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Camden Council loses battle to close museum for founding father of India Dr Ambedkar

PUBLISHED: 13:42 18 March 2020 | UPDATED: 13:51 18 March 2020

Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, who helped write India's constitution. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, who helped write India's constitution. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

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The government has quashed Camden Council’s attempt to shut down a Primrose Hill museum named after one of India’s founding fathers.

The Primrose Hill townhouse and now museum in King Henry's Road, where Dr Ambedkar stayed in the 1920s. Picture: Sam VolpeThe Primrose Hill townhouse and now museum in King Henry's Road, where Dr Ambedkar stayed in the 1920s. Picture: Sam Volpe

Ambedkar House – in honour of B R Ambedkar, who helped write India’s constitution – has been the subject of a protracted planning wrangle between the museum and Camden Council, who argued Dr Ambedkar wasn’t well-known enough in Britain to warrant a memorial.

Camden issued an enforcement notice in November 2018 ordering the museum – based in 10 King Henry’s Road – to convert back into a residential property, before a planning inquiry was held last September.

On March 12, Robert Jenrick – the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) – ruled the museum, inaugurated by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi in 2015, could remain.

A Camden Council spokesperson said: “Whilst we are disappointed that the Planning Inspectorate has ruled against the council’s original decision for 10 King Henry’s Road, we do accept and respect the decision that has been made given the additional evidence presented by the appellant at the Inquiry regarding Dr Ambedkar who was a major figure in Indian and British History and his association with this property.”

A statue of Dr Ambedkar at Marathwada University, Maharashtra, India. Picture: WikimediaA statue of Dr Ambedkar at Marathwada University, Maharashtra, India. Picture: Wikimedia

According to a blue plaque at the museum, Dr Ambedkar lived in the Primrose Hill townhouse between 1921-1922 while studying at London School of Economics.

Camden Conservatives leader Oliver Coopers said he was “delighted” with the decision, which he felt vindicated the cultural heritage of the borough.

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He said: “It takes an awful lot of mental gymnastics to claim one of the most important figures in Indian history isn’t notable enough for a small memorial where he lived.”

Mr Cooper continued: “Even when given months to decide an application, even when an appeal has been lodged by a state government of India, these things should raise alarm bells.

“Even when that has happened, Camden put its foot down and said this figure was not important at all.

“I think that shows a blind spot in the way Camden sees its cultural heritage and it should prompt Camden to be more culturally aware of all ethnic minority groups and sensitive towards their needs.”

A number of terms were imposed on the museum as part of HCLG’s decision.

These include Ambedkar House operating under the sole responsibiity of the west Indian state of Maharashtra - which bought the property for £3 million in 2015 - and its opening hours being no longer than 11am to 5pm.

A museum management plan must also be submitted to Camden Council.

Ambedkar House has been approached for comment.


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