As the residents of Jamalpur, one of Ahmedabad’s minority dominated areas, were breaking their Ramzan fast Wednesday evening, the crime branch, which has come under fire from the community, opened the doors of its executive office — Gaekwad Haveli, a fortress from the Maratha era — to the public for the first time.
Chief Minister Anandiben Patel inaugurated the “Bandhutva Smarak”, a memorial to two men who died trying to broker peace between Hindus and Muslims, inside the crime branch compound.
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For the last eight months, officers of the crime branch were working to renovate and rebuild this 18th century watchtower on the haveli premises, to house a memorial to the two friends — Vasantrao Hegishte, a Maharashtrian from Ratnagiri, and Rajab Ali Lakhani from Limdi in Surendranagar — who were killed when communal riots broke out during the rath yatra of July 1, 1946, in Jamalpur. Hegisthe and Lakhani were members of Congress Seva Dal.
Though the watchtower has no connection with the men or their death, the crime branch decided to build the three-storey air-conditioned museum there as part of its “image makeover” bid ahead of this year’s rath yatra on July 18, which coincides with the Eid festivities.
Jamalpur, which has a Jagannath temple that hosts the rath yatra, has witnessed several communal clashes. The site where the unarmed Hegishte and Lakhani were actually killed by a mob is around 400 metres from the memorial in Khand Ni Sheri.
The brick and stone tower with a wooden spiral stairway, built in 1738 by the Gaekwads to keep a watch over Ahmedabad, functioned as the “anti-Pathan cell” in the British era. It was occupied by the crime branch till it moved inside the haveli, said SP Anti-Terrorist Squad Himanshu Shukla. “Till the renovation started, it was home to a police inspector,” noted DCP (crime) Deepan Bhadran.
The event was attended by top state BJP leaders and IPS officers, including former crime branch officials ADGP P P Pandey and DIG Abhay Chudasama, besides ex-DGP PC Pande.
The family of Lakhani was absent, even as Hegisthe’s nephew Uday Jagusthe, his wife Nita, and others from their family were present. Nita told The Indian Express: “The Lakhanis moved back to Limdi and the two families never stayed in touch”.