'Trivialises Sanctity': Eminent Citizens Oppose Govt's Rs 1200-Cr Plan For Sabarmati Ashram

'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.'

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New Delhi: Writers, activists, former high court judges, educationists, former civil servants and other eminent citizens have written a stern note of opposition to the Union government’s Rs 1,200-crore plan to refurbish the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad into a “world class” memorial.

Among signatories are filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, historian Rajmohan Gandhi and Ramachandra Guha, activist Aruna Roy and Teesta Setalvad, retired high court judge Justice A.P. Shah, freedom fighter G.G. Parikh and writer Nayantara Sahgal.

Decrying the spirit of the Gandhi Ashram Memorial and Precinct Development Project, the 131 signatories of a letter point out the historical simplicity of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram. The plan proposes, among other things, the inclusion of an amphitheatre, food courts, a new museum (even though there is already one in place), a VIP lounge and shops.

A child plays with a statue of Gandhi at Sabarmati Ashram. Photo: pee vee/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Gandhi’s home from 1917 to 1930, from where he led the Dandi March, is a monument of international significance, say the authors.

Gandhi’s followers formed the Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust to protect the buildings and archival possessions of the Ashram after Independence, the letter says. Noting how the Trust looks after the buildings at the site, including Hriday Kunj – once the residence of Gandhi and his wife, Kasturba – the authors point out that the building alone draws thousands of visitors from across the world. 

These visitors are introduced to the “aesthetics, openness and sanctity” of the place without frisking or security checks. No armed persons are present at the site, note the authors.

“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,” the letter says.

The concern over the erasure of an integral historical component of Gujarat bears similarity to the widespread criticism of the same government’s Central Vista project, that threatens to remove much of New Delhi’s iconic structures, along with its green cover.

Against this backdrop, the government’s plan – to be executed under direct supervision of the Prime Minister and Gujarat chief minister – will come as a move to appropriate and commercialise the spirit of Gandhian institutions, the writers say.

Former Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu with PM Narendra Modi at Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. Photo: MEAanthropology/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“The worst example of this [such a move] can be seen in Sevagram, but the most frightening aspect is government control over all Gandhian archives,” the letter says.

The Sevagram Ashram project, in Maharashtra, required the felling of trees and significant reduction of green cover in the region. Three generations of the Gandhi family had written to Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray to reconsider the project.

The letter highlights as cause of concern the fact that Gandhi’s killer, Nathuram Godse, has been lauded by sections of the ruling dispensation.

“As Mahatma Gandhi was murdered by elements whose ideology still inspires some of those in power in India, this danger cannot be overlooked,” it says.

Also read: Pragya Thakur Calls Godse a ‘Deshbhakt’ Again, This Time in Parliament

Noting that the site has not required a dramatic makeover, and especially one that costs thousands of crore, the letter sets down the writers’ chief concerns in the following bullet points.

  • 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.1200 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 going through, the most authentic monument of Gandhi and our freedom struggle will be lost forever to vanity and commercialization. 

The letter calls for the collective opposition to a government takeover of Gandhian institutions while at once advocating the 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.”

The full list of the signatories is below:

Prakash Shah, Journalist, writer and editor Nireekshak

G N Devy, Writer, cultural activist

Anand Patwardhan, Film-maker

Ram Punyani, Writer, activist

Rajmohan Gandhi, Historian, public intellectual

G. G. Parikh, Veteran freedom-fighter

Nayantara Sahgal, Writer

Ramachandra Guha, Historian, public intellectual

Justice AP Shah, Retired High Court Judge

Raosaheb Kasbe, Author, Gandhi-Ambedkar scholar

Dilip Simeon, Public intellectual, writer

Uttam Kamble, Author and activist

Aruna Roy, Former IAS, social activist

Shanta Sinha, Child rights activist 

Sanjoy Hazarika, Analyst, commentator

Gulammohammed Sheikh, Artist, poet

Sandeep Pandey, Social activist

Kumar Ketkar, Journalist

P. Sainath, Writer, public intellectual,

Kavitha Lankesh, Film maker

Githa Hariharan, Writer, activist

T M Krishna, Musician, Cultural activist

Laxminarayan Ramdas,  Retd. Admiral, Indian Navy

Lalita Ramdas, Social activist

Matheswaran, Retd. Air Marshal, IAF

Rajan Gavas, Writer, professor

Atamjit Singh, Playwright

C. Rammanohar Reddy, Editor, scholar

Vinay Lal, Historian, professor

Ashish Kothari, Environmentalist, activist

Martin Macwan, Human Rights activist

Arun Rodrigues, Concerned citizen

Damodar Maouzo, Writer

Nishikant Kolge, Scholar

Kapil Patil, Rights activist

Harsh Mander, Retd. IAS, Peace activist

Daniya Rehman, Concerned citizen

M. A. Kalam, Anthropologist, education administrator

Datta Naik, Writer

Madan Meena, Indigenous activist, artist

Rajendra Chenny, Public intellectual, activist

Sachin Rao, Gandhan activist

Dakxin Bajrange, Theatre activist, film-maker

Sanjiv Shah, Filmmaker, architect

Apoorvanand, Public intellectual, activist

Anil Sadgopal, Educationist

Subhash Ware, Constitution-norms activist

Nitin Vaidya, Film maker

Sheba George, Concerned citizen 

Sunita Viswanath, Human Rights activist

Rahamath Tarikere, Public intellectual, scholar

Ashraf Ali Basheer Ali, Communal harmony activist

Nagal Samy, (Retd) Principal Accountant General of Tamil Nadu

Teesta Setalwad, Social activist

Shabnam Hashmi, Social activist

Patricia Mukim, Rights activist

Uttambhai Parmar, Educationist 

Manishi Jani, Poet, activist 

Sheba Chacchi, Artist, photographer

Ranjit Rai, Historian, Commander

Sati Taneja, Commander (Retired) India Navy

Laxmi Krishnamoorthy, Actress

Primila Lewis, Journalist, writer

Gurveen Kaur, Gandhian scholar

Achin Vanaik, Writer, peace activist

Dr. Hanif Lakdawala, Social activist

Usha Naik, Concerned citizen

Sudhir Naik, Concerned citizen

Maj Gen S G Vombatkere, VSM (Veteran)

