Tommaso Bobbio

National revisionism and commodification in the production of India’s heritage. Ahmedabad as UNESCO World Heritage site

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In January 2016 the Government of India presented the candidature for the historic city of Ahmedabad to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List (WHL). It was the first time for an Indian city to be put forward as a UNESCO candidate. The entire story of the candidature is highly representative of the role that heritage promotion has recently taken on in both the political arena and the economy of India, in particular of its cities. This article investigates the multi-layered significance that the candidature of Ahmedabad entailed, its impact on the city and those who inhabit it, the economy that it fostered, and the aesthetics that were adopted. The elaboration of the candidature implied a process of enshrining the city’s past within a precise narrative and aesthetic that could fit within the World Heritage criteria1. This process involved the selection of what – amongst the many facets and stories that composed the five centuries old history of the city – deserved to become part of the picture that supported the request that the city be considered a World Heritage site. In the UNESCO lexicon, it meant proving its Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), that is to say, that a specific item (either «cultural» or «natural») is of such an «exceptional» significance so as to «transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity». The construction of heritage appears entangled in history-making and the commodification of urban spaces, but what interpretation of the city’s past does the nomination dossier seek to promote? To whom is this narration speaking?

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