A controversy has erupted in Mahatma Gandhi’s Sevagram Ashram at Wardha with the unceremoniously removal of Ashram president T R N Prabhu for, among other reasons, allegedly being a “Godsewadi”.
Prabhu, 73, was “removed” by president of Sarva Seva Sangh, Mahadev Vidrohi, on March 18, barely two years after he himself had appointed Prabhu to the post in his capacity as the chief of the Sangh, which is the apex body of all Gandhian institutions.
This is the first time in the Ashram’s history that its president was “removed” before he could complete the five-year term.
Prabhu, however, decided to “resign” and put in his papers on May 22. He also released a press note rebutting the allegations against him and expressed his anguish at being “ill-treated, insulted, removed without giving any chance to defend myself, against principles of natural justice and against the constitution of the Ashram.”.
Vidrohi cited denial of permission by Prabhu in October 2018 to the Congress Working Committee to hold its meeting in the Ashram premises, and not issuing a statement against shooting of Gandhi’s portrait by some Hindu fanatics in Uttar Pradesh, as some of the reasons for his removal.
Prabhu’s removal, however, has split Gandhians, with many criticising the manner of his removal and others supporting it.
Ravindra Rukmini Pandharinath, a Gandhian writer, said, “Not allowing any political party to hold its meeting inside the Ashram can’t be termed as being wrong. Prabhu wasn’t in the meeting in which the decision to remove him was taken. This is against Gandhian principles. If there was any issue, there should have been a discussion.”
Vijay Diwan, a Sarvodaya ideologue, however, said, “Congress and Gandhi have a common ideological cradle. Not giving Congress space to hold its meeting was something that eventually strengthens the RSS.” Diwan had issued a detailed criticism in the media at that time, expressing his anguish over Prabhu’s move.
Prabhu has also been accused by Vidrohi of disallowing permission to host a play called Ya Gandhicha Kay Karaycha staged by another Gandhian organisation, Rashtra Seva Dal, inside the Ashram. “That strengthened my suspicion that he was following a Godsewadi agenda,” Vidrohi told The Indian Express.
Vidrohi also cited several other decisions by Prabhu, like allowing a chair for President Ram Nath Kovind to sit inside Bapu Kuti in the Ashram, and creation of a toilet behind the Kuti for the Presiden’t visit last year, as reasons for his removal.
“You may have sympathy for Godse and a faith in the culture of violence but such people have no place in Gandhi Ashram,” Vidrohi said.
Incidentally, Prabhu and Vidrohi have known each other for over 30 years and it was Vidrohi who had insisted in making him Ashram president two years ago when many others had pitched for a weightier name.
Prabhu, however, refuted all allegations. “My decision not to allow a CWC meeting inside Ashram was in tune with Gandhian values. What did Congress do for Gandhi on the occasion of his 150th birth anniversary? The Congress had severed its relationship with Gandhi since 1946. They used to consult Gandhi for strategic purposes, not for ideological guidance, after that. And isn’t it far-fetched to say that if I have not allowed Congress to hold the meeting, that’s tantamount to being pro-RSS,” Prabhu said.
Prabhu accepted that he denied permission to hold the play in front of Bapu Kuti. “The Ashram is a silence zone. Only prayers can be held there. I had allowed the Congress also to hold the prayer, in which Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi had participated. The play was good and was allowed to be staged in the adjacent Yatri Nivas premises,” Prabhu said.
Vidrohi also accused Prabhu of allowing the meeting of a RSS-promoted urban bank in Yatri Nivas. “The Sarva Seva Sangh has its account in the bank and the bank had held its business meeting there, not any ideological programme,” Prabhu said.
About a chair for President Kovind inside Bapu Kuti, he said, “The President’s staff had requested it. He actually didn’t sit and prayed while standing. The toilet was raised again as per the request from his staff… even otherwise, when Gandhi used to stay there, his guests would use the toilet inside the Kuti.”
Prabhu was also accused of allowing some new concrete structures in the premises, including roads. “All these are part of the plan to develop the Sevagram-Pavnar Ashram tourism circuit by the previous Congress government, and pushed further by the subsequent BJP government, and had been going on since 2010-11. How can I be held responsible for it,” Prabhu asked.
Prabhu accused Vidrohi of not inviting him for the Sarva Seva Sangh national executive meet at Mumbai in January, in which Vidrohi got Prabhu’s removal approved through a resolution, despite being a member. “I wasn’t allowed to defend myself. This is against principles of natural justice and totally undemocratic,” he said.
Avinash Kakde, a member of the Ashram’s 12-member committee, said, “I was a leading opponent of Prabhu when he denied Congress permission to hold the CWC meeting. I had told Prabhu that he had taken the decision unilaterally and hence it was wrong. But to remove him after about a year-and-a-half is certainly not done. Vidrohi had known Prabhu for over 30 years. He made him the managing trustee of the Sangh first and then insisted on making him the Ashram president. So, how come he suddenly finds Prabhu being a Godsewadi?”
Kakde was given the task of drafting clear-cut rules regarding holding of programmes on the Ashram premises after the CWC episode. “I did it., so the issue was settled then. How can that be raised again after a year-and-a-half?” he asked.
Kakde has since written many times to Vidrohi, asking how he suddenly found Prabhu to be in contact with Godse supporters after having worked with him for so long. “But he doesn’t answer any of my letters,” Kakde said, adding, ” the turn of events leading to Prabhu’s removal in this fashion is a very sad chapter in the Ashram’s history.”
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