A Piece Of Indian History Saved In London
The ‘India Club‘ in London is safe, for now. The Westminster City Council’s Planning Sub-Committee recently rejected the application to demolish the Club and to construct a luxury hotel there. The Committee issued a statement on July 31, saying that Marston Properties – the building’s freeholders – would not be allowed to demolish the Club that was part of London’s rich history and culture.
The India Club is located on the first floor of the 26-room Strand Continental Hotel at 143-145 Strand on the north side of River Thames. Indian political leaders had established the India League – a Britain-based organisation – in 1920 in order to campaign for full Independence and self-government for the South Asian country. It became a hub for Indian nationalists in Britain during the Indian Independence Movement in the 1930s and 40s. After India gained Independence on August 15, 1947, the India League decided to concentrate mainly on British-Indian relations and to serve the interests of Indians outside of India. In 1951, the India League established the India Club under the leadership of Krishna Menon, independent India’s first High Commissioner in Britain. Lady Mountbatten and India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru were the founding members of the Club.
In 2016, Marston Properties informed the Westminster City Council about their plan to build a hotel on the first floor of the building. Almost immediately, owner of the Club Yadgar Marker and his daughter Phiroza Marker (also the manager of India Club) requested the City Council to ‘save’ the historic Club. In a letter to the Council, Yadgar said that he had rescued the Club from ruin in 1997 as the director of Goldsand Hotels Limited.
The Parsi-origin Markers launched an online petition, ‘Save India Club‘, in 2017 and started collecting signatures in order to oppose Marston Properties’ proposed move. “The India Club is a constant reminder of Westminster’s multicultural identity and the Indo-British friendship. We will continue to campaign for the building’s long-term preservation, including applying to Westminster for its designation as an ‘Asset of Community Value’,” stressed Yadgar. Over the last few months, more than 26,000 netizens signed the petition. Many British and Indian parliamentarians, including Lord Karan Bilimoria and Shashi Tharoor, backed the campaign, requesting the City Council to preserve the legacy of the Indian Club.
On July 31, four members of the Planning Council officially announced that the Club would not be demolished. Speaking at a media conference, Chairman of Westminster’s Planning Applications Sub-Committee and senior Councillor Tony Devenish said: “Westminster Council refused permission for the redevelopment of 143-145 Strand due the potential loss of an important cultural venue located on its site, the India Club. The India Club has a special place in the history of our Indian community and it is right that we protect it from demolition.” He explained that the club had “strong associations with the expat Indian community dating back to 1951 and is considered to be of significant cultural importance”.
Phiroza, who attended the conference with her father, welcomed the Council’s decision, saying: “The Committee members noted that India Club was a very important cultural institution, which had strong historical links with the India League. They also noted that India Club made a significant contribution to the cultural diversity and night time entertainment provision in Westminster.”
Professor of Indian History at the University of Leeds William Gould, too, congratulated the Council for making a serious attempt to save the landmark Club, insisting: “We are extremely pleased… the Club shouldn’t just be seen as the site of a connection to the Indian League, but that it is also of significant cultural importance to the area, and the South Asian community of this country as a whole, and beyond that.”
Meanwhile, Managing Director of Marston Properties Caroline Marston said that they would set up the luxury hotel at any cost. “We may appeal again. Markers had hired the ground floor for 20 years and the lease will expire in 2019,” she told the press.
However, members of the India Club are happy, as they have managed to protect the historic place from demolition (for the time being?).
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