Gandhi Theme Park: Intellectuals and Activists Write a Letter Against the Commercialisation Sabarmati Ashram

The proposed plan of Gandhi Theme park is akin to 'Gandhi's Second Murder'.

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Image: Mid-Day

BJP Government plans to make a Gandhi theme park at the Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat. The ashram is all set to become a tourist destination meant only for rich people. Modi government has announced a budget of Rs 1200 crore for the ‘Gandhi Ashram Memorial and Seema Vikas Project’.

According to newspaper reports, the newly constructed ‘world class’ monument will have new museums, an amphitheater, VIP lounge, shops, food court among other things. Reports say that this project will be under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister.

Since Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by elements whose ideology still inspires some of those in power in India, the threat cannot be anticipated.

There are fears among the civil society of Gujarat that this is another of the Modi government’s attempts to appropriate and commercialise all Gandhian institutions in the country.

The worst example of this can be seen in Sevagram, but the most frightening aspect is the government’s control over all Gandhian archives. Since Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by elements whose ideology still inspires some of those in power in India, the threat cannot be anticipated.

Following the government’s announcement, public personalities like Prakash Shah, G N Devi, Anand Patwardhan, Ram Puniyani, Rammohan Gandhi, G G Parikh, protested against the Union government’s Rs 1200 crore project to develop Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram and Museum as a ‘Gandhi Theme Park’.

About 150 historians, including Nayantara Sehgal, Ramachandra Guha, Justice AP Shah, Rao Saheb Kasbe, Dilip Simian, Uttam Kamble, Aruna Roy, Shanta Sinha, Sanjay Hazarika, P Sainath, Hindal Tyab, Apoorvanand, bureaucrats, jurists, professors, filmmakers, social Activists, journalists, intellectuals, etc. have signed a letter to register their opposition to the project.

Another Attempt to Appropriate Gandhi and Manipulate History

The letter talks about the history of the Sabarmati Ashram which  is an unusual monument of international importance. It was Gandhi’s residence from 1917 to 1930.

It was from this ashram that Gandhi started the Dandi march and took a vow not to return to the ashram until independence.

After the Salt March, Gandhiji dissolved the ashram in 1933 as a part of the freedom struggle. After independence, Gandhi’s associates and followers formed the Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust to protect the ashram buildings and archival assets for the future.

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Image: Mid-Day

There were five more working trusts. They used to conduct their activities independently. The Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust look after the buildings, including Hriday Kunj, the residences of Gandhi and Kasturba.

The letter further mentions the purity and simplicity of the ashram that – “The Hriday Kunj and Memorial Museum welcomes thousands of visitors daily in a truly Gandhian style, without any searches or security checks or surveillance by armed persons.”

Visitors also feel the aesthetics, openness, and purity of the place. The museum building designed by Charles Correa in the early 1960s reflects all of the above values ​​and stands out as an integral part of the complex.

Anyone passing by the nearby road can come for a brief visit to Hriday Kunj or have a glimpse of the museum as per convenience and time available.

What Does This Effectively Mean?

The proposed plan severely compromises and undermines the sanctity and importance of the present ashram, mainly Hriday Kunj, the surrounding buildings, and the museum. Overall, the simplicity of the ashram will be completely destroyed in the Rs 1200 crore project.

Hriday Kunj, other historical buildings, and the current museum, even if they remain untouched, will no longer be central but will be pushed to a corner by the new museum, amphitheater, food court, shops, etc.

Easy access to Hriday Kunj and the present museum will be blocked as the road passing through it will be blocked. The new entrance will have at least one VIP lounge and Hriday Kunj and a new museum before the current one.

Every year lakhs of Indians, especially school children and foreign visitors visit Sabarmati Ashram. The place has never needed a ‘world-class’ makeover to attract tourists. With the authenticity and simplicity of the place, Gandhi’s charisma is enough.

The worst part of the proposed ‘Gandhi Theme Park’ plan is that it envisions Gandhi’s second assassination.

In short, if the project is completed, the most authentic monument to Gandhi and our freedom struggle will forever be lost in vanity and commercialisation.

We must unite and collectively oppose any government takeover of Gandhian institutions. At the same time, it must be ensured that the government, in consultation with eminent Gandhians, historians, and archivists from India and around the world, continues to use public funds for the proper upkeep and maintenance of such institutions.

Also read: Why does Gujarat Government’s Collection of Rs. 252 Crore as Fines Need Scrutiny?

The report was originally published at Janchowk. It is translated into English by Aparna Sanjay. 

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