LUCKNOW: “Shaheedon ki chitaaon par lagenge har baras mele. Watan pe mitne waalon ka yahi baaki nishaan hoga”. The poet’s ode to the martyrs has been reduced to a tragic comedy in UP.
On May 13, the Mayawati government celebrates the completion of one year in office. But while the state gears up for a round of pomp and pageantry to celebrate the achievement of the state’s first woman chief minister, Uttar Pradesh has forgotten another woman’s sacrifice.
For Mayawati and her supporters are too busy to remember Manikarnikka, also known as ‘Manu’, but better known to the world as Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi. Nor is it of any consequence to any one that May 10 happens to be the 150th anniversary of the 1857 uprising. The date has traditionally come to symbolise the beginning of the Indian freedom struggle.
“For UP’s bureaucrats, Mayawati seems to be a bigger icon than the Rani of Jhansi,” remarks a visibly upset Yogesh Praveen, renowned historian and author of several books on the history and culture of Lucknow. “UP’s contribution to the 1857 freedom struggle is unparalleled. It is a shame that the government has forgotten this,” he said.
The culture department seems to have suddenly woken up. “The Rashtriya Kathak Sansthan is sending out troupes to perform the dance drama Rani Jhansi Ki Amar Kahani throughout the state,” says culture minister Subhash Pande.
In the entire anniversary year, the state government organised only one rally in Lucknow in May 2007. People in cities like Meerut, Lucknow, Kanpur and Jhansi which were focal points of the revolt, would not even know about the anniversary or the significance of May 10.
Uday Khatri, son of freedom fighter Ram Krishna Khatri, who got 10 years in jail for the Kakori train dacoity of August 9, 1925, is crestfallen. “If it were not for some private organisations, no one would even remember the importance of May 10, 1857,” he says.
A senior culture department official told DNA that out of the Rs3 crore budgeted for the 1857 anniversary programmes in 2007-08, only Rs50 lakh had been utilised.
The Centre had promised a Rs6-crore grant to UP on a 50% sharing basis. Of this, Rs3 cr was to be used in fiscal 2007-08 and the rest was meant for the grand finale on May 10, 2008.
Efforts are now being made to save face and organise month-long events. Perhaps a classic case of too little, too late. Or of politicians taking priority over martyrs?