The row over the demolition of the historic Ambedkar Bhavan in Mumbai is set to turn ugly, as the Congress plans to turn the issue into a political hot potato, accusing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of failing to take action against the persons who demolished the structure in the wee hours of 25 June. Meanwhile, the upset kin of Babasaheb Ambedkar have claimed that rare documents on Nyati Panchayats, an important Ambedkar legacy, have been lost forever in the demolition of the iconic Ambedkar Bhavan.
In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Guardian, two of the three grandsons of Dr Ambedkar said they would fight against the “commercialisation” of the Ambedkarite movement. The Ambedkars have filed an FIR against Ratnakar Gaikwad, a former IAS officer who is associated with the People’s Improvement Trust (PIT), for demolishing the structure. The PIT was earlier called the Scheduled Caste Improvement Trust, which was started by Babasaheb Ambedkar in 1944 with the purpose of the uplift of the backward classes. Ratnakar Gaikwad has claimed to be an advisor to the trust, but the Ambedkar family has claimed that there is no such post. Gaikwad was unavailable for comment. Earlier, he was quoted as saying, “A new construction of a grand 17-storey building will start soon. It will be recognised as the central headquarters for weaker sections as desired by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.” He had also said that he wanted to keep the Ambedkar family members out of it as Babasaheb had himself wanted it to be that way.
The Congress has latched onto the issue. Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam told The Sunday Guardian, “This is an insult of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. Before taking any steps, the family of Babasaheb Ambedkar should have been consulted. This is happening at the behest of Lodha builder, who is a BJP MLA. Ratnakar Gaikwad’s brother-in-law works for Lodha, and that is how they have come to know about this centrally located plot of land. This demolition is an injustice to and an insult of Babasaheb Ambedkar. This is the same historic printing press from where Ambedkar printed Prabuddha Bharat. Today, the press stands demolished. The act was done like a thief in the dead of the night, by bringing goons and bouncers who destroyed a rich library and the legacy of Babsaheb Ambedkar. We have three demands. If they are not met, we will start an agitation from Monday. The Congress stands firmly by the Ambedkar family.”
Nirupam is demanding the arrest of those responsible for the demolition of the structure. He also wants the land in question to be returned to the PIT and compensation be paid to the trust for the demolition.
Meanwhile, angry activists have taken to the streets to express their displeasure over the demolition. In Mumbai, irate mobs shut down shops and resorted to violence in Dadar. In various parts of the country, protests have been held against the demolition.
“It is not only about the demolition. These so-called trustees have been using abusive language against the family of Babsaheb Ambedkar too. And Ambedkarites will never tolerate the insult of Ambedkar’s family. We are being termed as goons. We are trying to protect the Ambedkarite movement. They cannot finish it so easily. They want to commercialise the whole movement. As family of Babasaheb Ambedkar, we will not let this happen,” Bhimrao Ambedkar told The Sunday Guardian in an exclusive interview.
HISTORIC MATERIAL LOST
Advocate Prakash Ambedkar, another grandson, noted lawyer and leader of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, has claimed that rare documentation on Nyati Panchayats has been lost forever in the midnight demolition of Ambedkar Bhavan. He said that Nyati Panchayats were held by groups of migrants who came together in Mumbai to converse on various social issues. “They were one of the historic events of 1930s and 1940s which showed integration of society. It reflected how uncommunicative society turned into a communicative society and tried to find answers to different social ills,” he told The Sunday Guardian in an exclusive interview from Chandigarh.
An old Ambedkarite leader named Kadrekar had collected and got bound all the press statements, booklets and pamphlets of the Nyati Panchayats held between 1927 and 1952. This was the only documentation of the crucial Nyati Panchayats, he claimed, adding that they were lost permanently after Ambedkar’s press was demolished. There were 17 different nyatis which then converted into village organisations.
Another loss is that of the issues of Prabuddha Bharat published by Babasaheb Ambedkar. “The issues of Prabuddha Bharat published between 1950 and 1960 by Babasaheb Ambedkar have been lost forever. I am in possession of the Prabuddha Bharat issues published after 1960,” Bhimrao Ambedkar told The Sunday Guardian. The machinery of the printing press, which the trust had earlier decided to preserve as historic legacy, has also been destroyed, he said.
“In 1946, this press had the most advanced machinery of the time. We had Russian printings. Only two other institutions in Mumbai had that machinery in Mumbai. One of them is Times of India. They have all preserved it very well. That legacy is lost forever today,” he said.
The land where the PIT and the printing press stood, was bought by Babasaheb Ambedkar in 1944 after communal riots caused the burning of his earlier printing press in Bhoiwada in 1942. He started printing publications like Janata and Prabuddha Bharat from there. A lot of Dalit movement literature, pamphlets and booklets were also printed here. Ambedkar published his speeches and books from the same press, the family said.
NO NOTICE OF DILAPIDATED STRUCTURE
Meanwhile, it has become clear that the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai or the Maharashtra government had not ordered the demolition of Ambedkar Bhavan. Ratnakar Gaikwad, who has called himself the advisor to the trust, has claimed that the structure was pulled down after the municipal corporation issued a “dilapidated structure” notice. But both Bhimrao and Prakash Ambedkar told this newspaper that the notice was not issued by any authorised structural engineer, and that no engineer visited the building to inspect it. “In fact, a panel of the MCGM certified last month that though the building is old, it is fit to be inhabited by humans,” Prakash Ambedkar said.