reality, given Mr. Lall’s strident and adamant, “Not here! Not anywhere here…do it there,” Guyana would not be the first country to honour the Mahatma in this manner. After all, we already have our Promenade Gardens’ Gandhi Monument.

There are similar monuments to Gandhi in Lake Shrine, California; in Union Square, New York; Tavistock Square, London; Copenhagen, Denmark; Pietermaritzburg, South Africa – which was unveiled by Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Canberra, Australia; Memorial Gardens, Jinga, Uganda; Garden of Peace, Vienna, Austria; and Arina Park, Geneva, Switzerland. The most recent of these is the Gandhi statue in Parliament Square, London.

Apart from monuments, streets, avenues, roads and boulevards in more than fifty countries of the world are named after Gandhi. These include Trinidad, Jamaica, Brazil, Mexico, United States and Canada. Interestingly, of all the countries of the world, Mahatma Gandhi seems to have great appeal among the people of the Netherlands, where streets and roads in more than twenty-five towns and cities are named after him, second only to India itself.

Coming back to Mr. Lall’s hypothetical proposal, “I wonder if I were to propose a street in India being named after Cheddi Jagan, how the Indians would react?” I have shown how, in my view, Indians may not be averse to the idea. In fact, I believe it to be quite a brilliant idea. Why shouldn’t India have places and streets named after her distinguished sons and daughters in the diaspora?

I am now making a formal request to the Government of India, through its High Commissioner, to name a locality somewhere preferably in the north after Cheddi Jagan, with streets and roads named after Bharrat Jagdeo, Donald Ramotar, Irfaan Ali, and J.B. Singh, to name a few. Thank you, Mr. Lall, for the idea. Indeed, if Indians in Trinidad, Fiji, Mauritius, South Africa and those in Guyana can come together on this, what to talk of streets, we may get towns and cities named after our heroes.

In history, there are many persons who, because of their achievements, struggles and values, transcend borders, so the question of “blind obeisance to things and people foreign” simply cannot apply to them. I am in no way an expert on Gandhi. This is best left to those who feel competent to remark on his “stain” and “failure.” But I truly believe that Mahatma Gandhi belongs to all humanity, and specifically to that small, cherished group of human beings who cannot be described as “foreign” by any stretch of the imagination by any people, and of whom it may be said, with reference to Gandhi, “Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.”

In conclusion, I have seen Mr. Lall’s strong admonition to Guyanese on “obeisance to things and people foreign,” as an argument against the proposal of naming Middle Street after Mahatma Gandhi. Based on this, Nelson Mandela would also be seen as foreign. I am not part of any advocacy, but it is my hope that Mr. Lall would not start a campaign to un-name the Nelson Mandela Avenue.

Yours faithfully,
Swami Aksharananda