Skip to main content

An elite Kutir set up by Modi far from the "madding" crowd: This Gandhi museum is formal, unapproachable

The Kutir: A cottage?
By Rajiv Shah
Have you ever heard of a Gandhi museum, sough to be projected as the “largest” on the Mahatma, yet totally inaccessible, in sharp contrast to Ahmedabad’s humble, approachable and unassuming Gandhi Ashram on the banks of Sabarmati, set up by the Mahatma during the heydays of the freedom movement? It exists about 30 kilometres away, its idea was conceived by none other than a person who has today become even more inaccessible than he ever was: Narendra Modi, India's Prime Minister.
Visualized for an elite audience and set up in Gandhinagar, this museum, which was formally inaugurated by Modi in January 2015, is inaccessible to even residents of Gujarat's capital. Yet, it is called Dandi Kutir. Part of the sprawling Mahatma Mandir, where Modi has been interacting with India’s top tycoons every alternate year since 2011 through Vibrant Gujarat global summits, this so-called Kutir is anything but a cottage, symbolizing, if at all, Modi’s “vision” of the Mahatma.
Officially projected as “India’s largest and only museum built on the life and teachings” of Gandhiji, unlike Sabarmati Ashram, where anybody can visit to learn from Gandhi’s humble life, this so-called cottage can be seen only through a guided tour which, if the official source is be believed, would begin only as and when a batch of 50 people are collected at an interval of 30 minutes, all them forming part of a tour guide.
Unapproachable by any public transport, there have been cases when individual visitors, reaching the elite Kutir, had to return without gaining access to the museum after waiting for a couple of hours. Again, unlike Sabarmati Ashram, where the entry is free, this high-profile “cottage” charges Rs 10 per visitor from Indians and Rs 200 from foreigners.
The contrast is indeed conspicuous. The Gandhi Ashram's managers, at least till now, have done all they can to ensure that its space is made available to the man on the street to learn from the life of the Mahatma. Lately, it has begun using high technology, but that too for making people directly access, through internet, all that Gandhiji stood for.
In all about 25 lakh pages of life and work of Gandhiji and all those who came in contact with him have been digitized in a powerful Gandhi heritage portal. A project initiated by well-known Gandhi expert Tridip Suhrud, who worked as director of the Gandhi Ashram till last year, with this portal, any researcher or common Gandhi observer sitting anywhere in the world can access works by – and on – Gandhi.
The Kutir, on the other hand, is located in a 41-metre high conical dome, claimed to be symbolizing a salt heap, seeking to represent Salt Satyagraha at Dandi, which took place on ground, next to the sea shore in Dandhi, South Gujarat. The closed door museum in a 10,700 sq metres is cement-concrete jungle, which again stands in sharp contrast to the historic Dandi Bridge, off Sabarmati Ashram, from where the Mahatma began his Dandi march in Ahmedabad.
Modi with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe at the Kutir: September 2017
If the Dandi Bridge is neglected and uncared, the Dandi Kutir, proclaims an official source rather loudly, is where “high technology” has been used to allow visitors to enter “in the shoes (sic!) of the Mahatma to learn and experience the dilemmas, struggles and sacrifices he faced…”
And what these “dilemmas, struggles and sacrifices”? Introducing the Dandi Kutir, its official Facebook page says that the museum showcases Satyagraha, Sarvodaya and Swaraj – forgetting, perhaps deliberately, that the Mahatma used Satya and Ahimsa, or truth and non-violence, as the fundamental principles for an all-pervasive fight against a massive British empire, Hindu-Muslim divide, and the caste-ridden Indian society. One is left wondering: What does Modi, whose dubious role in 2002 riots is too well known, have in common with Ahimsa? As for his views on caste, in his now withdrawn book “Karmayog”, a collection of his speeches delivered to Gujarat babus, he said manual scavengers experienced “spiritual satisfaction” while doing the cleaning job!
That the Kutir has nothing to emphasize on Gandhi’s emphasis on sarva dharma sambhav is not surprising. In fact, this reflects Modi’s mindset, which remains intact to this date. During an informal chat with a group of local scribes in Gandhinagar, Modi, firmly in the saddle after taking over reins of power in October 2001, when Gujarat riots hadn’t yet taken place, a discussion ensued on Hindu-Muslim relations.
Modi seemed unimpressed when a question was asked to him as to what did he have to say about communal segregation in Ahmedabad, and wasn’t it dangerous that Hindus and Muslims didn’t have any interaction, especially after post-Babri 1993 riots, as they didn’t know each other, breed an atmosphere of suspicion. He answered back, “What’s so unusual about it? Don’t Catholics and Protestants live separately in Northern Ireland? They have separate life styles and values. Community living is an international phenomenon, and one should recognize it as such.”
Seventeen years later, this segregation – an antidote of what all Gandhi stood for – has only further solidified. If it was confined to Ahmedabad till the 2002 riots, it has geographically spread to rural Gujarat. A case in point it the North Gujarat village of Sardarpura, where 33 persons were killed in 2002. It has left deep scars that haven’t yet been healed. If all Muslims living in the village were forced to flee, one smaller section, the relatively better off, has returned. The poor still live in a separate ghetto of riot victims, which has emerged post-riots, tens of kilometers away. Things are no different with many other parts of rural Gujarat, where the riots had broken out. Following indiscriminate lynching incidents, this poison of segregation is invading across India.
Yoga celebration outside main gates of the Kutir: June 2018
Meanwhile, keen visitors to Ahmedabad have lately noticed that, after he became Prime Minister, there have been efforts to “Modi-fy” the Sabarmati Ashram as well. An ashram insider ruefully pointed to this Counterview on how a plate saying Jawaharlal Nehru planted a now-grown-up tree, originally put on the main gate of the ashram, has been pushed to the corner, so that no one could see it any more. This insider, always in a simple khadi kurta pyjama, further takes objection to a Modi propaganda placard put up on the entrance of the museum block of the Gandhi Ashram – a huge Modi’s Swacchata Abhiyan poster.
This is what a senior journalist, visiting Gandhi Ashram, noticed: On display in the ashram are expensive looking panels singing paeans to Modi in the guise of lavishing praise on his government’s trademark programmes which, according to him, have fetched little by way of positive result for the country. The professionally-mounted rare photographs on Gandhi’s life with appropriate annotations in a series of rooms leads one to an open verandah, where Modi panels are displayed. 
There is reason to wonder: Who allowed this? Is it an effort to send the message that the work being done by Modi is a natural extension of the Mahatma’s experiments with truth?

