Like most things in Mahatma Gandhi’s life, his ashram in the Indian city of Ahmedabad was simple and austere. Yet between 1917 and 1930, these modest white bungalows, set on the bank of the Sabarmati river in the state of Gujarat, were the beating heart of Gandhi’s non-violent freedom struggle against British rule and his experiments in upending India’s oppressive caste system.
Gandhi – who would eventually lead India to independence and remains a global icon for peace – left the Sabarmati ashram in 1930, never to return, and in the years since, it has become one of India’s most sacrosanct sites. It is where Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Xi Jinping, Benjamin Netanyahu and most recently Donald Trump all paid a visit to during their trips to India.
But recently, it has been at the centre of an outcry over a grandiose plan by the government to redevelop the site into a “world class tourist destination” at a staggering cost of 12bn rupees (£117m). Descendants of Gandhi, historians, scholars, Gandhian institutions and lifelong ashram residents have accused the government, led by the prime minister, Narendra Modi, of attempting to co-opt and politicise Gandhi’s legacy to suit their own Hindu nationalist agenda and turning the Sabarmati ashram into a flashy Gandhi “theme park”.
“This is the first time any government has actively interfered and imposed their own vision on a Gandhi monument,” said Gandhi’s great-grandson Tushar Gandhi. “This is part of a sinister design by Modi to obliterate Gandhi’s legacy and rewrite the history of India where he and his politics have no place.”
Tushar Gandhi has filed an appeal in India’s highest court to halt the development. “If bapu [spiritual father] were alive today, he would never agree to this,” he said.
Situated in what is now the centre of Ahmedabad, a city…