More than 100 concerned citizens have opposed the conversion of the Sabarmati Ashram into a "world class memorial", saying "the most authentic monument of Gandhi and our freedom struggle will be lost forever to vanity and commercialisation".
The Sabarmati Ashram, home to Mahatma Gandhi between 1917 and 1930, has been under the supervision of six trusts since Independence, with the Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust in-charge of maintenance of the buildings and its archives, which have been open to the public.
However, the Gujarat government, under the Gandhi Ashram Memorial and Precinct Development Project, reportedly wants to "develop a world class memorial" with the state government said to have "the vision for the comprehensive development of Gandhi Ashram Memorial and precinct".
The group of concerned citizens, including historians Rajmohan Gandhi and Ramachandra Guha, writer Nayantara Sahgal, retired high court Justice A.P. Shah, Harsh Mander and Aruna Roy among others, said that the "most frightening aspect is government control over all Gandhian archives. As Mahatma Gandhi was murdered by elements whose ideology still inspires some of those in power in India, this danger cannot be overlooked."
The group has opposed the redevelopment of the Ashram, saying that plans to have museums, an amphitheater, VIP lounge, shops and a food court would result in it losing its "simplicity".
"Hriday Kunj and the memorial museum greets thousands of visitors coming from all parts of the world daily in truly Gandhian fashion, without frisking or security check or sight of armed persons. The visitors also feel touched and inspired by the aesthetics, openness, and sanctity of the place," they write.
Their statement said that the Rs 1,200-crore plan "severely compromises and trivializes the sanctity and importance of the present-day Ashram, mainly Hriday Kunj, surrounding buildings, and the 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," they mentioned, adding that the proposed plan "at best envisions a ‘Gandhi theme park’ and at worst ‘a second assassination’."
Their statement mentioned that if the proposed project went ahead, "the most authentic monument of Gandhi and our freedom struggle will be lost forever to vanity and commercialisation."
"We must collectively oppose any government takeover of Gandhian institutions, while ensuring that the government continues to 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," they wrote.