A political landmark

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 28 Jun 2018 14:00:09



Vijay Phanshikar,


Even when it was under proposing and planning, this complex of buildings was slated to be a political landmark not just for Nagpur but also for the whole of Maharashtra. When its construction began nearly five decades ago, countless Nagpurians would make a trip to the spot to see how things were taking shape. And when the Aamdaar Niwas rose to its full shape and size, it assumed immediately the landmark status it had promised to have. Even when the premises are so old and so much under near-constant use, their stature continues to be impressive.

Everybody who sees the buildings from outside, or from inside, realises the power the complex encompasses within its walls. For, Maharashtra’s lawmakers use the place as their temporary home when they come to Nagpur for the Legislature

For a long time, Nagpur -- Maharashtra’s second capital -- hosted only the Winter session whose length in time continued to get curtailed with passage of years. Now, the city is going to host the Monsoon session of the legislature as well. So, even in rainy season, the State’s lawmakers and administrators will converge on the city to conduct serious business. Much of that activity will be conducted through two or three places, the Aamdaar Niwas being one of those. And what a glorious aura the place assumes when the legislators are for stay there, though for a limited period. There is not one single moment when the place is not buzzing -- round the clock literally and figuratively. People are walking in and out, cars are zooming in and out, the restaurant is working 24x7, security is all on alert all the time, and politics becomes a second religion for those few days.

In English, the place is called MLAs’ Hostel, though rather wrongly. For, among the people who use the place are not just the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs), but also the Members of the Legislative Council (MLCs). So, the Marathi name -- Aamdaar Niwas -- is more truthful and not the English one.

What a place it has been. When that plot of land was allocated for the Aamdaar Niwas, it was thought to be slightly farther from the Council Hall -- Vidhan Bhavan in front of the Reserve Bank of India. From that place, the old MLAs’ Hostel opposite the Divisional Commissionerate and between the National Fire Service College and the General Post Office, was considered just to be at a walking distance. In those old days, the legislators who stayed at the MLAs’ Hostel (Old), were able to walk that one-kilometer distance in just ten to fifteen minutes. One does remember many ministers also joining the legislators in that walk to work or back from work. From that place, Ravi Bhavan and Nag Bhavan, too, were not far -- again walking distance.

But then came the new Aamdaar Niwas -- New MLAs’ Hostel -- and the aura of the older residence of the legislators lost its importance. Of course, cricket teams often stayed at the old place and were happy with the arrangement. Later on, things changed a lot and the Old MLAs’ Hostel, Suyog, now hosts visiting journalists during the legislature sessions at Nagpur.

No matter all these changes, the Aamdaar Niwas is one place whose importance will never go away. Over time, the complex has only grown -- adding in number of buildings to accommodate more numbers of people. Even when the legislature session is not on, the legislators are using the place all the time when they travel to Nagpur from nooks and corners of Maharashtra. And when the legislature is not in session, other people, too, can use the place, though for a little higher fee.

Things have changed, of course, now as many legislators prefer to stay in posh hotels in the city, perhaps on some private sponsorship in some cases. Even though this change has come over, the importance of the Aamdaar Niwas has not diminished. For, the legislators do register rooms in their names and allow their workers etc to occupy those during the session. The Aamdaar Niwas, thus, continues to attract equal or even larger numbers of people during the legislature sessions.

As a young Reporter, I often visited the place to meet the
legislators, interview them, seek additional information on the business of the day in the two Houses, the Assembly and the Council. On countless occasions, I went there to meet other dignitaries for interviews. Notable among them were Ustad Bismillah Khan, dancer Birju Maharaj,
cricketer Sunil Gavaskar, scientist Dr. Raja Ramanna, overseas visitors like the British Hockey team, like the Lankan Cricket team’s legendary first captain Anura Tenekoon ...! The list can be endless. I have some good memories of many a ceremony I attended for reporting on the grounds in the quadrangle in the middle of buildings. A memorable ceremony was when Barrister Sheshrao ‘Nanasaheb’ Wankhede was felicitated on completing sixty years of life. Yeshwantrao Chavan, the first Chief Minister of Maharashtra, came as chief guest. The quality of speeches was superlative, and not like that of the ones now available.

But there is a bad memory, too, associated with the Aamdaar Niwas. It was in September of 1984 when the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) held its national convention at the Nagpur University Playgrounds and the delegates occupied the Aamdaar Niwas rooms. For whatever reason, the delegates got angry, indulged in rioting, broke the pandals at the convention site, and took away with them everything on which they could lay their hands from the Aamdaar Niwas. They did not spare even the mosquito nets and their steel bars.

Subsequently, a lot of explaining had to be done by both, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, and her son Mr. Rajiv Gandhi. Most unfortunately, Mrs. Gandhi got assassinated in a few short weeks thereafter.
Let alone all those events small and big, the Aamdaar Niwas has held a place of importance in Nagpur’s public life for decades. Located opposite the Dr. Vasantrao Deshpande Hall in Civil Lines, the Aamdaar Niwas is one place that no one can miss. Without its mention, the history of the city’s public life cannot be written.

For a journalist like me, the place has occupied a huge
professional corner, and a small personal corner. For, it is in this place that I have made some of the most enduring human connects.