Mumbai, The Maharashtra government on Friday named two prominent experts to oppose attempts to shut down the Ambedkar House, a memorial dedicated to Babasaheb Ambedkar in London, a top official said here.
The Ambedkar House at 10, King Henry’s Road in north London was where Ambedkar lived during his student days at the London School of Economics in 1921-22, before returning to India and getting involved with the freedom movement and becoming the architect of the Indian Constitution besides championing the cause of the downtrodden and Dalits.
However, the local authority, the Camden Council, recently initiated a move to close down the four-storeyed memorial situated in residential premises, which has been challenged by the Indian government.
An Independent Planning Inquiry is scheduled to rule on the matter next month.
In order to strengthen the case in favour of the memorial, Maharashtra on Friday said that it has appointed legal expert Steven Gasztowicz and city planning expert Charles Rose to argue the matter on its behalf before the Inquiry, scheduled on September 24.
The state has also engaged the services of a reputed firm of solicitors, Singhania & Company, to represent it.
“These two experts will be part of the committee which, through the Indian High Commission, will present our side of the case at next month’s hearing. The state government has treated the matter very seriously and will make all efforts to satisfy the concerns raised by the local council,” an aide to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis told IANS.
He added that when the state government had bought over the property through the Indian High Commission, it was in a very dilapidated state and it was repaired from a safety viewpoint with the work on converting it into a memorial still underway.
The Maharashtra government had purchased the property for 3.1 million pounds when it was put up for sale by its original owners in 2015, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had inaugurated it during his UK trip in November that year.
The property had earlier been accorded recognition as an English Heritage site since 1991, and sports a blue plaque with the legend “Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar 1891-1956, Indian Crusader for social justice, lived here 1921-1922.”
The local council has, however, raised objections to the move to convert the property into a museum-cum-memorial on various grounds, including the disruption it causes to the quiet atmosphere of the residential neighbourhood, and wants it to be returned to its original status.
Republican Party of India (A) President and Union Minister of State for Social Justice Ramdas Athawale said that under no circumstances would the Dalits allow the change of status of the museum-cum-memorial in London and that all attempts would be made to protect it.
“I am in touch with the Indian High Commissioner in London and the Ministry of External Affairs here to take up the issue with the UK authorities and resolve the matter at the earliest,” Athawale said.
Congress’ Leader of Opposition Vijay Wadettivar said the Ambedkar House has immense historical and emotional value for the people of the country and the government must raise the issue with the British government to ensure that its status remains unchanged.
Former Union minister and Congress leader Milind Deora also supported the Maharashtra government’s demand to preserve the former residence of Ambedkar as a museum in London saying it would help educate future generations visiting from around the world about his struggles against discrimination.
In a letter on Thursday to Georgia Gould, Leader of Camden Council, Deora wrote, “In spite of being a member of the Indian National Congress, India’s principal opposition party, I join the BJP-led Maharashtra government in appealing to you to look into this matter and grant the necessary permissions required to maintain Ambedkar’s former residence as a museum,” he wrote.
“It will also add a lot of value towards enhancing Camden’s tourism potential,” he added.
For India, and specifically Maharashtra, the property has sentimental value and special historic significance as it was here that the young Ambedkar spent a crucial period of his formative years and academic career.
Ambedkar House has already become a popular ‘must-visit’ site on the itinerary of Indian tourists visiting the UK, to click pictures, admire the place and pay tributes to Ambedkar.