BORIS JOHNSON, the former prime minister of United Kingdom, landed in Ahmedabad early on 21 April this year. It was his maiden visit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat. The day began with a visit to the Sabarmati Ashram, once the residence of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and the starting point of Gandhi’s march, to protest the British monopoly on salt, at the coastal village of Dandi. Johnson garlanded Gandhi’s portrait, spun the charkha and scribbled in the guest book that the father of the nation was “an extraordinary man.” He then breezed off to Swaminarayan Akshardham—one of the largest temple complexes in the country and, with its own IMAX theatres, exhibition halls, audio-animatronics shows, research centres and air assembly ground, a landmark of corporate Hindutva. Johnson then swung by for a quick meeting with billionaire Gautam Adani. Finally, he ended up at the British company JCB’s newest plant in Halol, where he posed for photos atop a bulldozer. The itinerary provided a perfect snapshot of Modi’s ambitions of remaking India—and the various stages of the dream development projects that will get him there.
Since Modi took office, the Sabarmati Ashram has been a consistent stopover for world leaders, including the Chinese president Xi Jinping in 2014, the former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in 2017, the former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018 and the former US president Donald Trump in 2020. It is also where Modi flagged off the two and a half year long celebration of India completing 75 years as an independent nation. The site has, in fact, been almost as recurrent a motif in Modi’s public activities as Gandhi himself. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the ashram’s redevelopment, announced in 2021, has been described as Modi’s dream project.
The “Gandhi Ashram Memorial and Precinct Development” project is being jointly undertaken by the state and union governments, and has been assigned a budget of Rs 1,200 crore. Sabarmati Riverfront Development Corporation Limited, owned by the Amdavad Municipal Corporation, has been tasked with its execution.