'We stand firm'

Dec 31, 2011, 06:29 IST | Sudeshna Chowdhury

After vacating the Indu Mills compound on Thursday, Ambedkar's family is optimistic that their demand for a memorial of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar will be met and a solution will come out of a meeting with the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, today. If not, they are determined to fight till the end

After vacating the Indu Mills compound on Thursday, Ambedkar's family is optimistic that their demand for a memorial of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar will be met and a solution will come out of a meeting with the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, today. If not, they are determined to fight till the end

Straight talk: Babasaheb Ambedkar's daughter-in-law, Meera
Tai Ambedkar at Chaityabhoomi in Dadar. PIC/Bipin Kokate

In an interview with MiD DAY, Babasaheb Ambedkar's daughter-in-law, Meera Tai Ambedkar (73), President of Buddhist Society of India, talks about the Indu Mills issue, Babasaheb's legacy and much more.

Earlier, you were adamant that unless your demand is met, you will not vacate the premises of the Indu Mills. A meeting is now scheduled with the Prime Minister in New Delhi where the Indu Mills issue will be discussed. Do you think a solution will come out of it?
We don't want violence so abiding by the High Court order, we have vacated the premises of the Mills. This is temporary. There are two busts of Ambedkar and Mahatma Buddha in the premises, which will remain there.
The state government has assured us that we will be given the entire 12.5-acre for Babasaheb's memorial. In a meeting between my son, Anandraj Ambedkar of the Republican Sena and Home Minister R R Patil on Thursday, we were told that, if need be, the state government will even buy the piece of land from the centre for the memorial. We are confident that the government at both the levels will value our sentiments and some positive result will come out of it.

Demand: Followers of Ambedkar shout slogans as they come out
of the Indu Mills premises. PIC/Satyajit Desai

What do you think is the solution to the Indu Mills problem?
12.5-acre for BR Ambedkar's memorial--that is the solution. If the central government does not accede to our demand then our protest will continue. In 1968, my husband had taken out a rath yatra across the state. The money collected during the yatra was used to build the Chaityabhoomi in Dadar. But we wanted to expand. Our first demand for 12.5-acre land was made in the year 2003. The issue was even kept before Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then Prime Minister of India. Vajpayee too agreed for the memorial. Vilasrao Deshmukh, then Chief Minister of Maharashtra also agreed that 12.5-acre of the land will be given for Babasaheb's memorial. A detailed plan was laid out then on how the entire 12.5-acre will be used. Since then, we have been waiting patiently. I don't understand why the government should have a problem now. We have been asking for something that was promised to us way back in 2004. We don't want the land for our personal use. We want to have a library, a memorial, and a hall built on the plot, where followers of Babasaheb can come and rest.

Do you think that Babasaheb would have approved of this sort of an agitation? First, RPI activists barged into the Indu Mills compound. Later, they staged a rail roko in different parts of the city.
I don't think we are deviating from his ideology. Babasaheb's main focus was on education but he had always said that one should fight for one's rights. Maangne se jo hak nehi milta uske liye sangharsh karna he parega (If you don't get your rights , you will have to fight for it)

We want a memorial: Anandraj Ambedkar

Don't you think that it has become a political issue now?

I am currently the President of the Buddhist Society of India, which is a charity organisation. Babasaheb Ambedkar was the first president of the organisation. Members of Buddhist Society of India, monks and followers have not taken part in the protests earlier. The issue of Indu Mills is a social issue. We don't want it to become a political issue.
Reports in the media also highlighted the personal rivalry between Babasaheb Ambedkar's grandsons, Anand and Prakash? What is your take on it?
Anandraj and Prakash are my sons. We live together in the same house. My eldest son Prakash Ambedkar, is from the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM), which is a political party. He has stayed away from the agitation, as he did not want this to become a political issue. Anandraj is from Republican Sena, which is a non-political party. Hence, he was part of the protest, which shows that all of us want to ensure that the issue should not take a political turn.

