Ahmedabad, undoubtedly, is the largest city in Gujarat today and is always buzzing with economic activities. At one point of time the city was called ‘Manchester of the East’. The city boasted of more than 125 textile mills in 20th century. The city has seen many highs and lows but has grown, nonetheless, over hundreds of years.
On 4thMarch,1411 Ahmed Shah I founded this city and made it the capital of the state. Ahmed Shah, who was just twenty years old then, and had assumed the throne in 1410 stood at the banks of river Sabarmati and scripted the city in his mind. Ashaval, which was a small village then, became Ahmedabad. He ruled for thirty two years and built many monuments whose foundation and structure have stood the test of time. ManekBurj on the corner of Ellisbridge, BhadraFort and Jama Masjid are some examples. In fact, the city’s foundation was laid at ManekBurj, which was the first settlement to be built for the fort walls.During the rule of Shahs, arts and architecture were nurtured and admired as sultans promoted the unique Indo-Islamic architecture with traditional Hindu and Jain approaches merging with Islamic architecture. Major historical sites like Jami/Jama/Jumma Masjid (Friday Mosque) and Teen Darwaja were constructed by him.
Ahmedabad always had a rich history and tradition of shared culture and practices. Renowned historian Professor RizwanKadri, who has studied the city in grand detail, says “the speciality of Ahmedabad is its monuments. The beauty of Ahmedabad’s monuments is in its carvings and delicacy,which you will not find in the monuments of North India. So during different regimes the city kept adding glory to its cultural life and kept moving ahead”. The city has also witnessed many low moments in its life which are termed as black spots on its rich cultural heritage. But it has always bounced back. Professor Kadri adds “the city is one but it has different colours. It is multi dimensional. History and legacy of harmony in the city is quite long. The social fabric of Ahmedabad is entwined. In Ahmedabad you will find people from every nook and corner of the country. They come here for prosperity and then become one with the city”.
Political power center of 20th Century India
The two great sons of India Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel both started their public life from this city. Mahatma Gandhi established Satyagraha ashram in 1915. He wanted to start his active political life from Ahmedabad and he wanted to become a councilor of Ahmedabad municipality so that he can begin the cleanliness campaign. He even started his Dandi Yatra from the city itself. Sardar Patel also started his active public life from 1915. Patel won his first election in 1917 exactly a hundred year ago. Visionary that he was, he planned Ahmedabad to grow out of the walled city and beyond Sabarmati River on the western side. Professor Rizwan Qadri says, “There was much opposition to the move. But Sardar stuck to his guns and finally won over the masses, by saying that unless we break down the walls and expand our horizons, our development will remain inhibited.”
Sardar Patel wanted Ahmedabad to be a new-age city. He came up with Ellisbridge and Maninagar as part of town-planning schemes. He planned to expand the city from the walled city, across the river with the Ellisbridge Town Planning Scheme. Farmers opposed this move because they were losing land. But Sardar made them realize that his dream of a new city would bring prosperity to all
Foundation of modern Ahmedabad
Sardar Patel wanted Ahmedabad to be a new-age city. He came up with Ellisbridge and Maninagar as part of town-planning schemes. He planned to expand the city from the walled city, across the river with the Ellisbridge Town Planning Scheme. Farmers opposed this move because they were losing land. But Sardar made them realize that his dream of a new city would bring prosperity to all.
The city has travelled through times and has kept assimilating and innovating to its urban profile. It has grown into a mega city. A survey done in 2015 threw up surprises about the city. It was a survey done across the best eight metropolitan cities in India. Ahmedabad edged out Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune, etc. on various parameters such as physical and civic infrastructure, social and cultural values and peace of mind.
Walls got broken,the city grew out of the walled area, expanded, brought in more and more people but as is the case it also saw some lop sided development in modern times. The city which witnessed almost unprecedented development also had its fair share of problems in the form of social and communal unrest. Now the city is clearly divided as most of the wealthier residents moved across the river Sabarmati to the west side of the city and the poor remained in the east, old part of the city. The city may have got awards and accolades for its infrastructure and planning projects but this divide is so stark and glaring that one cannot ignore it while travelling through the city. Of late, ghettoization is another social challenge that the city is facing. The urban thinkers and planners have received praise for the city’s most ambitious development projects but most of them are deployed in the western part of the city.
The great tom tom about the city’s manageable traffic and a functional BRT corridor along with roads free of encroachment extends only as far as the Sabarmati. In the east and the south of the city, largely inhabited by the poor, autos, two wheelers, bikes and even cars rush up the BRT lanes and the streets are occupied by hawkers and road side shops taking space away. There is absolutely no traffic management in this part with traffic signals mostly non functional and traffic police absent from the scene.
If one takes a stroll along the concrete embankments on the Sabarmati riverfront, you find young couples from nearby institutions, kids rolling on the grass in several gardens that line up the river and senior citizens slowly walking along the pathways looking at the old city across the river .The Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project, which conceived the plan and executed it and gifted the city a new promenade, is one of the most ambitious projects undertaken in any Indian city. But this monumental urban planning project also came at a human cost. By some estimates nearly forty thousand people were displaced from the banks of the river. Many of them had lived there for decades. Today, more than a decade after the project was first initiated, the authority says that most of the displaced have been relocated. Some of them were given houses in apartment blocks built on the relatively central grounds of former mill compounds, while others were sent to the fringes of the city in the south. A place which is beyond the reach of public transport and their fragile work networks.That these people were successfully relocated is noteworthy, credit for it goes to Sabarmati residents themselves. Also community leaders deserve fulsome praise for this and also the local nonprofit organizations that provided them legal aid. With their help these poor habitants of Sabarmati riverfront were able to push back and forced the administration to accept that they are the legitimate stakeholders in the city they call home.