Gandhi or Gary? Why Leicester can't decide who should sit on plinth

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The Independent Online

One was a footballing hero, rated among England's most prolific strikers; the other is the world's most celebrated pacifist and the spiritual leader who led India to independence.

Now, Gary Lineker and Mahatma Gandhi could be pitted against each other as one of Britain's most multicultural cities ponders whose image to erect as a commemorative statue. Initial plans to install one of Gandhi in Leicester are opposed by residents who feel a local hero, such as Lineker, deserves the honour.

Leicester has a high British Asian population, and is predicted to be Britain's first white-minority city in 12 years. An initial "No Gandhi Statue" online petition by residents soon made way for a more official protest petition with 211 signatures on the Downing Street website.

Lee Ingram, a Leicester resident who set up the first petition, said he felt there were more deserving local figures of note. "Gandhi is a historical figure connected to India. He has no connection to English culture or the English, therefore a statue of him would be more suitably erected in India. This would be yet another symbol of segregation in Leicester and it would be something else for the Asian community. We have local heroes here, Lineker or the writer, Joe Orton. In the local paper, I read letters which say Gandhi was a more controversial figure than some believe."

But Samanwaya Parivar, the charity behind the plan for the 12ft bronze structure, is confident its planning application will be accepted by Leicester City Council, the Eastern Eye newspaper reported. Jitendra Acharya, the charity's general secretary, said it would fund the project at a cost of up to £20,000, and that they had overwhelming support from the community.

"It is good the issue is being debated," he said. "We have never said that there should not be any other statues in Leicester. This particular statue of Gandhi will be entirely funded by our charity as a gift to the city. It will add to the vibrant and multicultural elements of this city since Gandhi's philosophies of truth, peace and non-violence had no boundaries."

Keith Vaz, the MP for Leicester East, who has tabled an early-day motion in Parliament to raise awareness of the project, said Gandhi's "philosophy of brotherhood among those of different religions and ethnicity should be honoured and celebrated". He added: "A statue [of Gandhi] will be an excellent symbol of his and Leicester's commitment to diversity."

Leicester council's leader, Ross Willmott, said: "Gandhi was a person whose teachings transcended any particular nation or faith. His teaching and way of life showed us peace and non-violent protest can change the world. I would be proud to see a statue in our city that was a reminder to us all of his philosophy of peace."

Britain already has a statue of Gandhi, in Tavistock Square, in central London.

Man of peace vs gentleman striker

Mahatma Gandhi

Born: 2 October 1869 in Porbandar, India

Greatest achievements: A seminal figure of the Indian Independence Movement, which led to the departure of the British and India's partition in 1947.

Life philosophy: Pioneer of "Satyagraha", a philosophy concerned with pacifism and "resistance to evil through non-violence" which inspired civil rights movements across the world.

Also synonymous with: A UN general assembly resolution on 15 June 2007 for his birth date to become the "International Day of Non-Violence".

Gary Lineker

Born: 30 November 1960 in Leicester

Greatest achievement: England footballer who scored 48 goals in 80 appearances (one short of Bobby Charlton's record), including 10 goals in two World Cup tournaments.

Life philosophy: Gentleman on the pitch who was never cautioned by a referee during a career in which he made more than 600 appearances for England, Leicester, Everton, Barcelona and Tottenham.

Also synonymous with: The Walkers crisps advertising campaign.