British-Indian economist and peer, Lord Meghnad Desai, on Saturday expressed his regret that the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in London's Parliament Square had to be covered up for protection ahead of a weekend of protests in the UK capital.
Desai is the Chair of the Gandhi Memorial Trust, which was instrumental in fundraising for the sculpture of the leader of the Indian independence movement unveiled in the historic square by then UK Prime Minister David Cameron and former finance minister Arun Jaitley five years ago.
The Mayor of London's office took the decision on Friday to cover up several statues and monuments in and around Parliament Square, including that of former UK PM Winston Churchill and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, amid fears of clashes between anti-racist Black Lives Matter protesters and far-right groups who have planned counter-demonstrations in London this weekend.
"It is a pity and a shame that the Gandhi statue in Parliament Square is to be covered up ahead of the Black Lives Matter rally today," said Lord Desai.
"Gandhi has nothing to hide. He is a pioneer of the struggle against imperialism and racism, who inspired Dr Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela," he said.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had similarly branded it "absurd and shameful" that Churchill, a World War-II "hero", had to be protected against "extremists intent on violence".
He said he empathised with protesters' anger over the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man who died in police custody in Minnesota, US, triggering worldwide protests, but urged people to stay away as the demonstrations had been "hijacked".
"The attacks on the police and indiscriminate acts of violence which we have witnessed over the last week are intolerable and they are abhorrent. The only responsible course of action is to stay away from these protests," Johnson said.
Statues have become a focal point of the protests in recent days, with Churchill's plinth being targeted with the words "was a racist" and the steps below the Gandhi statue nearby had the word "racist" left behind by protesters.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who ordered the covering up of statues and monuments fearing a repeat of similar attacks, urged people to stay away amid fears that some extremist elements were intent on violence.
"Extreme far-right groups who advocate hatred and division are planning counter-protests, which means that the risk of disorder is high," said Khan, adding that the risk of COVID-19 also remains a very real concern as well.
Meanwhile, Scotland Yard also called on people to stay away and imposed strict conditions of the planned protests and set out boundary and timing restrictions on all groups intending to demonstrate in London.
"The government direction is that we remain in a health pandemic and people are asked not to gather in large groups...We are asking you not to come to London, and let your voices be heard in other ways," said Metropolitan Police Commander Bas Javid.
"Based on current information, and in order to keep those people safe who plan to come and protest, we have made the decision to impose conditions on the planned demonstrations," he said.
The restrictions mean Black Lives Matter demonstrators must stick to a specific route between Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square, with similar regulations for right-wing groups, allowing them to assemble in Parliament Square and some parts of Whitehall in central London.