Allahabad, the city whose name Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath hopes to be able to change soon, has always been Prayag in the directories of the RSS, just as Varanasi has been Kashi. Replacing Allahabad with Prayagraj, possibly before the Kumbh Mela in January next year, will reinforce ongoing RSS efforts to recast the history of India in a new framework, using a revised vocabulary and cultural categories.
Congress, RSS, socialists
The city with which the Nehru-Gandhi family has historically had a close association also produced the only North Indian Sarsanghchalak, Rajendra Singh or Rajju Bhaiya, who was a professor at the University of Allahabad before he became a Pracharak. At one time during the early nineties, the RSS and two of its prominent organisations, the BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, were all headed by people from Allahabad: Rajju Bhaiya, Murli Manohar Joshi, and Ashok Singhal. Joshi, also a former professor at the University of Allahabad, still lives in the city, and Singhal’s Mahavir Bhavan, which stands close to the Nehru family home of Anand Bhavan, has for decades been a centre of the Sangh’s activities. Nehru’s opponent in Phulpur — a part of Allahabad district — in the first general elections of 1952 was Prabhudatt Brahmchari, a man who had an ashram in Allahabad’s Jhunsi area, and who was very close to the second Sarsanghchalak, M S Golwalkar.
Nehru, of course, won Phulpur in the elections of 1957 and 1962 as well, and his sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit won the seat in the 1964 byelection and the 1967 general election. The neighbouring Allahabad Lok Sabha seat was represented in 1957 and 1962 by Nehru’s successor as Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri. When Indira Gandhi decided to bring the future Prime Minister V P Singh to Lok Sabha, she gave him the Phulpur ticket in 1971, and the Allahabad ticket in 1980. Amitabh Bachchan won Allahabad in 1984 defeating the stalwart H N Bahuguna, and after he resigned the seat in 1988, V P Singh, who had by then quit the Congress over Bofors, won the byelection as an Independent.
While Bachchan was the last Congress MP to have represented Allahabad in Lok Sabha, the city — and the seat — was home to a strong and enduring socialist tradition. The politics of Ram Manohar Lohia was centred in Allahabad, and when Lohia contested against Nehru in 1962, the Prime Minister was forced to personally go to seek votes for himself. Janeshwar Mishra and Saroj Dubey won the seat in 1989 and 1991. Lohia’s socialist legacy was shared by many others — Shyam Krishna Pandey, Kalyan Chandra Mohile alias Chhunnan Guru, Saligram Jaiswal, Roopnath Singh Yadav, and Satya Prakash Malviya. More recently, Rewati Raman Singh of the Samajwadi Party won the Allahabad Lok Sabha seat in 2004 and 2009, and Phulpur elected a Janata Dal or SP MP continuously from 1989 to 2004.
A city of giants, their work
Allahabad is home to a large number of Kashmiri and Bengali families whose forefathers came here to study, work in government jobs, or practise as advocates. The prominent Allahabadi Kashmiri families of the Nehrus, Katjus, and Saprus have played enormous roles over decades in India’s politics and judiciary. The Allahabad University Union — not Allahabad University Students’ Union — has produced political leaders like N D Tiwari, V P Singh, and Madan Lal Khurana. Legends of science including physicists Meghnad Saha and Daulat Singh Kothari, and chemist Neel Ratan Dhar were associated with Allahabad University. Famous students include former President Shankar Dayal Sharma, former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, former HRD Minister Arjun Singh, and Bharat Ratna Purushottam Das Tandon. Literary giants such as Firaq Gorakhpuri, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Mahadevi Verma, Suryakant Tripathi Nirala, Dharmveer Bharti, Dr Raghuvansh, and Ram Swarup Chaturvedi lived and wrote in Allahabad. Sitting at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna (and the mythical Saraswati), Allahabad may well be seen as the birthplace of North India’s celebrated Ganga-Jamuni sanskriti, the symbolic reference to the coexistence of many cultures in a harmonious blend, much like the two mighty rivers that meet here.
Allahabad High Court, established in 1866, was the fourth High Court established by the British after Madras, Bombay and Calcutta. With a sanctioned strength of 160 judges, over 90 courtrooms including those in its Lucknow Bench, and 22,000 practising advocates in Allahabad alone, Allahabad High Court is currently the country’s largest High Court. Many of its landmark verdicts have changed the course of politics in India — the most famous being the one delivered by Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha in June 1975, striking down India Gandhi’s Rae Bareli election, which precipitated the Emergency.
A history of glory, and blood
Prayag’s connect to India’s Buddhist past is well established historically. The Ashokan pillar of the 3rd century BC, said to have been built around the city, stands at the entrance of the Allahabad Fort that the Mughals erected. The Emperor Akbar built the fort in 1583, and Allahabad remained the provincial capital of the Mughal empire for several years around the turn of the sixteenth century. Outside the Fort is the tomb of Prince Khusru, Emperor Jahangir’s rebellious son. The fort is today under the control of the Indian Army, and out of bounds for ordinary visitors.
Under the British, Allahabad was the capital of the United Provinces from 1904 to 1949. In the previous century, it was witness to one of the worst massacres of Indians during the rebellion of sepoys in 1857. Historian Rudrangshu Mukherjee cites Colonel James Neill, one of the commanding officers of the troops that moved up the Gangetic plain to quell the uprising, giving the orders to “settle” the town and the country around Allahabad: “All the men inhabiting them (certain named villages) were to be slaughtered.” He also quotes J W Kaye, who wrote a detailed history of the period, as saying, “Over the whole of the Sepoy War there is no darker cloud than that which gathered over Allahabad in this terrible summer… It is on the records of our British Parliament, in papers sent home by the Governor-General of India in Council, that the ‘aged, women and children are sacrificed as well as those guilty of rebellion’. They were not deliberately hanged, but burnt to death in their villages…”
The present and future
Besides renaming the city, Chief Minister Adityanath’s government has planned a series of events for ‘Prayagraj’ around the time of the Ardh Kumbh next year. Following the celebration of the Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas in Varanasi during January 21-23, the state plans to bring all delegates to the Ardh Kumbh area on January 24-25. Thereafter, they will be taken to New Delhi to witness the Republic Day parade. Before that will come the celebration of a Matri Shakti Kumbh on December 9 and a Paryavaran Kumbh on December 23 in Varanasi, and a Kumbh of the Youth in Lucknow, also on December 23. Finally, there will be Sarva Samaveshi Sanskriti Kumbh in Allahabad on January 30. The Ardh Kumbh will begin from January 14, and continue until March 4.
Despite a shining past, Allahabad’s political glory has waned in recent decades. The last UP Chief Minister who had been a student of Allahabad University was N D Tiwari, who lost his post in 1989. No Indian Prime Minister after Chandra Shekhar has lived or studied in Allahabad. The last prominent Ministers in the Union government from the city were Murli Manohar Joshi (who shifted to the Varanasi seat in the 2004 elections) and Arjun Singh.
The focus of UP’s politics has shifted westward with Chief Ministers Kalyan Singh, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, and Akhilesh Yadav. The current Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, however, is from Allahabad district, and represented Phulpur in Lok Sabha.