Even as the Dalit community bays for his blood for destroying Ambedkar Bhavan, former IAS officer and Chief Information Commissioner of Maharashtra Ratnakar Gaikwad claims he is merely trying to fulfil the dreams of Dalit icon, Babasaheb Ambedkar.
However, when he was asked why he didn’t have historical artefacts such as rare books and Ambedkar’s printing press moved to safety, he said, “As an Ambedkarite, my dream is to follow what Babasaheb wanted. He wanted a command centre for the people. That is what we are doing. I don’t give importance to things that are rusting; there are so many things that are rusting.”
As thousands marched in protest yesterday, demanding his arrest, Ratnakar Gaikwad held the press conference to convey his side of the story to the public. Formerly a member of People’s Improvement Trust, which that ran the Bhavan, Gaikwad said he is just an advisor now.
Allegations were made that Gaikwad had not only unlawfully demolished Ambedkar Bhavan, but had also allowed Babasaheb’s historic printing press to be damaged. Ins response, Gaikwad claimed the plot had been purchased by Ambedkar to construct a building that would be the Dalit headquarters, and it was never meant to house the printing press. “The press came here later; it was shifted here from Naigaon during riots. This place was never meant for the press,” he said.
Leading the charge against him are Babasaheb’s grandsons Anandraj and Prakash Ambedkar. According to them, Gaikwad was trying to wrest control of the Bhavan and had ulterior motives behind its demolition. Gaikwad retaliated by firing salvos against the duo, alleging that it was they who were trying occupy the Bhavan, which was meant for the entire community.
Gaikwad further alleged that they behaved like the building was their personal property and were resorting to goondaism to stake their claim. Gaikwad brought out a letter dated February 1956, to show how Ambedkar had reprimanded his own son for using underhanded tactics to occupy the iconic building. He claimed that the Ambedkar brothers, who wanted to become trustees, were refused by the trust as they were just following Babasaheb, who had denied the position to his own son in the past.
'Had to demolish'
Gaikwad also showed copies of the BMC notice, asking the trust to demolish the building as it was dilapidated. “Had we not demolished the building, we would have been prosecuted. The notice was issued in newspapers too. I will fight till my last breath to see that the dream of Babasaheb is turned into reality and we will construct a 17-storey headquarters here,” he said.
‘He is desperate’
Responding to Gaikwad’s allegations, Anandraj Ambedkar told mid-day, “He’s desperate now, as we have registered a complaint against him. People know what we are doing and who we are. Whatever he is today, is because of reservation. One should first enquire how Gaikwad held a press conference; did the government allow him to do so? He is manipulating the BMC and others and that is how he got a notice declaring Ambedkar Bhawan as a dilapidated structure,” said Anandraj Ambedkar. Despite repeated attempts to contact Prakash Ambedkar, he remained unavailable for comment.
RPI(A) chief weighs in
RPI (A) chief Ramdas Athawale, who is ins a running feud with Anandraj Ambedkar to gain control of the People’s Education Society that manages the prestigious Siddharth College and other educational institutes, suggested a truce between the warring Ambedkar brothers and the People’s Improvement Trust that demolished Ambedkar Bhavan against the wishes of the Ambedkar family.
The BJP-supported MP said the trust should not be opposed if it is doing good work. He appealed to the trustees to end the controversy by allotting Ambedkar’s heirs 7,000 sq ft of floor space in the new building, which will be double the size of their offices in the old building. “I understand that the trust will build a multi-purpose, state-of-the-art 17-storey building on the said piece of land in Dadar. I’m opposed to commercialising this centre and I want it to be the hub of the movement that was started by Dr Ambedkar,” he told media on Tuesday.
— Input by Dharmendra Jore