Jallianwala Bagh: After historians’ censure, allegations of revamp firm owner's proximity to BJP brass

Allegations have surfaced that an Ahmedabad-based firm bagged the contract to renovate the memorial at a cost of Rs 20 crore because its owner is close to BJP brass

Part of Jallianwala Bagh memorial before renovation and after renovation
Part of Jallianwala Bagh memorial before renovation and after renovation

Rahul Gul

The virtual inauguration of the renovated complex of Jallianwala Bagh memorial located in Amritsar by PM Narendra Modi last Saturday had triggered a row, with historians accusing the planners of ‘Disneyfying’ the monument and erasing the memories of that horrific day of April 13, 1919, when Col Dyer opened fire on a group of peaceful protesters, killing almost 1,000 of them.

Kim A. Wagner, London-based professor of history and author of ‘Amritsar 1919 – An Empire of Fear and the Making of a Massacre’, said in a tweet on August 28 that the revamping of the site “means that the last traces of the event have effectively been erased”.

“There was very little left of the original site to begin with and this recent erasure through renovation is nothing less than a tragedy...,” he said in another tweet.

“It is absolutely gaudy...Why should there be murals on the wall? Changes the whole idea of the place from where Dyer entered to kill. Adding glamour to the little corridor changes the whole visual history. History itself is being re-written and renovated. This is the corporatisation of monuments,” historian S. Irfan Habib was quoted as saying in a media report.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had termed the revamp an "insult to martyrs", saying only a person who does not know the meaning of martyrdom can inflict such an insult. "I am the son of a martyr - I will not tolerate the insult of martyrs at any cost," he said in a tweet. "We are against this indecent cruelty." In another tweet, Rahul Gandhi said those who didn't struggle for freedom can't understand those who did.

Incidentally, the same day when Modi inaugurated the project, Haryana Police had launched a vicious attack on farmers protesting against the three farm laws in Karnal, with the Shiv Sena terming it as the “second Jallianwala Bagh”.

Now, allegations have surfaced that the renovation process was carried out by an Ahmedabad-based firm whose owner is close to BJP and PM Modi.

“As expected, I did some digging. The hideous renovation of the Jallianwala Bagh has been done by an Ahmedabad based firm called Vama Communications. 20 crores were paid for this work. It is the same firm which was paid 26 crores for Gandhi museum in Rajkot,” Jas Oberoi, a researcher and freelance columnist tweeted.

“There were allegations of favouritism against them because the original budget for that museum was 16 crores. Congress leaders in Gujarat claim that the owner of Vama is close to BJP & PM Modi,” he added.

“What’s concerning is that the renovation of Jallianwala Bagh has been done by an Ahmedabad based firm called Vama Communications. People of Punjab ignored and a part of Sikh history erased,” Preet Kaur Gill, Labour & Co-op MP for Birmingham Edgbaston and Shadow International Development Secretary, had tweeted.

Oberoi’s comments about the firm engaged for the renovation of Jallianwala Bagh are borne out by a media report which on September 27, 2018 quoted leader of opposition in Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) Vashram Sagathiya alleging a financial scam in the building of the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial museum.

In a statement, Congress leader Sagathiya had alleged that the estimated cost of the museum, including consultancy charge in March 2017 was Rs 15.84 crore. However, the RMC ended up spending Rs 26 crore for its completion. He had also alleged that the project was given to Vama Communication because its promoter had ‘good relations’ with the BJP top brass including the PM. He had added that the same company was assigned the work of Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar.

It was not possible to obtain comments from Vama Communications as its website seems to have been pulled down after the allegations surfaced. A blog being run by its owner is also no longer accessible.

The story will be updated if and when contact is established with the firm.

Jallianwala Bagh: After historians’ censure, allegations of revamp firm owner's proximity to BJP brass

It may be recalled that the Centre had on July 8, 2019 introduced the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in the Lok Sabha to amend the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Act, 1951, which was subsequently passed by both Houses of Parliament. The Bill amended the provision of the President of Indian National Congress being a permanent Trustee. It also provided for the erection of a National Memorial at Jallianwala Bagh.

The Trust to manage the National Memorial comprises of the Prime Minister as Chairperson, Minister in-charge of Culture, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Governor of Punjab, Chief Minister of Punjab, and three eminent persons nominated by the Central government.

The 1951 Act provided for three trustees nominated by the Central government to hold the position for a period of five years and be eligible for renomination. But the Amendment allows the Central government to terminate the term of a nominated trustee before the expiry of the period of his/her term without assigning any reason.

Opposing the Bill, Shashi Tharoor of the Congress had said it was a “denial of the heritage of the country.”

“The Bill should be stopped. It is a national memorial, do not betray our history and heritage,” Tharoor had said when the Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha.

Meanwhile, the blowback on garish ‘improvements’ done to Jallianwala Bagh, including disco lasers, forced the Ministry of Culture to respond. It said the monument has been renovated with “utmost respect”. Ministry Secretary Raghvendra Singh told PTI, “It has been restored by the Archaeological Survey of India, which is the agency that restores world heritage sites in the country. Instead of letting a derelict structure fall, we have restored it to conserve it for posterity.”

This stance was challenged by an INTACH member who said the renovation project should have been entrusted to INTACH which would have ensured that the original character of the memorial remained pristine even while doing anything necessary to ensure its longevity.

"The government seems to have been more interested in altogether bulldozing the memorial even as a corporate entity made a neat profit," she said, preferring to remain anonymous.

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Published: 02 Sep 2021, 8:15 PM