Gandhi looking for pedestal in France

Last Updated: Jan 30, 2011, 09:52 AM IST

New Delhi: Even as India and Indians across the world are set to mark the 63rd death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi Sunday, the global peace icon is finding it difficult to acquire a pride of place in the French heritage town of Strasbourg, with the French government dithering on the installation of his statue.

However, over 30 nations worldwide have made room for life size statues of the Mahatma in the last two years.

The Indian community in Strasbourg in France`s Alsace region wanted the statue of Mahatma Gandhi to be installed before Jan 30, the day Gandhiji was assassinated by Nathuram Godse in 1948 at the Birla House in the Indian capital.

The community, led by Kaushik Gupta, president of the de l`association Inde-Alsace (India-Alsace Association), has given petitions on the matter to Vayalar Ravi, minister of overseas Indian affairs, and the Indian ambassador in Paris.

The petition said that since 2008 the association has been trying to install the first public bust of Mahatma Gandhi to promote his legacy in the north-eastern part of France.

"The embassy of India in Paris in collaboration with the ministry of culture in India and the Indian Council For Cultural Relation (ICCR) had agreed to donate the statue. Strasbourg is home to institutes like the Council of Europe, European Parliament as well as the European Court for Human Rights. Gandhi may have been born in India, but his philosophy is universal," Gupta said his petition.

The Strasbourg administration has gone back on its offer to install the statue in front of the town hall, he claimed.

The Strasbourg administration asked the Indian ambassador in Paris to install the statue in front of a shopping complex, a move which the community labelled "anti-Gandhian" because "Gandhi opposed materialism".

The city administration subsequently proposed to install the statue atop a bridge, the petitioners alleged.

"The Indian embassy in Paris requested the city to put it at the famous Park of Orangerie at Strasbourg, which is home to sculptures of modern art," Gupta said.

The city administration initially agreed with the suggestion but "again backed out because of a heritage law," Gupta said in the petition.

"But we hope to install it by Oct 2, 2011," Gupta, who is currently in India told IANS.

"I have met officials of the ministry of overseas affairs last week and they have promised to look into the impasse. We want the President of India, Pratibha Patil, to unveil the statue," Gupta said.

When contacted, the ICCR declined comment on the controversy saying "it wanted to stay out of the impasse".

The office of the director-general of ICCR refused to divulge the exact numbers of Gandhi busts commissioned by foreign countries this year saying "they were to collate the data".

However, a senior source at ICCR said: "Slovenia was the latest country to acquire a life-size bronze statue of Gandhi in November 2010."

The statue, sculpted by Delhi-based Ram Sutar, was installed at the Slovene Gradec Municipality.

For the last few years, the ICCR has been sending life-size statutes of Mahatma Gandhi to several countries to facilitate greater cultural exchange and promote the peace messiah as a world icon.

The countries which have installed statues of Mahatma Gandhi include Germany, Australia, Italy, the United States, Morocco, Mexico, South Africa, Peru, Seychelles, Britain, Chile, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, Ivory Coast, Fiji, Myanmar, Ecuador, Tajikistan, Russia, Syria, Brazil, Djibouti, Senegal, Martinique, Colombia, France, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Belgium, Cyprus, Serbia and Montenegro and Ethiopia.

"The whole idea of putting up a statue, particularly of Gandhiji is very anachronistic. Knowing Gandhi, he would have been the first one to resist this kind of deification like Buddha, who had instructed his disciples not to erect his statue. The first Buddha statue appeared nearly 600 years after his death," designer, photographer and noted human rights activist Ram Rahman told reporters.

Rahman`s father was "involved in a movement against the installation of a life-size statue of Gandhi at the India Gate in the 1970s and 1980s after a statue of King George V was removed from the India Gate, an imperial relic". The statue of Gandhi was later installed in the Parliament House premises, Rahman said.

However, the move by ICCR to install life-size Gandhi statues has elicited global support.

Noted Indo-American statesman Rajan Zed has hailed the countries that have installed Gandhi`s statues.

Zed, the chairperson of the Indo-American Leadership Federation, said: "Gandhi was now being rediscovered as there was renewed interest about him and his ideas in the world and many people revere him as one of the greatest moral and political leaders of the 20th century."

IANS