The US President Donald Trump's scheduled Ahmedabad visit on Monday appears to be full of ‘ambiguity’ - be it on the front of unknown organisers, or the route for the roadshow or the Trump Family's 'uncertainty' over Sabarmati Ashram (also known as Satyagraha Ashram) visit during their barely 3-hour stay in the city.
While local authorities keep reiterating their standard comment: “VVIP programmes are likely to change subject to security concerns”, there is one thing, the visiting head of the US Government may not want to hold a unique distinction about - being a government head to bypass Sabarmati Ashram during Ahmedabad visit.
In past 72 hours, the 'unverified' Trump itinerary has seen multiple changes. The route for roadshow got trimmed from 22-km earlier to 9 km and the Ashram has been reportedly dropped from the places of visit. Source in Gujarat government had confirmed that the President may not visit Ashram as he would rush to Agra immediately after Stadium event to catch a sunset moment from the Taj Mahal. There is, however, no official word from US authorities on the same as yet.
For Trump to dump Sabarmati Ashram for Taj is the least Indian authorities would want the visiting leader of a government to do. In past five years, on three different occasions, Ahmedabad has hosted heads of the governments of Japan, China and Israel, all invariably paid their respects to Mahatma Gandhi at the Ashram.
In September 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping was accompanied by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Sabarmati Ashram, where he moved around bare feet in the porch of Hriday Kunj - Mahatma Gandhi's cottage at the Ashram. Later in September 2017, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and wife Akie offered tributes to Gandhi in a similar fashion. In January 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau also paid a visit to the iconic Ashram, from where Gandhi led the Dandi March that triggered India's freedom from British Rule.
The officials quoted above clarified that instead of Sabarmati Ashram, the Trump family would pay their respects to the Father of the Nation at his memorial at Raj Ghat in New Delhi.
An independent Gandhian researcher, Ketan Rupera in Ahmedabad believes that the two places can't be replaced for one another. “Satyagrah Ashram has far greater significance because of its connect with Gandhi. It is the place from where Gandhi embarked upon the freedom struggle through Dandi March. This Ashram has a big role in making the Mahatma a mass leader,” added Rupera citing Mahatma's Autobiography. The Samadhi, on the other hand, is a memorial built after the death of the Mahatma.
In his own words, Gandhi has underlined the significance of Sabarmati Ashram. After his arrival from South Africa he was exploring several options to station himself including Haridwar, Vaidyanathadham (Uttarakhand), Rajkot among others. But he chose Ahmedabad. Gandhi explains, why.
“I had a predilection for Ahmedabad. Being a Gujarati I thought I should be able to render the greatest service to the country through the Gujarati language. And then as Ahmedabad as an ancient centre of handloom weaving, it was likely to be the most favourable field for the revival of the cottage industry of hand-spinning.” (Mahatma Gandhi: The Story of My Experiments with Truth : Vol 5: Ch 9)
He further stated, “I wanted to acquaint India with the method I had tried in South Africa, and I desired to test in India the extent to which its application might be possible. So my companions and I selected the name Satyagraha Ashram, as conveying both our goal and our method of service.” This validates why the Prime Minister Modi carefully ensures that all his ‘guests’ visit the Ashram.
Sabarmati Ashram Trustee, Kartikeya Sarabhai credits Prime Minister Modi for putting Ashram on the agenda of visit of the foreign government heads. “In many earlier years, people would come to Ahmedabad and not necessarily visit (Ashram). In fact, not many heads of governments would come to Ahmedabad. It is PM Modi, who not only started bringing them to Ahmedabad but also made Ashram visit as part of their itinerary. Earlier, even Prime Ministers hardly came (to Ashram)," Sarabhai said .
The Ashram authorities, however, have maintained that the Trump visit was on till late Thursday. “As per our information, he (Trump) is visiting. But these things continuously change,” he said.
The uncertainty over Trump's visit to Sabarmati Ashram has raised eyebrows in the political circles too. On Saturday, addressing media at the Ashram, former Chief Minister Shankersinh Vaghela took a strong notice about a likely cold shoulder to Mahatma. “I suspect those siding with Gandhi's killers (Godse) may have played a role to make Trump bypass Gandhi Ashram. If that happens, it will be an insult to the Father of our Nation,” he said.
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