Uttar Pradesh government officials and police allegedly barged into a non-government institution that propagates Gandhian values in Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency, and said they were taking it over for a subsequent handover to a central government body.
Ram Dhiraj, head of the Gandhi Vidya Sansthan who described Monday’s alleged government takeover to The Telegraph on Tuesday, said he had moved a petition before Allahabad High Court alleging the government action violated an earlier high court order. The high court has reserved its order.
The 61-year-old Sansthan, which holds informal classes on Gandhian philosophy for anyone interested and brings out some publications, was founded by the late Jayaprakash Narayan and others and is run by a society, Dhiraj said.
“Government officials and the police came here at 4pm on Monday. They opened the gates without taking our consent and informed us they were handing the Sansthan over to the IGNCA to open a library. They immediately began construction here in the presence of the police,” Dhiraj said.
He said the officials who had barged in on Monday, citing a directive from the Varanasi divisional commissioner, had said the institute would be renovated and handed over to the Indira Gandhi National Centre of Art (IGNCA), which functions under the Union culture ministry.
On Tuesday, a local government official said on the condition of anonymity: “We have instructions to renovate the building of the Gandhi Vidya Sansthan and hand it over to the IGNCA as soon as possible.”
Abhijit Dixit, regional director of the IGNCA, told The Telegraph over the phone on Wednesday: “We take over the defunct institutes and revive them. The Gandhi Vidya Sansthan is a rare institute, where important books are available but they are unmanaged. We will transform it into a great centre of Gandhian studies.”
Dixit added: “It is a misconception that we want to take over the Sansthan. In fact, we only want to take good care of the Sansthan, which has a glorious past.... The IGNCA is known for looking after such centres.”
The Sansthan stands on the compound of the Sarva Seva Sangh — an NGO that carries out social work and is dedicated to the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave — functioning as its intellectual arm.
“A few years after it was founded, the Sansthan was closed because of a land dispute,” Dhiraj, who also heads the Sarva Seva Sangh, said.
“Three decades ago, the high court handed the land to the Sarva Seva Sangh to run a school here to teach people Gandhian values. By confiscating the area, the state government has violated the high court order.”
Srijan Pandey, counsel for the Sarva Seva Sangh, said: “The Sansthan and the Sangh are both registered under the Society Registration Act. The government is misinterpreting a 2007 order by a society registrar that incorrectly said the Sansthan was non-functional and its members had not come forward with their justification of the institute (Sansthan), and so its administration could be transferred to the Uttar Pradesh government.
“The Sarva Seva Sangh has no problem if the government takes over the institute and runs it from somewhere else. The registrar had never said in the order that the property of the Sangh should be handed over to the government.”
Saurabh Singh, a social worker associated with the Sansthan, said: “If the government shifts the Sansthan from here, we will start our own institute for Gandhian studies — maybe a formal school under another name. It’s common knowledge that RSS and ABVP members have taken over the IGNCA in recent years. They have a problem with any Gandhian institute.”
Dhiraj said the Sansthan — which has about 80 informal students and a dozen staff members — shifted its classes to a different building on the Sarva Seva Sangh compound on Tuesday.
The IGNCA, a resource institute for written, oral and visual art, undertakes research and publishes reference works, glossaries, dictionaries and encyclopedias.