Joining the chorus for preservation of the Patna Collectorate, London-based Gandhi Foundation has appealed to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to not dismantle the historic building but instead celebrate the structure’s iconic architecture.
In a letter to the Bihar Chief Minister, a copy of which has also been sent to the Chief Secretary, the Foundation has highlighted the architectural and cinematic legacy of the over 200-year-old building complex, where parts of the acclaimed film ‘Gandhi’ were shot over three decades ago.
“On behalf of the Gandhi Foundation, which exists to promote Mahatma Gandhi’s life and message in the UK, we are writing to appeal to you to save the 200-year-old Patna Collectorate, a vital part of your state’s architectural heritage, which is due to be demolished to make way for a high-rise development,” the letter says.
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The Ben Kingsley-starring biopic was shot partly at the Collectorate’s Dutch-era Record Room, which was dressed up as a Motihari Jail, while the British-period DM Office was used for depicting the famous Champaran court room scene, a moment in history that turned Gandhi into the Mahatma for people.
“Preserving the buildings would also preserve these great memories and lend a greater significance to Patna as the place where he first came to during his maiden Bihar visit.
“Razing it would mean squandering the great opportunity Patna has in repositioning itself on the world tourism map,” President, Gandhi Foundation, Lord Bhikhu Parekh, said in the letter.
Incidentally, the Bihar government has already initiated the Champaran Satyagraha centenary celebrations, and the UK-based foundation has suggested linking the heritage building with the Gandhi tourism circuit.
“Dismantling the building in the run-up to these centenary celebrations would therefore amount to erasing a piece of history, not just architecturally and culturally, but also the memories of Gandhi associated with the film and the hallowed presence of the building in history books, thanks to the filming at the location,” the letter says.
“The Collectorate needs to be preserved, for posterity, not just as a signpost of history, but also as an enduring legacy of the Mahatma, thanks to the biopic by Lord Richard Attenborough. And, that’s why we have appealed to the Bihar government,” Foundation’s Chair of Trustees, Mark Hoda, told PTI over phone from London.
Earlier this year, the Bihar government had proposed to dismantle the Collectorate to make way for a modern high-rise complex.
After a public outcry over the move and appeals sent to the Chief Minister from the Dutch Ambassador in India as well as heritage body INTACH, the state government had constituted an ad hoc committee to seek the opinions of archaeologists and experts before taking a final call.
The Patna Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Culture (INTACH) on April 6 had sent a strongly-worded petition to Kumar to immediately scrap the demolition plan, saying it would set a “very bad precedent and further jeopardise the fate of other heritage buildings in the city and eventually in the state”.
A civil-society led online campaign ‘Save Historic Patna Collectorate’, started on April 3, is also garnering public support to save the building from the wrecking ball.
Nearly 900 people and counting, from Patna, other cities, and several foreign countries have joined the preservation drive.
US-based professional Twisha Chandra, who hails from Patna, and is also a member of the Executive Committee of Gandhi Foundation, said the Collectorate was as much a part of Patna’s history and identity as the historic Golghar.
“One cannot even imagine it being gone. And, the Gandhi link to it due to the film’s shooting there makes it even more imperative to preserve it. The building should be listed under the state archaeology department, restored and given to people to celebrate its history and heritage.
“A memorial plaque outside the building could be put up as part of an overall plan to bring the landmark on the tourism map,” she said, adding, “I also wrote a personal plea to the Bihar chief minister and state Governor, appealing for its preservation.”
The letter noted that the landmark was situated next to the famous Gandhi Maidan and enjoyed proximity to the Gandhi Sanghralaya as well as the old house of Dr Syed Mehmood next to it, where Gandhi used to stay during his Patna visits.
“The Maidan also has the world’s largest statue of Gandhi. And, it is not very far from the Gandhi Setu. All these can be weaved into a chain and linked to the Gandhi tourism circuit from Patna to Champaran,” the letter says.
“The biopic on the Mahatma is still celebrated the world over, and in the UK and India especially. The Collectorate is thus part of the enduring memory of Mahatma Gandhi’s connection with Bihar and Attenborough film that has done so much to introduce his life and message to new generations,” it says.