Maj Gen T K Kaul PVSM ,AVSM,VSM ( Veteran)

Abha Bhaiya, Womens’rights activist

Nandini Oza, Writer, environmentalist

Rajendra Chenni, Professor

Ramesh Chand, Retired banker

D.B.Kapila, Vice Admiral (Retired)

Maj Priyadarshi Chowdhury, SC (Retd)

Gurmehar Kaur, Journalist & Video Blogger

Faisal Khan, Khudai Khidmadgar

Yogendra Yadav, Social activist

Javed Anand, Social activist

Anuradha Bhasin, Senior journalist

Ravi Nitesh, Social activist

Kishore Mariwala, Social activist

Anand Grover, Lawyer

Jaya Iyer, Artist

Amberin Memon, Software professional

S.P. Ambrose , IAS (Retd.), Former Addl Secretary, Ministry of Shipping & Transport, GoI

Anand Arni, RAS (Retd.), Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI

Mohinderpal Aulakh, IPS (Retd.), Former Director General of Police, Govt. of Punjab

G. Balachandhran, IAS (Retd.), Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal

Gopalan Balagopal , IAS (Retd.), Former Special Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal

Chandrashekhar Balakrishnan , IAS (Retd.), Former Secretary, Coal, GoI

Rana Banerji, RAS(Retd.), Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI

Sharad Behar, IAS (Retd.), Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh

Aurobindo Behera, IAS (Retd.), Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Odisha

Sundar Burra, IAS (Retd.), Former Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra

Rachel Chatterjee, IAS (Retd.), Former Special Chief Secretary, Govt. of Andhra Pradesh

Gurjit Singh Cheema, IAS (Retd.), Former Financial Commissioner, Govt. of Punjab

Vibha Puri Das , IAS (Retd.), Former Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, GoI

P.R. Dasgupta, IAS (Retd.), Former Chairman, Food Corporation of India, GoI

Keshav Desiraju , IAS (Retd.), Former Health Secretary, GoI

M.G. Devasahayam, IAS (Retd.), Former Secretary, Govt. of Haryana

Meena Gupta, IAS (Retd.), Former Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, GoI

Ravi Vira Gupta , IAS (Retd.), Former Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India

Wajahat Habibullah , IAS (Retd.), Former Sec, GoI and Chief Information Commissioner

Subodh Lal, IPoS(Resd), Former Deputy DG, Ministry of Communications, GoI

P.M.S. Malik , IFS (Retd.), Former Ambassador to Myanmar & Special Sec, MEA, GoI

L.L. Mehrotra, IFS (Retd.), Former Special Envoy to the Prime Minister and former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, GoI

Aditi Mehta, IAS (Retd.), Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan

Sonalini Mirchandani , IFS (Resd.), GoI

Malay Mishra, IFS (Retd.), Former Ambassador to Hungary

Deb Mukharji , IFS (Retd.), Former High Commissioner to Bangladesh and former Ambassador to Nepal

Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, IFS (Retd.), Former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom

Gautam Mukhopadhaya, IFS (Retd.), Former Ambassador to Myanmar

P.A. Nazareth , IFS (Retd.), Former Ambassador to Egypt and Mexico

P.Joy Oommen, IAS (Retd.), Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Chhattisgarh

S.K. Pachauri, IAS (Retd.), Former Director General, National Productivity Council, GoI

Amitabha Pande , IAS (Retd.), Former Secretary, Inter-State Council, GoI

R. Poornalingam, IAS (Retd.), Former Secretary, Ministry of Textiles, GoI

N.K. Raghupathy , IAS (Retd.), Former Chairman, Staff Selection Commission, GoI

Julio Ribeiro , IPS (Retd.), Former Adviser to Governor of Punjab & former Ambassador to Romania

A.K. Samanta, IPS (Retd.), Former Director General of Police (Intelligence), Govt. of West Bengal

G. Sankaran, IC&CES (Retd.), Former President, Customs, Excise and Gold (Control) Appellate Tribunal

A. Selvaraj , IRS (Retd.), Former Chief Commissioner, Income Tax, Chennai, GoI

Ashok Kumar Sharma, IFoS (Retd.), Former MD, State Forest Development Corporation, Govt. of Gujarat

Ashok Kumar Sharma, IFS (Retd.), Former Ambassador to Finland and Estonia

Navrekha Sharma , IFS (Retd.), Former Ambassador to Indonesia

Raju Sharma , IAS (Retd.), Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh

K.S. Sidhu, IAS (Retd.), Former Principal Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra

A.K. Srivastava, IAS (Retd.), Former Administrative Member, Madhya Pradesh Administrative Tribunal

Geetha Thoopal, IRAS (Retd.), Former General Manager, Metro Railway, Kolkata

Hindal Tyabji, IAS (Retd.), Former Chief Secretary rank, Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir