Skip to main content

Gandhi Ashram eviction: Finally historian Guha speaks out; but ageing trustees are silent

By Rajiv Shah
Finally, at least one expert, top historian Ramachandra Guha, has spoken out on eviction of 200 families living in the Gandhi Ashram premises. Last week, I received an email alert from a veteran academic, Ashoke Chatterjee, former director, National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, which happens to be one of the most prestigious academic institutes of India based, informing me about it. NID is one of the several top institutes founded when Jawaharlal Nehru was India’s Prime Minister.
The email alert by Chatterjee, who is also associated with several NGOs, including Centre for Social Justice and Janvakas, quotes Guha, stating how the eviction drive by the Gujarat government in order to build a hi fi Gandhi memorial reflects the challenges faced by a Trust, which is said to look after the Gandhi Ashram, especially in view of the fact it is “composed of ageing men and women, who all live in Gujarat, and thus cannot speak out for fear that they or their families will be victimized by a government known for its vindictiveness.”
While the article by Guha, published in The Telegraph, suggests this ageing factor and refusal to speak out could be the reason why “the plans as forged by Modi and his cronies” to build a Gandhi memorial “will go ahead”, he does he not say who these “ageing” people are. Sudershan Iyengar, former vice-chancellor, Gujarat Vidyapeeth? Elaben Bhatt, current chancellor, Gujarat Vidyapeeth? Kartikeya Sarabhai, who is a descendant of the well-known scientist Vikram Sarabhai family, involved in NID project? Or someone else?
Be that as it may, at least Guha has finally spoken out. This follows my blog on this site two weeks ago, where I specifically mentioned Guha’s name among others for refusing to speak out against the eviction drive. Surely, he is not one of the trustees. Nor do I know whether he has written the The Telegraph piece after I mentioned his name with a photograph, though I apprehended this to Chatterjee, wondering whether Guha’s piece was “prompted by my blog” as it was “widely read”. Chatterjee was quick to reply: “It might well have. I don’t think Ashram group has seen this. I will share it with them immediately!”
Be that as it may, I am sharing here Guha’s article "Second Assassination" – which is surely a powerful commentary on the eviction move (all his commentaries are worth reading), though devoid of any new information. The commentary comes weeks after all 200 persons who live in the Gandhi Ashram premises have already accepted and signed the government offer of Rs 40 plus 20 lakh (total Rs 60 lakh) as compensation, or an alternative house. While some have begun accepting money, others are waiting to see if they can get a good house offered by the government.
Anyway, read on Guha’s article:
***
I first visited Ahmedabad in 1979, and in the following decade went back often for both professional and personal reasons. Then I began research on Gandhi, and my attachment to the city deepened even more. In the summer of 2002, on my first trip back after the horrific riots that had taken place earlier that year, I naturally went to the Sabarmati Ashram, where I spent some time talking to one of the Trustees, a quiet, self-effacing man who had spent thirty years in the service of Gandhi. In the course of our conversation, he told me that the Gujarat riots of 2002 were “the second assassination of Mahatma Gandhi”.
The person under whose watch those riots took place, the then chief minister, Narendra Modi, was entirely educated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an organization whose sectarian, xenophobic ideology is utterly at odds with the capacious and open-minded worldview of Gandhi himself. Modi grew up venerating the sarsanghchalak of the RSS, M.S. Golwalkar, whose detestation of Gandhi is a matter of public record. In a speech in December 1947, Golwalkar remarked: “Mahatma Gandhi could not mislead them any longer. We have the means whereby such men can be immediately silenced, but it is our tradition not to be inimical to Hindus. If we are compelled, we will have to resort to that course too.”
For Modi, Golwalkar was ‘Pujniya Shri Guruji’, most revered Teacher and Master. Through much of his career, he held Golwalkar in enormous regard while scarcely sparing a thought for Gandhi. In his years as chief minister, Narendra Modi visited Sabarmati Ashram infrequently. However, after he became prime minister, he developed a keen interest in the place. He has personally escorted to Gandhi’s ashram, among others, the prime ministers of Japan and Israel and the presidents of China and the United States of America.
Several of the Ashram’s Trustees have a deep knowledge of Gandhi’s life, as do members of the staff. But instead of asking one of these experts to show the foreign dignitary around, Modi -- a man trained in the school of Gandhi-baiters and Gandhi-haters — insisted on doing so himself. The cameraperson was instructed to have only the Indian prime minister and the visiting head of state in the frame, the better to show Modi gesturing with his hands towards various landmarks in the Ashram -- the hut where Gandhi stayed, the ground where he prayed, his spinning wheel -- while talking with apparent authority on the Mahatma, his life, and his message.
How does one explain the prime minister’s new-found desire to publicly associate with Gandhi? It appears that Modi’s desire for personal glory has superseded old political loyalties and ideological affiliations. The RSS remains deeply ambivalent about Gandhi. Modi bhakts on social media are nakedly hostile to Gandhi. But Modi himself knows that Gandhi remains, to use the contemporary argot, the Indian ‘brand’ most visible and most appreciated around the world. So, whether it be Japan, China, Israel or France, or America or Russia or Germany, if Modi wants to make an impression he must cynically, instrumentally, have Gandhi by his side.
For all his interest in the Sabarmati Ashram since he became prime minister, the moral and ideological distance between Gandhi and Modi may be forever unbridgeable. A prime minister whose party cannot number a single Muslim among its 300-odd Lok Sabha MPs, and whose government passes a raft of discriminatory legislations stigmatizing Muslims, practises a politics that Gandhi, the prophet of inter-faith harmony, abhorred and opposed all his life. A man who has so extravagantly embroidered his personal history, whose regime systematically doctors statistics with regard to economics, health and all else, is worlds removed from the person who proclaimed ‘Satyameva Jayate’, truth shall prevail. In fact, so ubiquitous has been this regime’s lying and dissembling that a writer I know says that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s motto should be ‘Asatyameva Jayate’ — through falsehood we shall triumph.
Truth, transparency, and religious pluralism, that was Gandhi. Deceit, secrecy, and majoritarianism — that is Modi. How then can the latter claim any kinship with the former? Logic and morality suggest that he cannot, but power and ambition mandate that he must. That is why, in the latest and most egregious attempt to whitewash Modi’s dark record by association with Gandhi’s name, we now have on the anvil a lavishly-funded, State-directed project to radically reshape the Sabarmati Ashram on the pretext of making it a ‘world-class memorial’ to the Mahatma.
My life is my message, said Gandhi. Unlike Modi, he did not need a stadium named after himself, or capitals redesigned to obliterate the image of past rulers and superimpose his own, to assure himself a place in history. The Sabarmati Ashram as it stands today is a perfectly adequate memorial to Gandhi and what he stood for. The charming low buildings existing still from Gandhi’s time, the trees and the birds, the open ingress and lack of guards or of an entry fee, the absence of policemen in khaki carrying rifles or even batons, the view of the river — all these give the place a special, welcoming character absent in every other monument or museum in India today.
Of the five ashrams that Gandhi established, two in South Africa and three in India, Sabarmati is unquestionably the most significant. Millions of people from all over India, and across the world, have visited this ashram over the years. No one comes away without being moved by the beauty and simplicity of the surroundings as much as by the historic associations they carry.
When a regime known for its aesthetic barbarism and its worship of monumentalism uses the word, ‘world-class’, in connection with the Sabarmati Ashram, it sends shivers down the spine. That the chosen instrument of this ‘upgradation’ is the architect, Bimal Patel, makes one more nervous still. Patel’s work is undistinguished. His cold, concrete structures are cut of a cloth very different from that which marks the homes and dwellings in Gandhi’s ashrams in Sabarmati and Sevagram.
Bimal Patel is apparently the only architect the prime minister has heard of. As with other sarkari projects in Delhi, Varanasi, and Ahmedabad, here too Patel has been assigned the makeover of the Sabarmati Ashram almost automatically. Modi has also deputed, to work on the project, some Gujarat civil servants whom he likewise personally trusts. The plan for ‘redevelopment’ was drafted by Modi’s inner circle with no inputs from architects knowledgeable about conservation and heritage, and without consulting Gandhians or scholars either. Even the Trustees of the Ashram were kept entirely in the dark about the plan and its contents.
The Modi plan for Sabarmati is steeped in secrecy and characterized by cronyism. It is in striking contrast to an earlier (and admirably modest) intervention that dates to the 1960s. When the then Trustees decided that the Ashram needed a small museum, they chose not a fellow Gujarati but Charles Correa from Bombay. That the architect was from a different religion and a different part of India were in keeping with Gandhi’s own lack of parochialism. Besides, he was an architect whose work was widely admired. Built on the human scale, with spacious corridors open to the elements and trees all around it, the museum designed by Charles Correa blends quite beautifully with the structures of Gandhi’s own time.
An Amdavadi colleague jokes that while we may fortunately never have One Nation, One Party, we are heading in the direction of One Nation, One Architect. Now, if a billionaire wishes to have the same man (or woman) design his beach house, his town house, his mountain house, and his desert house, paying for them all with his personal funds, there can be no moral objection. But if a single architect gets awarded all prestigious State projects, paid for by the taxpayer, then there is indeed a problem. It is only in authoritarian States that particular architects have come to be associated with particular leaders and their cults of personality. That the same person can be seen as uniquely qualified to re-design an ancient temple city, a modern capital, and Gandhi’s ashram is a commentary on the nepotism and cronyism of the Modi regime. Indian architecture, and India itself, deserve better.
In a better or braver world, Modi and his cronies would not be able to get away with their vandalism. Sadly, the Trust that runs the Sabarmati Ashram today is composed of ageing men and women, who all live in Gujarat, and thus cannot speak out for fear that they or their families will be victimized by a government known for its vindictiveness. So the plans as forged by Modi and his cronies will go ahead. Knowing the man as we do, there will be nothing in them that is not self-interested. Modi is not ‘redeveloping’ Sabarmati out of love or regard for the Mahatma, but to seek to burnish his own image and rewrite his past.
The ongoing despoilation of New Delhi’s Central Vista has been widely criticized. However, from an ethical point of view, the proposed despoilation of the Sabarmati Ashram is even more worrisome. As an elected prime minister, Modi has some legitimacy in erecting structures — however ugly and costly — on public land in the capital. The case of Sabarmati is altogether different. The Sabarmati Ashram and Gandhi belong not to Ahmedabad, not to Gujarat, not even to India, but to every human being born or unborn. A politician whose entire life’s work has been antithetical to Gandhi’s, and an architect whose prime qualification is proximity to that politician, have no right to mess around with the most hallowed of all the places associated with the Mahatma.

Comments

Modi is a supreme landscape designer and interior decorator . His own office in Gandhinagar was a room fit for a top corporat czar . Soon tiring of this , he got built a Swarnim Bhavan to house only Ministers . Naturally his was an exclusive floor . And offices to put the Ambanis and Tatas to shame . Gandhinagar had a redevelopment of a Central Vista project a work still in progress . And a Mahatma Mandir in 11 months . Contractors are a single agency L&T . Architect only Bimal . Mandirs destroyed in Varanasi to build an attractive approach to Kashi Vishwanath . Architect who else ? Who was the last person who destroyed Mandirs in Benaras ? Right Aurangzeb . He’s resurrected now !!!!
Central Vista existing destruction and vandalised . Architecht only one . Violates all Govt procedures .
Any further moves ? Yes , destroy the core values of Gandhi by making the Ashram a body without a soul . Exit Gandhi .
Actually Sabarmati Ashram was vandalised in the riots of 1969 . Imam Manzil burnt . Read Hamid Kureshi Ordeal by Fire . Gujarat doesn’t have much loyalty to Gandhi
Congress Govt headed by Hitendra Desai didn’t lift a finger to save the Ashram . Even though Governor Shriman Narayan desperately appealed to the IG Pavri and CM
Anonymous said…
One should get the facts right: A prime minister whose party cannot number a single Muslim among its 300-odd Lok Sabha MPs--What about Naqvi?

TRENDING

Hold your breath! UK ex-Muslims to celebrate Blasphemy Day on September 30

Soheil Arabi The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB), in a suprise move, has decided to observe September 30 as the Blasphemy Day. In an email alert, Maryam Namazie, CEMB spokesperson, has asked anyone interested to join CEMB in celebrating blasphemy by " uploading your photo into our #blasphemyday frame and sharing on social media."

What this veteran Gandhian witnessed at Rajghat is indeed intensely disturbing

Renowned Gandhian, activist and physicist Professor VK Tripathi witnessed an “intensely worrisome” event at the Gandhi Samadhi on his birthday on October 2, 2021. “The children of the Hindutva criminals who assassinated him have captured places which are supposed to keep Gandhiji's heritage alive”, says Deepak Joshi in a Faceook post, insisting, “We should strongly protest against it. It is already too late.”

Forthcoming book explodes Western myth: Personal qualities are biologically inherited

Jonathan Latham, PhD, Executive Director, The Bioscience Resource Project, New York, has said in an email alert via JanVikalp that his forthcoming book about genetics and genetic determinism, provisionally titled "The Myth of The Master Molecule: DNA and the Social Order" criticises the notion that personal qualities are biologically inherited: *** The contention of the book is that the key organising principle of Western thought is the seemingly innocuous and seemingly simple idea that our personal qualities are biologically inherited. That is, our character derives from our ancestors rather than being an always-adapting product of our own experiences, decisions, and education. The book makes the case, first, that genetic determinism is a scientific fallacy. Organisms are self-organised systems and therefore are not genetically determined. Second, the explanation for the myth, which predates Mesopotamian cities of 6,000 years ago, is its utility. Genetic determinism rationa

International Energy Agency floats new plan to end oil, gas, and coal expansion

In major shift, International Energy Agency (IEA)’s World Energy Outlook has mainstreamed 1.5°C pathway, showing need to end oil, gas, and coal expansion, insisting on new fossil fuel phase-out benchmarks in order to test government ambition ahead of COP26. A report by Oil Change International, distributed by BankTrack: *** For the first time, the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s flagship annual report on global energy pathways, used worldwide to influence trillions of dollars in investment, details an achievable roadmap to keep global heating below 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C). By making a 1.5°C scenario the benchmark of this year’s World Energy Outlook (WEO), the IEA challenges governments and companies to back up lagging Paris pledges with immediate action to shift the energy system away from fossil fuels. Notably, this year’s WEO solidifies the policy conclusion, first presented by the IEA in May , that no new oil, gas, and coal extraction projects should be approved under a 1.5°C-

Gujarat cadre woman IAS official who objected to Modi remark on sleeveless blouse

By Rajiv Shah Two days back, a veteran journalist based in Patna, previously with the Times of India, Ahmedabad, phoned me up to inform me that he had a sad news: Swarnakanta Varma, a retired Gujarat cadre IAS bureaucrat, who was acting chief secretary on the dastardly Godhra train burning day, February 27, 2002, which triggered one of the worst ever communal riots in Gujarat, has passed away due to Covid. “I have been informed about this from a friend in Jaipur, where she breathed her last”, Law Kumar Mishra said.

Known to have assissinated O'Dwyer, Udham Singh chose not to apologise to the British

Udham Singh (26 December 1899 – 31 July 1940), best known for assassinating Michael O'Dwyer , the former lieutenant governor of the Punjab in India , on 13 March 1940, done in revenge for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919, for which O'Dwyer was responsible, was subsequently tried and convicted of murder and hanged in July 1940. While in custody, he used the name Ram Mohammad Singh Azad, which represents the three major religions of India and his anti-colonial sentiment. Writes a well-known analyst, "He too could have apologised. He chose the noose instead!" Udham Singh's speech prior to sentencing in UK: *** “I say down with British Imperialism. You say India do not have peace. We have only slavery Generations of so called civilisation has brought us everything filthy and degenerating. known to the human race. All you have to do is read your own history. If you have any human decency about you, you should die with shame. The brutality and blood

Diaspora protest as Biden failed to publicly address persecution of minorities in India

As Modi addressed UN, human rights groups decried “monstrosity” of persecution of Muslims, Christians, Dalits, and other minorities in India. Demonstrators gathered outside UN to protest fascism, hate campaigns, weaponized rape, apartheid, lynchings, unlawful arrests, attacks on the media, and other abuses in India: A report distributed by the diaspora group Hindus for Human Rights: *** While observers said it was “shameful” that President Biden failed to publicly address widespread persecution of religious minorities in India when he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 24, more than 100 members of interfaith and human rights groups spoke out as Modi addressed the United Nations General Assembly. Speakers condemned the egregious human rights violations and murders of religious minorities in India under a government that openly supports Hindu supremacy. The rally was sponsored by 21 organizations, including Ambedkar International Center, Ambedkar King S

Indian Doctors for Truth want Modi to stop overzealous universal vaccination drive

At a time when there is a huge demand to ensure that vaccination should be universal in order to gain immunity against the pandemic, an organisation called Indian Doctors for Truth, have asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the “urgent need to stop the overzealous universal vaccination drive against Covid-19.  Read the letter, signed by 18 doctors and a health expert: ***

Non-entity 6 yrs ago, Indian state turned Fr Stan into world class human rights defender

Jharkhand's Adivasi women  By Rajiv Shah A lot is being written on Father Stan Swamy, a Jesuit priest who is known more for his work for tribal rights in Jharkhand. His death at the age of 84, even when he was an under trial prisoner for his alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregaon violence three years go, has, not without reason, evoked sharp reaction, not just in India but across the world.

Ex-official: Why not offer Vaishnaw loss making BSNL, Air India to prove his worth?

By Rajiv Shah A senior chartered accountant, whom I have known intimately (I am not naming him, as I don’t have his permission), has forwarded me an Indian Express (IE) story (July 18), “Ashwini Vaishnaw: The man in the chair”, which, he says, “contradicts” the blog (July 17), "Will Vaishnaw, close to Modi since Vajpayee days, ever be turnaround man for Railways?" I had written a day earlier and forwarded it to many of my friends.