Decades back, in another era, the Allahabad University beckoned those with a thirst for learning from across the country. This was it, the pinnacle of excellence in education, the Oxford of the East. It produced intellectuals of great stature and imbibed a sense of responsibility in the Indian elites towards society.
Today, much like Nehru’s socialist vision, the legacy of the university lies ruined. Its halls no longer inspire the way they used to, not many go seeking for what it has on offer. The same could be argued for Allahabad, the confluence town that gave India its first PM. Allahabad’s political traditions have eclipsed in the post-independence era. The city’s newspapers, which once carried news regarding the pulse of a nation, are now rife with reports of underworld clashes.
Allahabad can be called the heart and brain of the freedom struggle as it housed the central office of the Indian National Congress (INC). The office was in Anand Bhawan, Nehru’s residence. The Nehru family had shifted to the palatial house in 1899 after Nehru’s father, brought it for a sum of Rs 20,000. This is where Nehru spent his childhood days. After both Nehru and his father joined the freedom movement by becoming members of the Congress party, Anand Bhawan began seeing more and more political meetings and discussions. It was from this historic building that Gandhi gave the call for the non-cooperation movement in 1920. Both father and son were arrested on 6 December 1921 for a period of six months for taking part in the movement. So significant had the building become for the ongoing freedom movement that in 1926, Motilal Nehru decided to donate it to the INC. Finally, on 11 April 1930, Anand Bhawan was renamed Swaraj Bhawan; an abode of freedom, by Nehru and another ‘Anand Bhawan’ was constructed in the adjoining vacant land. The building remained the headquarters of the INC until the office moved to Delhi in 1946.
However, many believe that Nehru’s investment in the national movement and in the independent nation state afterwards, came at the cost of neglect towards Allahabad, his place of birth and Lok Sabha constituency. “He never gave priority to any development project in Allahabad. He used to say — ‘I have to cater to the whole nation’,” tells former MP Ram Nihor Rakesh.
“In the midst of Gandhi’s religiosity and Jinnah’s fundamentalism, Nehru stood as a champion of secular ideals for the nascent democratic polity”
Kiran Jha | Assistant Professor, Chhatrapati Shahu Ji Maharaj University, Kanpur
“With due respect for his contribution to freedom struggle, the person responsible for plight of this country is Nehru”
Swami Narsinghanand | Hindu Swabhiman, Uttar Pradesh
Although Nehru became a full-time politician after having tried his hand at law, he believed in a code of conduct in going about things. “He used to just come for filing his nomination papers but never campaigned for himself,” says Rakesh. He was also firm when the occasion arose and was uncompromising when it came to secularism. “His persona was such that Prabhu Dutt Brahamchari of the Ram Rajya Parishad, a right-wing outfit, was trounced when he stood against him in 1952 in Phulpur, Nehru’s constituency in Allahabad district.”
India has preserved Nehru’s memory by naming stadiums, museums and universities after him. So foundational was his role in the first two decades after independence that Nehru has become more than just the first prime minister — ‘the Nehruvian era’, we say when we refer to his term as PM. However, it is a little surprising to search for a memorial of him in Allahabad and find nothing. When it comes to the birthplaces of members of the nationalist movement, state governments take extra care to preserve them in public memory, be it Gandhi’s birthplace in Porbandar or Sardar Patel’s house in Nadiad, Gujarat. So, this correspondent decided to visit 77 Mirganj, the birthplace of Nehru.
Motilal Nehru had shifted to Allahabad in 1886 from Kanpur to practice law in the Allahabad High Court. During these initial years, Motilal stayed in a rented house in Mirganj. Jawaharlal was born here. As one enters Mirganj, the lanes begin to get narrower. Contrary to one would expect, there is no signboard here that points to the house that Nehru was born in. Today, Mirganj is known as the red light area of Allahabad. One wonders why no attention has been paid by the government and even Nehru’s family to preserve an important aspect of national history. “I had raised the issue in the Parliament by way of a supplementary question from the then welfare minister Rajendra Kumari Bajpai,” says Rakesh. “She was informing the House about programmes the government had initiated to rehabilitate sex workers from red light areas of the country. Then I asked her, ‘whether the government would give first priority to rehabilitate sex workers from the Mirganj area of Allahabad, where the first PM of India was born?’ This query created uproar in the House and become hot news for the media. Indira Gandhi got annoyed with me for asking such an embarrassing question and members of the House advised me to close the chapter.”
The Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund (JNMF), that officially manages the Teen Murti Bhawan in Delhi and the Anand Bhawan, displays a replica of his Mirganj house. The Allahabad museum too exhibits the same model in its Nehru Gallery. “Unfortunately, Nehru’s birth house was acquired by the Allahabad Improvement Trust in 1931 for the construction of a road along with its adjoining Lali Bibi ka Imambara and subsequently dismantled,” says Mohammed Khalid Ansari, deputy director, JNMF.
The birthplaces of a first prime minister or president are preserved with great care in other countries. For instance, the US has preserved the log cabin that Abraham Lincoln was born in with great care for future generations to see. But, it seems that Nehru’s memory is slowly fading away.