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Lost to commercialisation, vanity? Ashram awaits 'second assassination' of Gandhiji

Counterview Desk 
Around 130 “concerned” citizens, in a statement, have protested against the Government of India and Gujarat government decision to turn Gandhi Ashram into a ‘world-class’ tourist destination spread over 54 acres at the cost of Rs 1,200 crore, which would include a Gandhi Ashram Memorial, an amphitheater, a VIP lounge, shops and a food court, stating it would compromise and trivialize the “sanctity and importance of the present-day Ashram, mainly Hriday Kunj, surrounding buildings, and the museum.”
The signatories, who include academics, litterateurs, artists, jurists, former civil servants and social activists, say that “The proposed plan at best envisions a Gandhi theme park and at worst a second assassination”, insisting, there is a need to “collectively oppose any government takeover of Gandhian institutions”, even as ensuring that the government “continues to use public money for proper maintenance and upkeep of such institutions, in consultation with eminent Gandhians, historians and archivists from India and around the world.”
The statement comes weeks after the 200 families, who are proposed to be rehabilitated as part of the new makeover of the Gandhi Ashram, have, without exception, signed the government offer of Rs 60 lakh compensation or an alternative house each. Quiet on the rehabilitation package, it also comes after Gandhians and Gandhi experts have been criticised for refusing to speak up against the government move.
Those who have signed the statement include writer Nayantara Sehgal, literary critic Prakash Shah, linguist GN Devy, film maker Anand Patwardhan, historians Rajmohan Gandhi and Ramachandra Guha, former high judge AP Shah, former IAS officer-turned-activist Aruna Roy, artist Gulammohammed Sheikh, Dalit rights leader Martin Macwan, among others.

Text:

Gandhi’s Ashram at Ahmedabad, known as Sabarmati Ashram, is an unusual monument of international importance. It was Gandhi’s home from 1917 to 1930. He led the famous Dandi March from the Ashram and pledged not to return to the Ashram until independence was attained.
After the salt march, Gandhiji disbanded the Ashram as a part of the freedom struggle in 1933. After Independence Gandhi’s associates and followers formed Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust to protect the buildings and archival possessions of the Ashram for posterity. There were five more trusts under the Ashram. They conducted their activities independently. Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust looks after the buildings including Hriday Kunj -- the residence of Gandhi and Kasturba.

Simplicity and sanctity

Hriday Kunj and the memorial museum greets thousands of visitors daily in truly Gandhian fashion, without frisking or security check or sight of armed persons. The visitors also feel the aesthetics, openness, and sanctity of the place. The museum building designed in the early 1960s by Charles Correa reflects all the above-mentioned values and comes across as an integral part of the premises. Anyone passing by the adjoining road can drop in for a brief visit to Hriday Kunj or can have a glimpse of the museum as per convenience and available time.

Proposed plan

The present government is all set to ‘reclaim’ the ‘visual wholesomeness, tranquility and uncluttered environment of 1949’ and make it a ‘world-class’ tourist destination spread over 54 acres. It has announced a budget of Rs 1,200 crore for ‘Gandhi Ashram Memorial and Precinct Development Project’. There will be new museums, an amphitheater, VIP lounge, shops, food court among other things in the newly created ‘world class’ memorial as per the newspaper reports.
Reports say that the project will be under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister. This is in keeping with the present government’s strategy to appropriate and commercialize all Gandhian institutions in the country. The worst example of this can be seen in Sevagram, but the most frightening aspect is government control over all Gandhian archives. As Mahatma Gandhi was murdered by elements whose ideology still inspires some of those in power in India, this danger cannot be under-estimated.

What does this mean effectively?

  • The proposed plan severely compromises and trivializes the sanctity and importance of the present-day Ashram, mainly Hriday Kunj, surrounding buildings, and the museum.
  • The simplicity of the Ashram will be completely lost in a Rs 1,200 crore project.
  • Hriday Kunj, other historical buildings, and present museums, even if they remain untouched, will no longer be central but pushed into a corner by the new museum, amphitheater, food courts, shops, etc.
  • Easy access to Hriday Kunj and the present Museum will be blocked as the road passing by it will be closed. The new entrance will have at least a VIP lounge and a new museum before Hriday Kunj and the current museum.
  • Lakhs of Indians, specially school children, as well foreign visitors come to Sabarmati Ashram every year. The place has never needed a ‘world-class’ makeover to attract tourists. The charisma of Gandhi along with the authenticity and simplicity of the place has been enough.
  • The proposed plan at best envisions a ‘Gandhi theme park’ and at worst ‘a second assassination’.
  • In short, if the project goes through, the most authentic monument of Gandhi and our freedom struggle will be lost forever to vanity and commercialization.
We must collectively oppose any government takeover of Gandhian institutions, while ensuring that the government continues to use public money for the proper maintenance and upkeep of such institutions, in consultation with eminent Gandhians, historians and archivists from India and around the world.
---
Click here for signatories

Comments

bernard kohn said…
As a foreign indian. I fully agree that a first class
tourist attraction is the LAST THING that the Gandhi
Ashram needs.
We must maintain the simplicity and meditative quality....
so much needed in our world of chaos.

bernard kohn
educator and architect

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