A crucial part of Dr B R Ambedkar’s legacy seems to have slipped away from the nation’s hands.
Less than a week after the state government said that it was discussing the issue with the Centre and barely a day since BSP supremo Mayawati asked the NDA government to purchase the London house where the Father of the Constitution had stayed for a year, the Maharashtra government was intimated that the property has been sold.
Piece of History: Bhimrao Ambedkar stayed in this three-storey house on King Henry’s Road in London from 1921-22, as mentioned on this plaque on the building
Last morning, the state government began to get flooded with e-mails that Ambedkar’s erstwhile home in London had been sold to an unknown buyer, and that the owners would accept the offer at 2 pm UK time (7.30 pm IST). The state was subsequently informed that the sale of the three-storey residence on 10, King Henry’s Road, was completed in the afternoon and, with no inclination shown from the Governments of India or Maharashtra, the deal was sealed at a premium, above the asking price of £310,000 or Rs 40 crore.
The property, which has a blue plaque on the exterior with the words “Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956) Indian crusader for social justice lived here in 1921-22”, was reportedly sold to a private developer, who is likely to develop the 2,502-square foot home into flats.
The e-mails confirming the deal were forwarded to the chief minister and chief secretary of Maharashtra by Ambedkar associations and followers in London and said the property agent, Goldschmidt & Howland, waited patiently for four months to receive a letter of intent or to hear from the Government of India (GoI), but had given up after no formal communication was received.
Dr B R Ambedkar stayed in the house for a year, between 1921 and 1922. Pic/GettyImages
“The owners are expected to accept an offer on the house by 14.00 (UK local time) on January 16 from a private investor who will develop the building into flats. The owner has been extremely patient with us as the GoI has been deliberating on the issue for close to four months. It would be a calamity if the GoI is unable to protect this historic site, which is very significant, culturally, to Dr Ambedkar’s legacy and India,” said Santosh Dass, president of the Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations (FABO), UK. She told mid-day from London that the Indian government seems to have lost a golden opportunity to save the site.
While a representative of property consultant Goldschmidt & Howland told mid-day that the deal was in a ‘crucial stage’, she declined to elaborate. “It is a tight situation and at this point it is not appropriate to reveal anything about it or provide any confirmation,” said an agent representing the broker.
Dass told mid-day that the owner and the estate agent, Goldschmidt & Howland, have been waiting for confirmation from GoI that it has funds to purchase the house, and that 10% of the asking price (£310,000) will be released as a deposit with a view to purchasing the house within two months of the date of Letter of Intent.
‘All is not lost’
Senior government officials immediately forwarded the e-mails to the concerned departments and assured mid-day that the situation could still be salvaged. “It is not as if this building will be destroyed immediately. We could always continue following up with the new buyer and acquire the property from him,” said a senior official, adding that the government had little idea on what to do with the property even if it was purchased.
CM Devendra Fadnavis has said he has already written to the Government of India and P K Jain, joint secretary, ministry of culture, to speed up the acquisition process, which was initiated by former CM Prithviraj Chavan.
Mumbai BJP president Ashish Shelar, who had revived the process of buying the property by writing a letter to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, said he would press on with it at any cost. “Everything is not lost as we can always buy the property from the new buyer by quoting a handsome price. I will now visit New Delhi and meet senior leaders to continue our efforts to buy this historic site,” he told mid-day.
Prakash Ambedkar, Dr B R Ambedkar’s grandson, said the government should have acted fast and the fact that it failed to acquire the property is a telling reflection on the state of our bureaucracy. “We must continue our efforts to acquire the property since Dr Ambedkar was not only a Dalit but an Indian icon in the real sense,” he said.
The agent’s sale advertisement on a British website describes the property as “a rare opportunity to acquire a four-storey property currently arranged as two units; an exceptional one-bedroom garden flat (620 sq ft) and a charming five-bedroom maisonette set over three floors in need of complete restoration (1882 sq ft). Subject to necessary planning consents, the property could be re-instated as a single dwelling offering the perfect opportunity to create a large family home (suited) to your own lifestyle.”
Ambedkar’s relics in disrepair
A PIL was filed in the Delhi High Court in September 2014 seeking a direction to the Centre to protect and maintain over 400 artefacts and articles belonging to Dr B R Ambedkar which are lying in a private museum ‘Shantivan’ in Nagpur. The articles are in various stages of spoilage and destruction due to non-availability of adequate funds, it added. The PIL also alleged that if these articles are not protected immediately, they may be lost forever for posterity.
Ambedkarites and followers expressed shock at the deal for buying the home not being completed, calling it ‘shameful’ negligence on the part of the government.
“It is not something to be happy about as this was a matter of national pride for all of us. We need to ask why the UK government did not inform us on time and why the Government of India did not act fast. The fact that they didn’t take action on time is shameful,” said Buddhism expert and head of philosophy department, Mumbai University, Shubhada Joshi.
City historian Deepak Rao said, “If there was a sense of pride for this residence, the Government of India should have taken a decision to acquire it long ago.” He also wondered who in the family would be able to claim this legacy.
Asked to comment about the Maharashtra government’s efforts to claim the property, he said, “Our state government does not seem to have money to even repair our roads. It must focus on the common man’s priorities first and then look into such matters in far-off London. Why be interested in retaining heritage in another land when Elephanta Caves and other heritage sites in Mumbai itself are in a state of such neglect?”
— Inputs by Fiona Fernandez
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