Fears that historic India Club could be transformed into hotel

Developer says it's only exploring the option and has not told India Club to leave

Friday, 29th September 2017 — By Eshu Christianson

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Yadgar Marker

AUGUST 15 marked 70 years since India gained independence from Britain – but one of the key places in London associated with the movement could soon be history.

The India Club, a hub for Indian nationals in London during the independence movement in the 1940s, will be turned into a hotel if developers get their way.

The restaurant in the Strand has remained largely unchanged since it was started by Indian nationalist VK Krishna Menon, a founding editor of Penguin Books and later the first Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

Based in the Strand Continental Hotel, the Club was closely linked to the India League, which campaigned for India’s independence, and acted as a meeting place for leading writers, intellectuals and politicians who supported the movement and wanted to sway British public opinion on the matter.

Freeholders Marston Properties want to replace the canteen-style restaurant and lounge bar with en-suite hotel rooms.

A petition to save the club has gathered almost 2,000 signatures and has received support from the descendants of Lady Mountbatten and self- rule supporter Annie Besant, as well as high-profile Indian politicians. Yadgar Marker and his wife Freny, proprietors of the club since they rescued it from dereliction in 1997, are now campaigning for it to be listed by English Heritage and to be named as a historically important landmark.

Mr Marker told the Extra: “Throughout London, historical buildings are being pulled down or extensively renovated and it’s such a shame, these buildings are a part of our past.

“We have deliberately held on to the Formica tables and other dated aspects, including old photographs and portraits, to retain the feel of 1940s India when nationalists would gather around cups of tea to deliberate on Indian independence.” Specialising in south Indian cuisine, it is one of the oldest Indian kitchens in the country. Its location has ensured a varied clientele over the years, from luminaries like former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi to lecturers, barristers, and students alike, embedding it in the fabric of the area. It still acts as a meeting place for several Indian clubs and organisations such as the Calcutta Rowing Club, which has been using the venue since the 1950.

“We intend to build as much community support as possible to preserve this unique piece of Indian history,” Mr Marker added.

A spokesman for Marston Properties said: “No one has stated or indicated at any time that the India Club or any other tenants in the building will be asked to vacate the premises.”

He added: “The submission of a planning application for the building is just one explorative option open to Marston in their longterm strategy setting. And while it remains an option, it is certainly not a notice whatsoever of our intention and must not be interpreted as such.”

Mr Marker dismissed the response as “hollow words”, saying they would not have submitted the plans unless it was their intention to go through with them.

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