Centre to take over Ambedkar Museum in London

Jun 22, 2023 06:36 PM IST

MEA has written to the Maha govt asking to take over the Ambedkar Museum, to prevent "foreign academics claiming to be Ambedkarites" seeking control.

MUMBAI The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has written to Maharashtra government, seeking to take over the Ambedkar Museum in London, and convert it into an autonomous unit. The central government has made the move, saying “disparate foreign academics claiming to be Ambedkarites were seeking control over the museum”.

Centre to take over Ambedkar Museum in London PREMIUM
Centre to take over Ambedkar Museum in London

The MEA’s letter to the state government last month, a copy of which is with HT, states after the museum is upgraded and becomes an autonomous body a director rank officer from the government of India will be in-charge of its functioning. “This will help us to promote a broader understanding of Ambedkar’s work including his views on nation building, diversity, inclusion, institution building, decentralistaion among others,” the letter stated.

The letter underlines the autonomy “will prevent hijacking of the institution by forces inimical to the national interests”. “The museum has considerable convening power which may be utilised positively to project the ideals of Babasaheb and London provides a huge opportunity for it.”

The museum was acquired by the Maharashtra government in 2015 for £3.2 million and thrown open to the scholars and academicians after it was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that year.

The museum on 10, King Henry Road, in London was Dr B R Ambedkar’s home for two years between 1921 and ’22 when the Dalit icon and architect of the Indian constitution was the student of London School of Economics. It was inaugurated in November 2015, after the state government acquired the G+2 storey 2050 sqft house in northwest London. The main floor has a selection of black and white photographs, Ambedkar’s famous quotes and a room dedicated to bound copies of his writings, apart from a large painting of the preamble of the Indian Constitution mounted on one of its walls.

The state government’s social justice department is all set with a response in the affirmative to the Centre’s proposal. The letter will be dashed off to the MEA soon after consultation with chief minister Eknath Shinde and deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.

State government which spends 1.5 crore on the upkeep of the museum through the Indian High Commissioner was all set to go ahead with a plan for its further upgrade. “There were plans to enhance the museum by installing more artifacts, including Babasaheb’s study table and making available audio guides for visitors. A laser show was also planned. This was proposed after we received suggestions from visitors and Ambedkarites. However, we have to stall this, in the wake of Centre’s move to take over the museum,” said an official from the state government, requesting anonymity. He added, the central government maintains 126 such properties in London as a custodian. “We will be absolved of the responsibility of maintaining the museum after the Centre takes over.”

Reacting to the Centre’s move, Santosh Dass MBE, and president of Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations UK (FABO UK) told HT: “We do not support the government of India taking over the running of the Ambedkar Museum in London. It was bought by the Maharashtra government after FABO’s proposal in September 2014 that the Maharashtra government give a one-off grant of £4million to the body to purchase and develop the £3.2 million house that had come on the market. The state government instead decided to buy the house, as it said, such grants were not given. It wanted to preserve it.”

Dass said the organisation was content with the knowledge that the house would be looked after for future generations to visit. She recalled how the state government had “robustly resisted” the Centre’s bid to buy the property on February 2, 2017. “Minister Raj Kumar Badoleji from the Maharashtra government set up a Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Memorial Advisory Committee in London to refurbish it. Any move by the central government – whatever be its political persuasion – to take over the museum must be resisted.”

Noted Ambedkar scholar, JV Pawar said, “The Maharashtra government put in all its efforts first to acquire the house and later to maintain it. There is no issue if the central government is taking it over, although there is no reason to do so. Afterall, the state government was doing a good job of maintaining it.”

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    Surendra P Gangan is Senior Assistant Editor with political bureau of Hindustan Times’ Mumbai Edition. He covers state politics and Maharashtra government’s administrative stories. Reports on the developments in finances, agriculture, social sectors among others.

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