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Memorial to India's first president in ruins

He was India's first president and held that position for 12 years, but today the memorial to Rajendra Prasad in the heart of the Bihar capital lies in shambles.

india Updated: Dec 02, 2007 12:50 IST
Imran Khan

He was India's first president and held that position for 12 years, but today the memorial to Rajendra Prasad in the heart of the Bihar capital lies in shambles. Its entrance gates have been encroached upon and it serves as a den of criminals and drug addicts.

The scene at Rajendra Udyan at Bansh Ghat next to the Ganga river is in sharp contrast to Shantivan, the lush green, well-maintained memorial to the country's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in Delhi.

The once colourful garden and green lawns at Rajendra Udyan have become a thing of the past. There are only two or three old trees - no attempt has been made to plant new saplings in the last decade or more.

"There used to be a beautiful garden till the 1990s but it was lost because water became unavailable as a water pipe was disconnected," said Maheshwar Singh, a shopkeeper near the samadhi, as the memorial is called.

Rajendra Prasad was born Dec 3, 1884, at Zeradei in Bihar's Siwan district and died Feb 28, 1963, in Patna.

His memorial was built in 1985 thanks to the personal interest taken by then chief minister Bindeshwari Dubey. It is situated on the banks of the river Ganges, which too has shifted course and is now located over one kilometre away.

Barring two days a year - Rajendra Prasad's birth anniversary, which falls on Monday this year, and his death anniversary Feb 28 - when the governor, chief minister and top officials come calling, its pathetic condition hardly seems to bother anyone.

"This samadhi of the 'desh-ratn', as Rajendra Prasad is locally known, is forgotten except for the annual ritualistic respect," said Bhanu Prasad Sinha, an elderly man who lives in Buddha Colony not far from the samadhi.

"Now anti-social elements openly smoke ganja (marijuana), drink and gamble there, as there is no one to stop them throughout the year except on those two days," Sinha said.

Most of the time, there is no trace of a gardener, security guard or caretaker in the premises.

"There is a gardener but he hardly visits because there is no garden. Similarly the security guard or caretaker is never found on duty," Arjun Kumar, a government official deputed to supervise the facelift of Rajendra Udyan before the birth anniversary Monday, told IANS.

"There is a proposal to make arrangements for a security guard or caretaker to stay at Rajendra Udyan itself for round the clock maintenance," he said.

At present, the cracked boundary wall's iron windows are missing in several places, making for easy entry points for men and animals alike.

A visitor is welcomed by stink and garbage all around the memorial.

"When I visited the samadhi for the first time last month, I was shocked to find at least two or three group of ganja smokers and stray dogs," said Shantanu Ghosh, an executive at a private firm who has been posted here for two years.

Ghosh said it was difficult to believe that this was the samadhi of India's first president.

In the past, letters have been written to the prime minister and president, suggesting that the centre should take over the maintenance of the samadhi but nothing has happened till date, he rued.

In fact, the two entrance gates at the memorial have also been encroached upon. A man runs his roadside shop of chips, bricks and sand from one of entrance gates and at the other, another shop has been opened selling material required in funerals.

After 12 years as president - from 1950 to 1962, Rajendra Prasad retired and was subsequently awarded the Bharat Ratna, the nation's highest civilian honour. He spent the last months of his life at the Sadaqat Ashram in Patna.

(Imran Khan can be contacted at imran312000@rediffmail.com)