Modi event, not Gandhi fora to be showpiece

Modi will attend morning prayers, interact with children and sign visitors’ book at Sabarmati Ashram before participating in the event to be attended by 20,000 village sarpanchs

Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad.

The three core Gandhian organisations of Ahmedabad — Sabarmati Ashram, Gujarat Vidyapith and Navjivan Printing Press — are nowhere on the scene of the celebrations to mark the 150th birth anniversary of its pioneering founder. Instead, a grand event planned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the Sabarmati riverfront, to declare India “open defecation free”, is set to be the showpiece of the government’s October 2 commemoration.

PM Modi will attend the morning prayers, interact with children and sign the visitors’ book at Sabarmati Ashram before participating in the event to be attended by 20,000 village sarpanchs. The PM’s declaration will be the government’s way of paying homage to the Mahatma. Modi and senior ministers of the BJP government have highlighted the government mission to have an open defecation free India on many occasions. The event will mark the fulfilment of this promise and allow the government to speak of it as an achievement.

According to sources, officials at the Sabarmati Ashram, set up by Gandhi in 1917, couldn’t make plans to mark the occasion in a special way due to the event proposed by the Centre. The Sabarmati Ashram was the epicentre of Gandhi’s early experiments with satyagraha in India. This was also the place from where he launched the historic Dandi March in 1930.

Managed by Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust, the place went through several changes during the stint of Gandhian-scholar Tridip Suhrud.

In 2017, he left the place after several controversies. He was instrumental in setting up Gandhi heritage portal — an online repository of Gandhi’s intellectual heritage and for digitally archiving Gandhi’s manuscripts.

Just as with the Sabarmati Ashram, the Gujarat Vidyapith, established by Gandhi in 1919 to prepare students to take part in the freedom movement, is also no where near the centre of action. The place stands out with its unique daily practices by students and faculty who spin on the charkha and clean the campus by themselves. The autonomy of the institution hangs in balance due to a continuous struggle with University Grants Commission (UGC).

The Navjivan Printing Press was set up by Gandhi in 1915 from where he used to publish several magazines including Navjivan and Young India as its editor. Since 2011, the trust has gone through major changes with the appointment of Vivek Desai as its managing director. He has been criticised for reprinting books on Gandhi with their covers depicting Hindu symbols not to be found on their original covers.

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