Update: Kutir closed on Gandhi Jayanti, photography prohibited inside

Senior photo journalist Kevin Antao, based in Gandhinagar, reports: When the nation was celebrating the 150 birthday of the Father of the Nation, the Dandi Kutir was officially closed to the general public. I had taken the photographs of the notice put up at the main entrance. I am attaching one of the photographs, published in the Times of India Ahmedabad.  
Secondly, at both the Ashrams of Gandhiji in Ahmedabad, people are allowed to photograph inside the ashram and even outside. Why are restrictions on photography placed at the Kutir? You have a lot of college students busy using their mobile phones to click stupid photos or selfies. 
 
---
A version of this article has appeared in National Herald

Comments

Uma said…
It is a sickening scenario. Gandhiji is being used as a political crutch to achieve everyone knows what end.

TRENDING

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

India sees 62 journo deaths, 4th highest, amidst pandemic: Swiss media rights body

By Our Representative The Switzerland-based media rights body Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) has noted that India is the fourth most affected country as far as mediapersons’ death on account of Covid-19 is concerned. According to Blaise Lempen, secretary-general of PEC, the global tally of casualties among media persons in the Covid-19 pandemic has reached 1,036 journalists in 73 countries till date.

Liberating Bengal Hindus? Worst flames of communal division, lessons from the past

By Shamsul Islam*  The whole thrust of the RSS-BJP election campaign for 2021 state assembly elections in West Bengal has been to save Bengal from the rule of Mamata Bannerjee who is allegedly not a ‘Hindu’. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a self-proclaimed Hindu nationalist, as usual set the polarizing agenda. While addressing the first election rally, he called upon the electorate to overthrow the ‘nirmam’ (cruel) rule of Mamata by showing a ‘Ram Card’. He did not name Hindus directly but there was no confusion about the religious identity of the electorate Indian PM was addressing to.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Rs 5 crore 'demand' for India Today anchor: What about 52 lesser souls who died in April?

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  A well known Hindutva protagonist masquerading as journalist passed away recently resulting in messages of condolences and tribute right from the Prime Minister and the Home Minister to progressive liberals expressing grief of his untimely death. It is said that he passed away due to cardiac arrest, though the fact is, he was also Covid infected. The Prime Minister and the Home Minister termed him a ‘brave’ journalist, insisting, his passing away has left a big ‘vacuum’.

Modi's Hindutva 'ensuring' empowerment of rich, disenfranchisement of poor

Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  The Hindutva socio-psychopaths are neither nationalists nor patriotic people. These medieval reactionary forces don’t understand the idea of citizenship, justice, liberty, equality and humanism. Indian democracy is merely an electoral transaction for the Hindutva forces. Hindutva forces neither follow science nor understand the sufferings of fellow human beings. These core qualities are common among the Hindutva forces in India.

Pradeep Bhattacharya, who spent his life for the cause of working masses, rational thinking

By YS Gill*  At 11:30 pm on May 3, 2021, I lost my best friend and comrade Pradeep Bhattacharya. He spent his life dedicated to the cause of the working masses and rational thinking. A person of thorough scientific outlook and a well-read student of Marxian thought, he was a walking encyclopedia and could speak on a wide variety of topics from art and culture to science, philosophy, history and politics.

Communal rhetoric? Hindutva preached by RSS-BJP is 'monolithic', not Hinduism

By Prem Verma*  I am a devout Hindu but not a believer of RSS Hindutva form of Hinduism which brings about hatred of other religions. My Hindu religion has not taught me to look down on other religions and neither has it instilled in me to go about converting others to my religion because my religion is superior.

India's Covid-19 'nightmare': A product of majoritarian Hindutva ideological praxis?

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  Indians struggle to find place and time to bury their dead due to the devastating effects of the second wave of Covid-19 in India. The crematoriums in the capital cities are overflowing with dead bodies. People are dying without oxygen and basic medical support. The cities like Delhi and Mumbai are struggling to cope with the rising number of infections and COVID-19 led deaths. The deaths and destitutions are products of a defunct BJP government led by Narendra Modi.

Indian media persons collapsing to Covid disease as fast as 3 per day, third highest

Yogesh Sharma, Shailesh Rawal  By Our Representative  The Switzerland based media rights and safety body, Press Emblem Campaign ( PEC ) has said that it is “alarming for Indian journalists”, who have lost at least 107 colleagues to Covid-19”, noting, Indian “journo-colleagues” have been collapsing to the Covid-19 complications now as fast as three scribes per day. In a statement, PEC said, “India with 107 media corona-casualties has already placed itself on the third position just below Brazil (181 dead) and Peru (140) in the list of Covid-19 victims among journalist.”