In the name of Babasaheb: RPI Activists at Indu Mills

'Fingers crossed'
"It is pretty much wait and watch for the National Textiles Corporation (NTC), owner of 12.5 acre of Indu Mills land, now. The NTC is a central government entity. The matter is now between the state government and the central government. Whatever decision is taken by the centre, the corporation will have to abide by it. Right now, it is 'fingers crossed' for the NTC," said a source. Before nationalisation of mills in 1974, the mill was owned by E D Sassoon group, said another source. The NTC had earlier sought permission from the central government to build a hotel in the same area.

Future plan
On Thursday, followers of Ambedkar and activists who were occupying the Indu Mills compound for almost three weeks, vacated the premises. This was after an assurance by the state government that it will request the centre for the entire 12.5-acre of land.

Respect: Followers pray in front of a bust of Ambedkar, which
was installed in the Indu Mills compound. PIC/Satyajit Desai

Said Prakash Ambedkar, from the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM), a political party, "Back when the plan for the memorial was kept before Vajpayee, the BJP had opposed it. Whereas, Vajpayee as an individual wanted the memorial. I have heard that the central government intends to give the plot for a five star hotel. A commercial unit will be only for the privileged. I believe the land could be used for a low cost education centre, which will benefit many." Prakash said that this time he is quite optimistic that some solution will come out of the meeting with the PM.

Anandraj Ambedkar in a telephonic interview from Delhi said, "A meeting with the PM was scheduled on Friday. Due to fog the flight was diverted and the meeting is now scheduled for Saturday. Chief Minister (CM) Prithviraj Chavan will also be here on Saturday." Chavan's flight, scheduled for Delhi, was diverted to Jaipur due to heavy fog, revealed the CM's office. Anandraj said that the Indu Mills issue will be discussed with the PM. "Followers of Babasaheb have left the Indu Mills premises. Most of them have returned to their native place. This is a temporary move. This doesn't indicate that we have stopped fighting for the land," he said.

Politician: Prakash Ambedkar

Anandraj from the Republican Sena claims that the Sena is not a political party and he doesn't want the Indu Mill issue to become political. "We want to install a huge statue of Babasaheb at the venue. We want to name it as 'The Statue of Equality'' It doesn't matter who does the work, as long as it is done," said Anandraj.

History of Mills
>> The Bombay Spinning and Weaving Company was the first cotton mill to come up in Tardeo, Mumbai, in 1856

>> By 1865, 10 cotton mills came up in Mumbai. These mills employed hundreds of workers

>> There were 136 mills in Mumbai by 1900. The mills were permanently closed after the Great Bombay Textile Strike of 1982

>> In recent years, the mills have been extensively redeveloped, many becoming malls, residential building, commercial centres

>> On December 6, 2011 members of Republican Sena forcibly entered the Indu Mills compound demanding 12.5 acre of the plot for Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar memorial.

>> In addition to the memorial, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) suggested that Dadar railway station be renamed 'Chaityabhoomi'.

>> Republican Party of India (RPI) activists under Ramdas Athavle staged a rail roko in various parts of the city to press for their demand of a 12.5-acre plot for the proposed Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar memorial.

>> Initially the National Textiles Corporation (NTC), owner of 12.5-acre of Indu Mills land had offered 4-acre of land for the memorial.

>> The Indu Mills owned by the National Textile Corporation filed a petition before the Bombay High Court.

>> The High Court slammed the government for its "failure to take action against the encroachers".

>> The government had assured that it would attempt to amicably remove Dalit activists who had encroached the mill compound within a week, failing which, the government would use force.

>> In order to resolve the controversy, Chief Minister of Maharashtra Prithviraj Chavan held a meeting with Anandraj Ambedkar and other member of the Republican Sena recently.

>> Activists and followers on Thursday decided to vacate the Indu Mills land after the state assured that it will meet the Prime Minister to hand over the 12.5-acre of mill land.

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