Mahatma Gandhi: A forgotten hero at home

Ahmedabad: For Mahatma Gandhi, Ahmedabad was where his life was - right from the Sabarmati Ashram to the freedom struggle to the Navjivan Press - a city that he adopted as his home, catapulting it to national consciousness. But, as the city gears up to celebrate its 600th birthday, there seems to be nothing Gandhian about the place or its residents anymore.

But, Ahmedabad interestingly was always opposed to Bapu's beliefs. It all began when Gandhiji decided to invite a Dalit family to live in the Satyagraha Ashram at Kochrab in 1915. His son Ramdas had compared the decision to an atom bomb falling on the city's deeply conservative society. Not surprisingly, the entire merchant class, excepting for Ambalal Sarabhai, stopped supporting the ashram.

But, the Mahatma still chose the city again when he returned from South Africa.

"He did so for two simple reasons. First, he did not understand that his movement required finance. His further fundamental point to come to Ahmedabad was that he was very comfortable with Gujarati and also because he felt that it was his responsibility to correct his society first. But, if you see the CII's latest figures, representation of the SC/STs in the private sector is still very poor", says Sudarshan Iyengar, Vice-Chancellor, Gujarat Vidyapeeth.

In 1917, Gandhi left Kochrab after his neighbours refused to allow the ashram's Dalit members from using the public well. He moved to a plot of land on the west bank of Sabarmati, flanked by the district jail and a crematorium.

Noted Gandhian Dr Tridip Suhrud says, "He was actually pushed out of civil society and outside the pale of caste."

In the fifteen years that he spent at the Sabarmati Ashram, Gandhi turned into the Mahatma. His city too, Ahmedabad too had changed - moving out of Bombay's shadow to turn into a commercial and political hub.

Bapu, meanwhile, led the Champaran struggle, the Non-Cooperation Movement, the Bardoli Satyagraha, and the Ahmedabad Mill Workers strike from his ashram.

In 1930, he left the Sabarmati Ashram and set out on the historic Dandi March, vowing to return only after 'Swaraj' had been achieved.

Gandhiji visited Ahmedabad several times after that but refused to live there.

"My hunch is two-fold. One is that Gujarat and Ahmadabad became more & more inhospitable to the kind of experiments that he wanted to do in the social realm, and which is the work on untouchability. Second, Gandhi's insistence that there should be no private inheritance, at least for himself and the ashram community, actually goes against the entire capitalist ethos of mercantile Gujarat with the newly-emerging middle-class because, middle-class is based on the idea of private inheritance. I think these are the two things Gandhi could actually see much earlier than anybody else that these are going to be the two defining things of modern Gujarat", noted Dr Suhrud.