Leicester campaign for Gandhi statue gets MP backing

By Prasun Sonwalkar, IANS

London : Leicester, a bustling town in the east Midlands with a large minority of people of Gujarati origin, has launched a campaign to install a statue of Mahatma Gandhi as a symbol of the city’s multiculturalism.

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The location of the statue is suggested to be a corner near Belgrave Road, the nerve-centre of Asian business and cultural activities. Several Indian banks have offices on the road, apart from Indian restaurants, shops selling saris, jewellery, and Bollywood music.

The idea for the statue came from a local charity organisation, Samanwaya Pariwar, and has found considerable support from Leicester East MP, Keith Vaz, and citizens. The statue is expected to be bronze with a height between seven and nine feet.

Leicester is also the home of Richard Attenborough, the Oscar-winning director of the film “Gandhi” (1982), in which the lead role was played by Ben Kingsley. Attenborough, however, expressed some reservations about the idea of a statue.

He told the local media: “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’.”

Goa-origin Keith Vaz, who is planning an ‘early day motion’ in the House of Commons this week, has backed the campaign and has urged the people to send him their views on the issue.

Vaz said: “Gandhi’s philosophy of brotherhood among those of different religions and ethnicity should be honoured and celebrated in the diverse community of Leicester. It would become a good tourist attraction and highlight the city’s diverse communities.”

He said there were also plans to erect a Gandhi statue in London, but he felt Leicester – and Belgrave Road in particular – would be a better home. He hoped that the ‘early day motion’ would help enlist support from other MPs for the statue.

Jitendra Acharya, a functionary of Samanvaya Parivar, said: “It would become a permanent reminder of Gandhiji’s 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.”

The charity organisation is expected to provide funds for the project, which will soon be discussed with the local council. A local county sculptor is being sought to make the statue.

A statue of Indian social reformer Raja Rammohun Roy has been installed in the city centre in Bristol, where he died in the 19th century.