California Muslims criticize plan for Gandhi statue  

RIVERSIDE (AP) March 19, 2000 - A proposal to erect a downtown statue of Mohandas K. Gandhi has raised the ire of some Muslims and renewed controversy over the Indian leader's legacy.

The statue, planned for a pedestrian mall, would be part of the city's effort to embrace diversity, Mayor Ron Loveridge said.

``Gandhi is one of the greatest leaders of this century,'' said Loveridge, who recently traveled to India. ``His efforts for peace have been recognized by many people.''

A statue could help the city heal from racial tensions that have been simmering since the 1998 officer-involved shooting death of a black woman, said Lalit Acharya, a founder of the Riverside Mahatma Gandhi Peace Foundation.

Tyisha Miller, 19, was killed by police Dec. 28, 1998, as she sat with a gun on her lap in a locked and idling car in this city 55 miles east of Los Angeles.

``I kept thinking about what we could do to symbolize peace and harmony,'' Acharya said. ``Gandhi seemed like a natural because those were the principles he lived by.''

``In my mind, Gandhi transcends countries and cultures,'' Acharya said. ``When you think about Gandhi, you don't really think about anybody objecting.''

The foundation is hoping to raise $150,000 for the statue over a two-year period.

Gandhi, who led non-violent protests during the Indian struggle for independence, is admired by many in the United States as a symbol of peace.

But many Muslims see him differently. Some blame Gandhi for failing to prevent the deaths of thousands of Muslims when religious fighting broke out in 1947 as India and Pakistan moved away from British colonial rule.

``He was not a hero to everybody,'' said Jamil Dada, an investment manager. Religious violence forced his grandparents to abandon their home and business when they fled India for Pakistan, he said.

``It's just going to open a whole can of worms,'' he said of the proposed statue. ``It would be in Riverside's best interest to nip this in the bud.''

Some 4,000 Muslims who live near Riverside are learning more about the planned statue, said Mustafa Kuko, director of the Masjid and Islamic Center of Riverside.

Loveridge said he will meet with Hindus and Muslims to resolve differences over the statue.

``I am not an expert on Hindu-Muslim perceptions of Gandhi,'' Loveridge said. ``We're essentially getting people around a table and talking. That is how you resolve conflict.''