MASSIVE RALLY IN MUMBAI DENOUNCES DEMOLITION OF AMBEDKAR BHAVAN
July 19 saw a massive rally of tens of thousands of people in Mumbai led jointly by Ambedkarite and Left parties and groups. It marched a distance of over 7 Km in drenching rain from Jijamata Udyan at Byculla to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Railway Terminus (CST) and culminated in a huge public meeting that entirely blocked the massive square between CST and Azad Maidan for over two hours, throwing all traffic in South Mumbai haywire.
It was an angry demonstration that denounced the arbitrary demolition of the historic Ambedkar Bhavan and the Buddhabhushan Printing Press at Dadar in the heart of Central Mumbai. Both these structures were constructed in the 1930s by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar himself, to serve as a centre for all the movements of the socially oppressed Dalits and economically exploited working people. The press printed several seminal books written by, and periodicals edited by Dr Ambedkar. It also had a library. This centre functioned regularly to carry forward the movement even in the decades after Dr Ambedkar’s demise. It was here that Rohit Vemula’s mother and brother embraced Buddhism a few months ago.
The demolition by using bulldozers was done stealthily at 2 am last month on June 25, ostensibly at the initiative of the People’s Improvement Trust which uses one section of the premises. This trust is currently controlled by a retired IAS officer Ratnakar Gaikwad. Dr Ambedkar’s grandsons Prakash, Anandraj and Bhimrao, who used the premises for the furtherance of the movement, were sidelined when taking this decision. It was said that the demolition was done since it had become a dilapidated structure and a 17-storey building would be erected there to commemorate Dr Ambedkar’s memory. Evidently, commercial real estate interests were involved in the dubious deal.
But such a major step of demolition of a heritage structure so closely associated with the life and work of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar could simply never have been taken without the sanction of the BJP-RSS-controlled state government of Maharashtra. And there is little doubt that it is the state government that is the villain of the piece in this episode.
MASSIVE PROTEST MOVEMENT
There were immediate protest rallies against the demolition in several districts of the state that were led jointly by various Ambedkarite and Left parties. The CPI(M) Maharashtra state committee denounced the demolition and Party activists took part in all these joint protests across the state. Then a joint decision was taken to organise a massive joint statewide rally on the issue on July 19 in Mumbai.
Meanwhile, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury while on a visit to Maharashtra, visited the site of the demolished Ambedkar Bhavan on the morning of July 16. He condemned the demolition in his interactions with the media and also spoke to Prakash Ambedkar, who invited Yechury to participate in the July 19 Mumbai rally. On the morning of July 19, Yechury raised the demolition issue in the Rajya Sabha and several opposition parties supported him in his attack against the BJP-led central and state governments. BJP minister for Social Justice Thawar Chand Gehlot was forced to concede that the Centre would speak to the state government and the demolished structure would be restored. After his Rajya Sabha intervention, Yechury flew to Mumbai to address the Mumbai rally.
The July 19 rally was a massive show of strength. The three main speakers were Sitaram Yechury, Prakash Ambedkar and Anandraj Ambedkar. JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar also made a spirited speech. Senior leader J V Pawar of the Bharatiya Republican Party (BRP) chaired the public meeting. Those who addressed the public meeting were CPI(M) Central Secretariat member Dr Ashok Dhawale, CPI state secretary Dr Bhalchandra Kango, Lal Nishan Party (Leninist) leader Bhimrao Bansode, Lal Nishan Party leader Milind Ranade, Satyashodhak Communist Party leader Kishore Dhamale, Shramik Mukti Dal leader Bharat Patankar, Republican Party leader Arjun Dangle, cultural activist Sheetal Sathe and others. Congress MLA Varsha Gaikwad and Shiv Sena MLC Neelam Gorhe also addressed the gathering in their personal capacity.
Prakash Ambedkar said that this was an assault not only on Ambedkar Bhavan but on Dr Ambedkar’s egalitarian ideology of socio-economic justice. He came down heavily on the BJP-RSS-led state government and said the demolition could never have taken place without its concurrence. He called upon the huge gathering to participate in a Shramadan to reconstruct the demolished structures from July 30 onwards. Finally, he thanked all the political parties and groups that had come together to make this rally a massive success.
Sitaram Yechury said the state government and the municipality have not just demolished a heritage structure, but a building that represents the heritage of the freedom movement, a building that represents the heritage of the dalit movement. The building was built by B R Ambedkar out of his own money to provide place for ostracised dalits at that time. It also housed a printing press for publishing dalit literature. Not only a physical structure of social justice but a vision of social justice has been demolished. He said all structures of social justice like the Planning Commission have been demolished by the BJP-led government. With the unwinding of the Planning Commission, there are no longer sub-plans made for uplift of the dalit community. He called for an unbreakable unity of blue flags and red flags – blue and red being the two colours on the two edges of the rainbow – for defeating the anti-Dalit, anti-people and rabidly communal policies of the BJP-led governments and for the radical socio-economic and political transformation of India.
Various Ambedkarite and Left parties that participated in the rally are meeting on July 20 to chalk out the future course of action on this issue.