Opposing the joint plan of central government and Gujarat government to redevelop Sabarmati Ashram of Mahatma Gandhi in Ahmedabad under Rs 1200-crore “Gandhi Ashram Memorial and Precinct Development Project”, around 130 eminent personalities of the country have come together and issued a statement that the proposed project will “severely compromise simplicity and sanctity” of the present day ashram and can be envisioned at best as “Gandhi Theme Park” and at worst “a second assassination”.
In the statement, the signatories have given a call to “collectively oppose any government takeover of Gandhian institutions”. They are also planning to hold a meeting shortly to decide future course of action.
Led by president of Gujarat Sahitya Parishad and noted writer Prakash N Shah, the list of signatories include eminent personalities like writer and cultural activist G N Devy, filmmaker Anand Patvardhan, writer Ram Punyani, historian Rajmohan Gandhi, writer Nayantara Sahgal, historian Ramchandra Guha, retired High Court judge A P Shah, former IAS and social activist Aruna Roy, artist and poet Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, journalist Kumar Ketkar, writer P Sainath, social activist Yogendra Yadav, lawyer Anand Grover, academician and activist Apoorvanand and a number of noted former IAS, IPS, IFS IRS and defence officers like Wajahat Habibullah, Julio Ribeiro.
The statement titled as “Prevent Government takeover of Gandhian Institutions’, says, “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..”
“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 overlooked,” it adds.
Describing Hriday Kunj (where Gandhi lived along with Kasturba between 1917 and 1930) and the museum besides it, the statement reads, “Hriday Kunj and the memorial museum greets thousands of visitors coming from all parts of the world daily in truly Gandhian fashion, without frisking or security check or sight of armed persons. The visitors also feel touched and inspired by 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…”
It further says that the most authentic monument of Gandhi and our freedom struggle will be lost forever to “vanity and commercialisation”, if the project is implemented.
“The proposed plan severely compromises and trivializes the sanctity and importance of the present-day Ashram, mainly Hriday Kunj, surrounding buildings and the museum. 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.,” the statement reads.
It adds that the place never needed a world class makeover to attract tourists as lakhs of Indians, specially school children, as well foreign visitors come to Sabarmati Ashram every year.
“The charisma of Gandhi along with the authenticity and simplicity of the place has been enough,” it says adding, “The proposed plan at best envisions a ‘Gandhi theme park’ and at worst ‘a second assassination’… ”.
Prakash N Shah told The Indian Express, “It is my understanding that Hriday Kunj and the museum designed by Charles Correa have its own beauty in simplicity. So, its sober and serene appeal to a visitor should not be ruined by erecting other attractions…”
About future action, Shah said that they will hold a meeting of all the signatories and other friends who may join and then decide future course of action.
Another signatory, G N Devy said, “We plan to hold an online meeting later this week and will collectively decide on an action plan. So, this statement is the beginning and not the end of the action. We will adopt Gandhian method. Dissent, dialogue and if dialogue does not produce anything then all options need to be examined…”