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Row over move to erect Gandhi statue in UK

February 12, 2008 16:55 IST

A row has broken out in Leicester in Britain where a section of the local population is opposing a move to install a statue of Mahatma Gandhi as a symbol of the town's commitment to multiculturalism.

Immigration in the last 25 years has resulted in Leicester having a large minority of Gujarat origin.

Keith Vaz, the Goa-origin Labour lawmaker from Leicester East, has extended his full support to the campaign to install Gandhi's statue, and recently tabled an 'early day motion' in the House of Commons on this issue.

However, not everyone in Leicester is as enthusiastic.

Campaigners want the statue to be located in the corner of Doncaster Road and Belgrave Road, the epicentre of Asian cultural and business life in Leicester.

The campaign is led by Jitendra Acharya, a functionary of charity organisation Samanvaya Parivar.

"It would become a permanent reminder of his life and what he stood for. We felt Belgrave would be a better home for the statue than London because of the close links the city has with Gujarat, where he was born," he said.

Samanwaya Pariwar is likely to provide the funds and a local county sculptor is being sought to make the statue.

There is considerable support for the statue, but there are many residents who believe a more suitable local person needs to be honoured with a statue. Among the names mentioned are Alec Jeffreys, who invented DNA at the University of Leicester, footballer Gary Lineker and cricketer David Gower.    

Expressions of support and opposition to the statue have been reflected in the local media. In a letter to the editor of Leicester Mercury, a leading local newspaper, one Ted

Humphreys wrote: 'I question the suitability of a Mahatma Gandhi statue in Leicester.

'For 20 years he and his Indian Natural Congress party campaigned against British Rule. He was not successful in bringing together the Hindu and Muslim populations, so the picture is that of strife and not that of co-operation that a statue would imply'.

Responding to Humphreys' letter, Indian-origin resident Hena Parmar wrote: 'The great Mahatma Gandhi, although against the British, had nothing but respect for the British in India. A statue of Gandhi would imply the importance of loving thy neighbour, whether Muslim, British or other, and more importantly the need for peace not war.'

Leicester is also the home of Richard Attenborough, the Oscar-winning director of the film Gandhi (1982). He expressed some reservations about the idea of a statue.

"He was one of the major people who ever lived and should be revered, not necessarily with a statue but as a man who once, when asked about his message, said 'my life is my message'," he said.

In comments posted on an online petition opposing the statue, local residents say that the statue would be a waste of the tax payers' money; that a statue of an Englishman would be more suitable; and that Gandhi's statue in Leicester would be fine 'only if we can erect a statue of Winston Churchill in India'.

Vaz had said recently that Ross Wilmott, leader of the Leichester city council, had extended his support to the statue project and had committed to provide land for the purpose.
Prasun Sonwalkar in London
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