A new move by the Bihar government has put Mahatma Gandhi at odds with English author George Orwell. To highlight Gandhi's 1917 Champaran movement, the government wants to build a 'satyagrah park' in Motihari in east Champaran.
British novelist George Orwell's house in Motihari, Bihar. The Animal Farm author was born on June 25, 1903. HT
But here's the catch: Critics say the location chosen for the proposed park worth Rs. 2.21 crore has no association with Bapu's movement. Instead, it falls on the land attached to the house where Orwell was born.
The move has been met with opposition from locals, who have been campaigning to develop the site as a tourist destination dedicated to the Animal Farm author.
"The stone has been laid on a site protected for Orwell's commemoration. The place has no link with Gandhi. This is a land grab attempt," Deo Priye Mukherjee, head of the George Orwell commemorative committee, said after Bihar urban development minister Prem Kumar laid the foundation stone of the park on Saturday.
Motihari circle officer Samir Kumar confirmed that the government had declared the land a protected Orwell site at the behest of the state's art and culture department.
Well-known Gandhians admit that the authorities could have chosen a better spot for the park.
"The ideal spot would have been the Gandhi smarak stambh (memorial pillar), erected at Motihari in 1969. It has historical significance and ample space for a park", said Razi Ahmad, secretary of Gandhi Sangrahalaya and Bihar's best-known Gandhian scholar.
Braj Kishore Singh, a former Bihar minister and secretary of the Mahatma Gandhi memorial pillar and museum, agreed with Ahmad.
"It is paradoxical that they chose to move Gandhi to Orwell's birthplace," Singh said.
Sources said east Champaran district magistrate Vinay Kumar, who seemed to have preempted the row, stayed away from the laying of the foundation stone "to avoid getting into a controversy".
During the function, Prem Kumar said the park would be completed by 2017 to commemorate 100 years of Gandhi's satyagrah.
Functionaries at the Motihari unit of the rotary club have sent a letter to the art and culture department to stop the construction.
But Radhamohan Singh, the BJP MP from Motihari, maintained that the park would be developed on land that is outside the area protected for Orwell.