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Support grows for Gandhi statue

Support for a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Leicester is growing even as city council officials continue to monitor the ongoing debate before taking a final decision on the controversial issue.

india Updated: Mar 09, 2008 15:01 IST
Gandhi

Support for a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Leicester is growing even as city council officials continue to monitor the ongoing debate before taking a final decision on the controversial issue.

The issue has engaged the population of the city which has a large minority of Gujarati origin.Leicester in the east Midlands is officially twinned with Rajkot in Gujarat, where Gandhi grew up.

Opponents of the statue question the need for a Gandhi statue in Leicester - he was not born there, he did not work here, he never lived here. He studied in London and Oxford and, by all accounts, never set foot on Leicestershire soil.
The opponents feel that it would more relevant to have a statue of local footballer Gary Lineker or Sir Alec Jeffreys, who invented DNA fingerprinting at the University of Leicester.

Supporters of the argument, such as Indian-origin Labour MP Keith Vaz, say that a Gandhi statue would celebrate his life and work as a leading figure of non-violent resistance and as a champion of inter-cultural harmony and cooperation.

A Gandhi statue is seen as a symbol of the multicultural harmony that Leicester is famous for across Europe, supporters
say.

Vaz tabled an early day motion in the House of Commons, while opponents of the statue have enlisted the support of hundreds of people in an online petition.

Now 'Leicester Mercury', a leading local newspaper, has extended its support to the statue, even as conflicting views are expressed in letters to the editor of the newspaper.

In an editorial titled "Gandhi statue should get city's blessing", the paper asked - Why on earth are so many people opposed to the idea of erecting a statue of Gandhi in Leicester?

"This is a man who stood for non-violence and harmony as well as leading his country to independence. It is difficult to think of a valid moral objection to such an extraordinary figure and one who clearly means so much to so many people in Leicester."

But Leicester-based author Bali Rai said he was bemused by the controversy. He said: "My first question is why? Why Gandhi? Why Leicester? Why now? I can see that Gandhi may be a good choice for the Indian community here, but how will that be received by the other communities in Leicester?"

"Will there be second-generation Pakistani families who will want to see a statue of Jinnah in Leicester? Will there be Polish people wanting a statue of Lech Walesa?"

Leader of the Leicester City Council, Councillor Ross Wilmott, said "I will listen to what people have to say and I'm happy to talk to people about it. I doubt this would be the last statue to be erected in Leicester - and there are other statues of people in the city."

Wilmott added that a Gandhi statue in Leicester would be a great idea. "I think there's a lot of support for it. There have been some discussions already about where it would best be sited. Personally, I have no problem with it," he said.
Samanwaya Parivar, a local charity organisation, has offered to meet expenses for the statue and is currently looking for a sculptor.

The statue is proposed to be located near Belgrave Road, better known as 'Little India' and the heart of the Indian community.