The demolition of the historic Ambedkar Bhavan at Dadar is fast turning into a headache for the Maharashtra government, with Dalit outfits rebuffing its offer to rebuild the structure and the Centre seeking a report on the incident.
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis admitted on Wednesday that the demolition was wrong.
However, Ambedkar’s grandsons, Prakash and Anandraj, refused his offer of government funds to rebuild the structure, saying they would rebuild it through shramdan (voluntary efforts) starting on July 30. After a meeting with Dalit outfits, the brothers said they didn’t want the government to interfere with their plans.
“We are not asking for reconstruction. We want the structure to be restored in its original form. Since the Government announced that the demolition was illegal, the people will come together to restore it,” said Prakash who heads the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh.
In a bid to placate angry Dalit outfits, the state government plans to recommend to the governor that Ratnakar Gaikwad — who they say misused his position as advisor to the trust that owns the building to push for its demolition — be removed as chief information commissioner.
Anandraj, who heads the Republican Sena, said his priority was to ensure the trustees and Ratnakar Gaikwad were arrested. “The Government should concentrate on arresting the guilty as the Ambedkarites are capable of restoring the structure on their own,” said Anandraj.
It was Fadnavis who had laid the foundation for the new building at a function organised by the People’s Improvement Trust (PIT). However, the BJP-led government is now back-pedaling furiously, especially after Tuesday’s show of strength by Dalit outfits and Left parties, whose rally brought South Mumbai to a standstill for hours.
It doesn’t want to anger the Dalit population in the state when the BJP is facing flak over the assault on Dalit youths in Gujarat and the damage done by its expelled party leader in Uttar Pradesh, Dayashankar Singh, who made derogatory comments about Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati.
The PIT demolished the structure — which housed the press Ambedkar used to publish his writings against untouchability — on June 26 without informing the authorities concerned. This sparked protests and violent clashes in the area.
The PIT said a grand 17-storeyed Ambedkar Bhavan worth Rs60 crore would be built on the same plot, in place of the old dilapidated building. The trustees said Ambedkar’s grandsons had no locus standi, as Ambedkar had wanted his family kept out of the trust’s affairs.
Sources said union social justice ministry officials spoke to the state social justice minister Rajkumar Badole about this issue, asking him what steps the government had taken to reach out to the Dalit groups.