Amid a controversy in India over the demand for removing a portrait of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah from the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), an ornate building in the port city of Karachi proudly flaunts its connection with Mahatma Gandhi, Hindustan Times reported.
Standing tall between two of Karachi’s main thoroughfares — MA Jinnah Road and II Chundrigar Road – is the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Within the sandstone structure, built with material brought from as far as Jodhpur, is the original foundation stone which states that it was laid by Mahatma Gandhi in July 1934. At the time, the representative body of the southern city’s business community was known as the Karachi Indian Merchants Association.
During a visit to Karachi last week, Indian high commissioner Ajay Bisaria posed with others for a selfie in front of the foundation stone, which is now encased in a glass frame.
Asked by reporters about the demand for removing Jinnah’s portrait at the AMU students’ union office, Bisaria called for respect for leaders of both sides.
“I don’t want to say much about what happened (at AMU) but I would say that we should respect leaders of both countries,” he told the assembled businessmen and traders.
After a meeting with home minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi on Wednesday, AMU vice chancellor Tariq Mansoor told reporters that the demand for removing Jinnah’s portrait, which has been in the students’ union office since 1938, is a “non-issue”. BJP lawmaker Satish Gautam had written to Mansoor objecting to the portrait, triggering a row that led to two men being arrested in connection with violent incidents and examinations being postponed.
A sign erected by Karachi Landmarks Walk, too, acknowledges that the foundation stone for the Karachi Chamber was laid by Gandhi, and states that the building’s façade and woodwork have remained untouched in view of its status as a heritage site. “We believe the foundation stone laid by Mahatma Gandhi adds to the fame and character of the building,” said Khalid Firoz, a leading member of the chamber and a former president.
Strewn across Karachi are a number of buildings that were constructed by former Hindu residents of the city. A short distance from the Karachi Chamber is the Seth Ramgopal Goverdhandas Mohatta Hindu Gymkhana, which the government has turned into a centre for performing arts. The name of the building, however, remains unchanged.
Karachi’s main museum, Mohatta Palace, is named after Marwari Hindu businessman Shivratan Chandraratan Mohatta, who built it as a summer home for himself. There are several buildings in the now noisy and cluttered Burns Road, once the main residential area for middle-class Karachi residents, which still bear the names and emblems of their original Hindu inhabitants. At many places, an “Om” symbol can still be seen atop buildings or on balconies.
However, a bronze statue of Gandhi, installed by the Karachi Indian Merchants Association opposite the Sindh high court building in Karachi in 1931, was pulled down and broken during riots in 1950.
Pieces of the statue were handed over to the erstwhile Indian consulate in Karachi in 1981. Indian authorities later repaired the statue and installed it in the lobby of the Indian high commission in Islamabad.