By: Pramod Thomas
INDIA’s Modi government’s plan to redevelop the Gandhi ashram in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, at a cost of £117 million has attracted criticism, according to a media report.
Descendants of Gandhi, historians, scholars, Gandhian institutions and lifelong ashram residents have accused the government of attempting to co-opt and politicise Gandhi’s legacy, the Guardian reported.
They also allege that the plan will transform the Sabarmati ashram into a flashy Gandhi “theme park”.
“This is the first time any government has actively interfered and imposed their own vision on a Gandhi monument. This is part of a sinister design by Modi to obliterate Gandhi’s legacy and rewrite the history of India where he and his politics have no place,” said Gandhi’s great-grandson Tushar Gandhi was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
He has filed an appeal in India’s Supreme Court to halt the development.
According to the report, discussions on how to restore the Sabarmati ashram grounds have raged for years but with the site being controlled by six different trusts with differing interests and agendas, nothing ever moved.
Under the government’s new development plan, the ashram site will be expanded to 20 hectares, given a sleek makeover with new Gandhi museums and monuments erected and other structures knocked down.
The Guardian report said that the plan faced considerable criticism over a lack of transparency for the redevelopment, including the unilateral appointment of Modi’s favoured architect for all his flagship projects, and lack of consultation with Gandhi scholars and institutions.
Ramachandra Guha, one of India’s most eminent historians and biographer of Gandhi, was fiercely opposed to the ashram development. “Everything that the BJP stands for is antithetical to what Gandhi stood for. This is a cynical project to whitewash Modi’s dark record,” he told the Guardian.
Ashoke Chatterjee, a trustee for the Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust – one of the six trusts that look after the ashram, made assurances that the redevelopment plans were still in their very early stages and that, through a “relatively collaborative” process.
IK Patel, a state government official, told the Guardian: “There is no political agenda from the government. We are restoring the ashram so the next generation can properly experience the history and values of Gandhi ji. This will honour Gandhi ji’s legacy.”
The redevelopment has also faced criticism over the decision to evict the 400 or so families living in the ashram grounds, some whom are descendants of the Dalit families brought there by Gandhi himself.
The report further said that the residents protested against their eviction for almost two years. However, now over half have accepted the government package-either 6 million rupees compensation, or a new four-bedroom high-rise apartment.
One lifelong resident said she was “habituated to live a simple life, like Gandhi ji. I do not know how to live in a high-rise flat away from the ashram and the trees and the river. It makes me very sad to be forced to leave my birthplace.”