David Sassoon Library gives ex-president Vivekanand Ajgaonkar the boot

Feb 24, 2017, 16:26 IST | Hemal Ashar

Former president Vivekanand Ajgaonkar stripped of membership, cut off from all access to one of Mumbai's oldest libraries, and even stopped from using President Emeritus designation

Vivekanand Ajgaonkar at the staircase inside David Sassoon library
Vivekanand Ajgaonkar at the staircase inside David Sassoon library

Vivekanand Ajgaonkar, former president of the David Sassoon Library & Reading Room at Kala Ghoda, has been removed from the Library's membership. Ajgaonkar who had resigned as president of the institution last year in June, has in a letter dated February 3, 2017 (a copy of which is with this paper) been informed that he is no longer a member of the Library too and cannot access the building.

The stunning interior of the library
The stunning interior of the library

An excerpt from the letter signed by current David Sassoon library president Hemant Bhalekar on behalf of the managing committee states, "You are aware that the AGM had adopted the resolution with termination of your membership for life. The resolution was passed with majority of 76 against five votes."

Another paragraph in the letter reads: "Since the AGM had adopted the resolution with termination of your membership. So also, question of alleged designation as, 'President Emeritus' does not survive. Hence, you are not supposed to enter the Library and/or use any ornamental designation as 'President Emeritus-David Sassoon Library & Reading Room'."

Ajgaonkar was president of the Sassoon from 1995 to 1999. In 1999, he was elected as President Emeritus. Emeritus is a mark of distinguished service, awarded to a few on retirement. Trouble came to the fore early last year, when Ajgaonkar resigned as president. While that resignation made big news, putting one of Mumbai's oldest libraries squarely in the spotlight, the current letter means all ties with the library are cut.

Malign the name
When this reporter met the current managing committee of the library in the premises, they accused Ajgaonkar of "spoiling the name of the Library & Reading Room, through various ways. He has attempted to influence potential donors to the Library, he has held a press conference to malign our image," they said.

Bhalekar added that one of the seminal charges against Ajgaonkar was that, "he went to the Library's bank in August 2016, two months after giving his resignation and because of this, the Library & Reading Room's account was frozen. We suffered humiliation as cheques issues by the institution bounced." His charge was seconded by committee member Sameer Sinkar. Some committee members asked angrily, "Are we goondas? (thugs)?"

Influencing the donors
The committee claimed that donor Kala Ghoda Association's (KGA) Manek Davar and an artist had even visited the library because of all the alleged defamation. Davar though refused to get into the controversy. He said when contacted, "The KGA had committed approximately R30 lakh for repairs and restoration of the Library when Ajgaonkar was in power. That commitment still stands. We are committed to the institution. We have little to do with the internal workings of the Library."

Asked whether the step to terminate a membership was very extreme, Bhalekar shot back to this reporter, "why are you trying to say that we should reinstate Ajgaonkar?" Swati Kapadia, secretary, though said, "We did not want things to come to this, we tried not to terminate his membership."

Yet, the entire committee said they had no choice after a private resolution was passed in the September 2016 AGM, to "remove Ajgaonkar from membership. The managing committee has to bow to the decision of the AGM."

Baseless and vindictive
Ajgaonkar refutes all charges as "baseless" and says he never went to the bank to freeze the Library's accounts. Ajgaonkar adds, "I am dismayed at the unconstitutional and undemocratic way in which my membership has been taken away. This is baseless vindictiveness. If this continues to happen, righteous people will not dare to venture into charitable, honourable work." Jagdish Joshi, former president of the Library adds, "There was a predetermined agenda to remove Ajgaonkar because he posed as a threat to them (the committee)." Joshi also claimed the atmosphere was, "dictatorial."

Ajgaonkar signs off philosophically, "the 25 years of my life that I was associated with David Sassoon Library are very important to me. My efforts were to put the institution on the world map and I think I have been successful in that. I have been true to the Library and do not need to prove it to the world."

As one exited both meetings, the breathtaking edifice seemed deceptively calm.

Its ethereal exterior, with sunbeams glancing off the heritage clock on the building, giving little indication of the turmoil within.

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