Ritesh K Srivastav
On the 61st anniversary of our Independence, a question that conjures up in the mind of an ordinary ‘Allahabadi’ like me is, what is the role of Allahabad in India’s political independence and cultural fecundity? How far have we come from being mere residents of “the King of Pilgrimages”, since the past six decades of independence?
Here, one would wonder why so much fuss about Allahabad when talking about Independence. Why not other cities, which also played a pivotal role during freedom struggle. Or what difference it makes, if the city Allahabad is fast rubbing shoulders with modernity, while preserving its age-old secular legacy.
Well, being a ‘proud chora Ganga kinare wala’, I take pride in belonging to the city, which also holds a distinct place in contemporary politics. Looking at the pre-independence era of the city, which fought against British Raj and emerged as one of the most powerful political centers, Allahabad is for sure the nerve centre of Indian politics.
The great Allahabad Museum, the Akshaya Vat (the great Banyan tree), the sprawling lawns of Allahabad High Court, the All Saints Cathedral etc, are still boasting the glorious past of the city, which stoods witness to the first rebellion of 1857 against the mighty British.
Walking through the corridors and lush green lawns of Anand Bhawan and Swaraj Bhawan - both Nehru family estates, one is reminded of the great personalities who once lived here and gave ideological as well as political leadership to the nation.
As one strolls around the densely populated areas, the crowded vegetable market at the Fort Road chowraha, the narrow lanes of the old city though seen with filth and garbage, the divine fragrance can also be felt when one reaches at the confluence of holy rivers ie, Sangam.
The old government buildings, the Ordnance Depot Fort situated at the banks of River Ganga and several historical monuments have been the harbinger of a silent socio-economic and political awakening.
When the then Viceroy Lord Canning made Allahabad, the headquarters of Northwest Province and Awadh (Lucknow) in 1858, he would not have thought in his wildest dreams that the city would emerge as the epicenter of freedom struggle. During the great revolt of 1857, residents here unfurled the banner of revolt by uniting under the leadership of Maulvi Liaquat Ali, perhaps one of the first Indians, who spearheaded a valiant campaign against the mighty British Empire.
It’s political significance is evident from the fact that here in 1888, Indian National Congress assembled for its fourth session.
Besides, locals still feel pride when they look at the statue of the great “Karmyogi” Sundar Lal, whose heroic deeds had ignited a patriotic fervor among youth. Nityanand Chatterji became another household name when he hurled the first bomb at the European club.
The city also witnessed silently the first seeds of Pakistan being sown here on 29 December 1930, when Allama Muhammad Iqbal addressed the All-India Muslim League and proposed a separate Muslim state for the Muslims of India.
During the 1920s, the city was thriving center of the farmer’s movement under the active members of Home Rule League.
The city’s Alfred Park saw the immortalization of the great revolutionary Chandra Shekhar Azad, who met his heroic death here.
Besides, thousands of satyagrahis, led by local leaders like Purshottam Das Tandon, Bishambhar Nath Pande and Narayan Dutt Tiwari, went to jail while spearheading the movement.
Prior to Gandhi’s emergence on the national political scene, it was Motilal Nehru, who represented the Congress party’s Old Guard. His famous speech of 1927, "The British government has openly declared a crusade against our national aims … Are we going to succumb to these official frowns?" still resonates in the air.
In post-independence era, the name of noted Gandhian Lal Bahadur Shastri is still afresh in the memory of Allahabadians for his simplicity and audacity. Besides, the city also provided fertile land for political grooming of Vishwanath Pratap Singh and Chandra Shekhar.
Allahabad takes pride in being the home of several Prime Ministers of India, and in sending several great leaders including Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru, Mangla Prasad, Muzaffar Hasan, K N Katju, Lal Bahadur Shastri to Parliament.
After six decades of Independence, the city has prospered in a multifaceted way, but it also confronts the vagaries of developments. It’s an irony that the famous Coffee House, which once used to be a meeting point for noted poets and philosophers, has been reduced to a meeting place for gossip mongers.
Once dubbed as the Oxford of the East, the renowned Allahabad University is academically moribund now. The city is being dragged down in a vortex of mediocrity, senseless expansion and destruction of whatever cultural unity it had inherited.
Although, literary activities have slowed down in the recent times, one cannot ignore the contribution of Munshi Prem Chandra, Mahadevi Varma, Sumitranandan Pant, Suryakant Tripathi `Nirala`, Upendra Nath `Ashk`, Harivansh Rai Bachchan and Raghupati Sahay better known as Firaq Gorakhpuri.
Rajendra Yadav, Mamta and Ravindra Kalia, Kamaleshwar, Doodhnath Singh, Dr Prem Swaroop Srivastav and several others and well known critics like Namwar Singh began their literary careers here.
A town built to support a hundred thousand people, is now handling more than five times that number. The wayward expansion is perhaps symbolic of younger generation’s myopic attitude towards the great legacy that the city still preserves. The old stories, the tales, gossip and rumours that made ‘Allahabadis’ bond together, seems to be vanishing fast, and the older generation in whose dreams there lived an auspicious city, still crave for the same.