The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gandhi ashram' No, cheap guesthouse

Ahmedabad, Jan. 20: The Sabarmati Ashram, home to Gandhi as he went from Mohandas to Mahatma, is now a place referred to in jest as cheap accommodation.

For as little as Rs 5 to 10 rent a month, many are living there — with parivar. And many are members of the bigger, Sangh parivar.

Chuni Vaidya, 85, who is still a practising Gandhian, is in a hopeless minority in an ashram that now remembers the Mahatma on October 2 and January 30 alone. Some 80-odd families, many of whom could afford to stay some place else, live in the ashram now.

“They are living here not out of any commitment to Gandhian principles but because they get the cheapest accommodation in this expensive city,” Vaidya said.

The rent has not been revised for over 70 years. “It has become sasta bhaduni society (a place where you get accommodation at the lowest rent),” Vaidya joked, adding that there was nothing they could do to stop it.

For instance, when noted Gandhian Nirmala Desh Pandey tried to persuade Hemant Chauhan to move out, he told her it was his birthright to live there.

Gandhi might have agreed. Chauhan is a Harijan. And Gandhi would have rejoiced: Chauhan is a travel agent. He had fought so that the Chauhans could become travel agents but not so that they could become travel agents and still stay at his ashram because — as Vaidya said — it’s cheap.

Chauhan formed the Gandhi Ashram Bachao Samiti to launch a satyagraha against the Gandhians and sat on fast, both practices made famous by the Mahatma.

Recently, Chauhan, with about 50 youths of the ashram, joined the BJP after it won the Assembly election. He is not the first ashram inmate to join the BJP, though. Even his wife, Darshanaben, went along with her husband because she felt neglected by the Congress that she had been associated with for some time.

Her husband, who said he was disillusioned with the Congress “because the party does not care for its workers”, is now busy with his project to build a temple in the ashram.

Chauhan, along with the BJP’s state youth wing president, Amit Thakkar, had come to the limelight when they roughed up Medha Patkar, the Narmada Bachao Andolan leader, when she joined a peace meeting on the ashram premises on April 7 with the post-Godhra violence still to play out completely.

When Congress leaders did not pat him on the back for attacking Patkar, a despondent Chauhan decided to switch to the BJP. “The Congress leaders did not even bother to call me,” he complained.

“Everyone knows that it was me who first saw Patkar, the enemy of Gujarat, and called the youths to disrupt the meeting. The Congress did not give credit for what I did, while the BJP leaders congratulated me.”

Gandhians like Vaidya and Jayant Pandya are still hoping to change the tide of saffron wash. “We are trying to reach out to new people with fresh ideas,” said Pandya.

Veterans of many battles the two of them, they may not have too much time left to see the end of this one.

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