Hundreds of people signed an online petition on Monday demanding the removal of a statue of Robert Clive, who played a key role in establishing Britain’s colonial domination over India, in Shrewsbury, western England.
The petition on Change.Org is addressed to the local Shropshire County Council and came within hours of dramatic scenes of a former slave trader Edward Colston’s sculpture being pulled down and dragged into a river in Bristol on Sunday, during a weekend of fiery “Black Lives Matter” anti-racism protests.
“Robert Clive was one of the early figures of the British imperial domination of India, Bengal and much of South-East Asia,” reads the petition, which has already attracted over 1,700 people of its 2,500 target within hours.
“Clive as a symbol of British colonialism is significantly offensive to Indian, Bengali and south-east Asian descent and to attempt to justify it as a celebration of British pride and nationalism is only justifiable if one revels in the persecution and murder of millions of innocent people,” it reads.
Robert Clive served as the first Governor of Bengal Presidency under the East India Company in the 18th century, earning the title “Clive of India”.
The petition highlights his role in the “looting” of Bengal in the early years of the British Empire, with many of the region’s riches finding their way back with him to Britain.
“To have a statue commemorating the man that ruined a nation and held innocent people to his barbaric orders is both offensive and embarrassing. Just because a figure is historical, that doesn’t make him good. He is nothing more than a figure of oppression and white supremacy that has, whether consciously or not, been celebrated and commemorated in Shrewsbury town centre for hundreds of years,” it notes.
Local Shrewsbury MP, Conservative Party’s Daniel Kawczynski, called for a peaceful discussion on the statue and pledged to conduct a “blow by blow” research on the life of locally-born Clive.
“We are doing a research paper and while I won’t comment on his life until after it’s written, the British Empire was a tremendous source for good during its time,” said Mr Kawczynski, who said he would be using the House of Commons library for the research.
“We honour and celebrate those who helped establish this empire. They are part of our history and should be treated with respect and dignity. I know some people will want to eradicate all traces of the British Empire, but I’ve seen huge pluses of things it did around the world,” he said.
The MP also paid tribute to Britain’s war-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill, whose statue on Parliament Square in London was among those targeted by protesters over the weekend with graffiti reading “was a racist”.
The steps below Mahatma Gandhi’s statue nearby were also left marked with the word “racist”.
Peter Nutting, the leader of Shropshire Council, said that in line with the council’s constitution, all petitions that gain 1,000 signatures are debated to determine any action required.
“In the meantime, while we recognise the strength of feeling around the Black Lives Matter campaign, and acknowledge people’s right to protest, we ask them to do so peacefully and safely, abiding by the social distancing guidelines,” he said.
There is a similar life-size statue of Clive near the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) building on King Charles Street, Whitehall, in central London.
The plinth records his two major career spurts in India, including the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and the Treaty of Allahabad in 1765.
Clive, born in Market Drayton in Shropshire before his schooling in London, travelled to India for the East India Company in 1743 before returning to his London home later in life where he died in 1774 — believed to have committed suicide.
The Black Lives Matter protests over the weekend took place across different parts of the UK in solidarity with similar protests in the US and around the world against the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man who was a victim of police brutality.