Will Prayagraj opt for greater confluence in the UP elections? | Latest India News


Allahabad is now Prayagraj. But Prayagraj is not the Allahabad that had its own political bluster; his approach a gift of history clothed in a brilliant intellectual tradition. The history of the city was both the story of leaders known for their national clout, not to mention the award-winning writer-poets who influenced generations before and after India broke free from British rule.

The city is not only famous for the confluence of three sacred rivers called the Sangam, the Kumbh or the Anand Bhawan, the ancestral home of the Nehrus which is now a museum. For countless others, it was a quintessential center of education, the beacon of which was Allahabad University (AU).

Those who passed through the gates of the university or made the city their home were the crème de la crème of scholarship and stewardship. Known for their seminal work in Urdu and Hindi, Firaq Gorakhpuri and Harivansh Rai Bachchan taught English at AU. Amitabh Bachchan, the latter matinee idol son, was a Congressman from Allahabad, which was also home to legendary literati such as Mahavedi Verma, Suryakant Tripathi Nirala and Dhramvir Bharti. Munshi Prem Chand was from Benares but was an AU student.

A banner outside a bungalow in the town of Tagore proclaims his ancestry in Nirala. Among the poet’s famous verses are those he wrote about the struggles of a woman breaking stones: “wah todti patthar, dekha maine usey Ilahabad ke path par…”

The vagaries of time have blurred, not erased, the city’s past. Inside the entrance to AU’s main campus is a marble bust in the foreground of the Allahabad University Students’ Union (AUSU) office. It is a memorial to Lal Padmdhar Singh, who was shot by British police while leading a student march during the 1942 Quit India movement.

His martyrdom motivated generations down the line, recalls Abhay Awasthi, a former AUSU board member. For decades, union aspirants and elected union members would pledge on Padmdhar’s behalf to defend the university’s “glorious” traditions. Among them is an impressive assembly of leaders: VP Singh, Chadrashekhar, ND Tiwari, HN Bahuguna, Arjun Singh, Madan Lal Khurana, Janeshwar Mishra and Mohan Singh. BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi was a student and teacher at the AU in addition to being a three-time MP for Allahabad.

At that time, the AU was a melting pot of ideas with space for different ideologies: the centrist Congress, the socialists, the centre-right, the left and the extreme left. Banaras Hindu University founder Madan Mohan Malviya was a student, as were former president Shankar Dayal Sharma, Nepalese BP Koirala and educator Nurul Hasan. They did not study at Allahabad University, but Pandit Nehru and Netaji Subhash Bose were honorary members of its student union.

This eclectic political breadth has since shrunk, with the Mandal-Mandir confrontation of the late 1980s and early 1990s turning politics into a reductive tussle between castes and sectarian identities. AUSU fell victim to this, said KK Roy, the union’s former president then representing a far-left student organization.

From being the cerebral center of educated and argumentative learners, AUSU politics has become fiercely combative in the changed political milieu. The retrograde turn has marginalized established centrist and centre-left ideologies. One of the reasons the far right gained ascendancy was the inability of progressive forces to adapt to tectonic sociopolitical change.

As a result of these churns and challenges, AUSU lost its trademark luster. Its only living avatar in the current polls is one of its former presidents, Anugrah Narain Singh.

Having led the Union in the post-emergency phase of 1979, the four-time MP contesting his tenth assembly election may be Congress’s only hope in Prayagraj sending 12 lawmakers to the state assembly. If he wins, as he has done in the past, he would represent the city of Allahabad (North) encompassing the university campus in addition to Anand Bhawan.

At 71, the lightly built leader popularly known as Anugrah bhaiya wears his years lightly. Without a police gunner or other trappings of power, he campaigns in a padded jacket and a golf cap, telling people that the impending polls are his swan song.

This has generated a kind of sympathy for the easily accessible congressman whose main rival is incumbent BJP lawmaker Harshvardhan Bajpai. The latter is the son of Ashok Bajpai, a contemporary of Singh who is the son of former central minister Rajendari Kumari Bajpai.

The incumbent MP has the advantage of the organizational muscle of the BJP but faces strong anti-incumbency. With Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in the fray, Singh’s confidence in his past work and personal appeal is hard to miss. “I have always been an opposition MP,” he laughs during his public meetings. “If I am elected, I will not sell your mandate for bags of money…”

Neelam Kant, who was a student at AU when Singh was elected president, is an indication of his connection to the educated middle classes. “His mashaal (torch) procession was the largest and most disciplined, with marchers respectfully giving way to female students on campus…I would vote for him to relive the university’s past glory.”

In the other two city seats, the AU motto — as many branches, as many trees — is not much discussed. And this despite the fact that in Allahabad (west) a good fight is taking place between Minister of State Siddharth Nath Singh and another former student leader, Richa Singh of the SP. She was elected the second female president in AUSU’s 99-year history in 2015.

From a free-wheeling conversation in a tea shop in a busy city square, it was clear that job shortages, falling incomes and inflation could break the backward caste pact on which the BJP is. ascended to power in 2017. A telltale- The one-liner on the ruling party’s reward came from one of its own: mehngai aur berozgari ka matlab kodh me khaaj (Inflation and unemployment are like a leper’s scabies ).

Unsurprisingly, the familiarly expressed angst resonates throughout the district, where the BJP-led alliance won nine of 12 seats in the previous ballot. Repeating the record could be a tough climb. Prayagraj goes to the polls on February 27.

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