On April 14, two events — happening a few kilometres away from each other — shaped the destiny of the over 80-year-old Ambedkar Bhavan in Dadar, built by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, which houses a printing press.
In Dadar (West), chief minister Devendra Fadnavis laid the foundation of a 17-storey structure. At the same time, in the Bhavan, Radhika and Raja Vemula, the mother and brother of Rohith Vemula — the Dalit PhD scholar at Hyderabad University whose suicide sparked outrage across the country — bowed before a photograph of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and converted to Buddhism.
The first was the building’s future foretold, whereas the Vemulas’ conversion spoke of the ground-plus-one structure’s continued significance for the Dalit movement.
Trustees said the CM’s function was held at another place to avoid a clash with the Vemula conversion.Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar had taken the initiative for the latter.
From hosting significant meetings where Ambedkar decided his political stance, to later, becoming a symbol of the larger movement around his teachings, the Bhavan had seen many momentous occasions in its history.
The conversion would be the last one.
At 3am last Friday, men wearing t-shirts sporting Ambedkar photographs — similar to the one the Vemulas bowed to — demolished the Bhavan, with instructions from People’s Improvement Trust (PIT), which owns the land.
The demolition has sparked off a bitter war, one which could lead to the mobilisation of the splintered Dalit movement.
More urgently, it could mean a fresh headache for the Bharatiya Party (BJP) government. On one side is Ambedkar’s family, represented by his three grandsons.On the other, is the PIT, founded by Ambedkar himself in the 1940s.
Incidentally, both parties allege that the other is trying to usurp land. This plot, spread over 3,000 square metres, is valued at more than Rs30 crore. Once built upon, the property will be worth much more.
However, Prakash Ambedkar, a national leader of a local political party called Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh and the grandson of Ambedkar, insists that the family isn’t after the land.
“We only wanted to preserve the structure as it was. Rebuilding the Bhavan would mean erasing the identity of the Dalit struggle,” he said.
Prakash met chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Friday, pushing for the arrest of those who were instrumental in getting the structure demolished.
“I have asked him to order the arrests of chief information commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad, the advisor to the trust, along with Madhukar Kambale and Vijay Ranpise,” he said.Prakash said Kambale and Ranpise were pretending to be trustees, even though they are not.
Kambale, however, rubbished Prakash’s statements. “We have all the requisite permissions. In fact, Prakash and the other members of his family had agreed to the project and wanted space in the redeveloped building,” he said.
Kambale added that the dispute arose out of a deal gone wrong.“They wanted to be trustees so that they could control the property,” he said. “We refused, as Dr Ambedkar had declared in 1944 that none of his family members would be a part of this trust as he was opposed to dynasty,” added Kambale.