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Nehru at Kumbh, 1954: When Congress govt burnt bodies, lied about casualties and called a journalist collecting evidence ‘ba***rd’

PM Modi in his Ayodhya election rally said that in 1954, the media did not have the courage to talk about this loss of lives in the Kumbh stampede

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at Ayodhya today spoke about the ghastly stampede of 1954 where a 1000 devotees lost their lives. Speaking at the election rally, PM Modi said that when Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister and he had visited Kumbh, because of bad arrangements and security measures, a stampede had taken place where several people lost their lives.

PM Modi also said that at that time, the media did not have the courage to talk about this loss of lives. In fact, the people who lost their loved ones did not get anything from the government all. PM Modi also said that such things don’t happen anymore because of the better arrangements in Kumbh.

But was PM Modi right when he said that the Congress government back then tried to suppress the media and ensure that the evidence of the stampede is not shown?

The incident PM Modi invoked was that of 1954 where a massive stampede at Kumbh led to the loss of 1000 lives and the then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister had ended up calling a journalist, ‘ha******da’.

The lone photographer who survived the stampede published his eye witness account in a Hindi magazine. In his memoir published by ‘Chayakriti’ in 1989, NN Mukherjee described the stampede, the horrors he witnessed, Nehru’s presence at Kumbh on that day, and what made Govind Ballabh Pant call him a ‘h******a’ (b*****d).

In 1954, the Uttar Pradesh Congress government was led by Govind Ballabh Pant and he was the first Chief Minister of the most populous state of India, Uttar Pradesh.

The 1954 Kumbh was the first Kumbh mela of Independent India and the photographer recalls the bodies of 1000 people strewn about in the ghats and of 2000 others who were injured. He says that two days before Mauni Amawasya dip at Kumbh, the cholera vaccination had been stopped. As a result, a large number of people started entering the Sangam area from the morning on that day.

The then Prime Minister (Jawaharlal Nehru) and President Rajendra Prasad were supposed to visit Kumbh to take the holy dip and hence, all the administrative staff was busy making arrangements for the visit.

The translation of the work published the statesmen says:

“I stood on a tower near a barrier at the Sangam Chowki. At around 10.20 am, Nehru-ji and Rajendra Babu’s car came in from the Triveni Road, went past the barrier and headed for the Kila Ghat. A large number of onlookers, who had been stopped on both sides of the barrier, began breaking past the barriers down towards the ghat. A procession of sadhus was moving on the other side of the barrier. The procession went awry due to the influx of the mammoth crowd. When the mob came crashing at the slope of the barricade, it appeared like waves made by standing crops when a storm strikes just before they tumble. Those who fell could not rise again. The cries of “save me, save me” rented the air in all directions as people ran helter-skelter trampling others under their feet.

Many fell in a huge well nearby, and no one could come out. I saw with my own two eyes, someone crushing a three- or four-year-old child. There was someone trying to escape by swinging on the wires of an electricity pole. In a bid to take his photograph, I had to go over fallen people.

It is also surprising that even though more than a thousand people trampled to death, the administrative officials were ignorant of it because till these officials were enjoying tea and snacks at the Government House (today’s Medical College) till four o’clock”.

He wrote that the government officials had denied that 1000 people had died in the stampede and issued a notification claiming that only some beggars had died. NN Mukherjee in his memoir says that they presented photographs as evidence to show women with expensive ornaments lying dead at the ghats to the administration.

The ghastly account as presented by Mukherjee doesn’t stop there. He writes that on the second day of the stampede, the officials simply piled up all the mortal remains of the victims and set them on fire. Mukherjee pretended to be a poor person wanting to see his dead grandmother one last time in order to take some photographs as evidence.

The photojournalist said, “I ran towards the bodies and fell on the body of an old woman crying. Then I quickly took a photo of the burning pile of bodies. When the picture was published the next day, then Chief Minister Govind Ballabh Pant let out a curse, ‘Where is the H******a photographer?’ It was a big compliment for me”. 

By the memoir of NN Mukherjee, is it evident that the Congress government back then whether the Jawaharlal Nehru government at the centre or the Pant led state government in Uttar Pradesh did everything in their power to suppress evidence of the stampede by burning the mortal remains of the victims. In fact, even a journalist had to pose as a family member to gather evidence of the body burning by the Congress government. In his memoir, Mukherjee also says that he had to beg the official to let him in and ‘see his grandmother’ and he was allowed in only on the condition that he would leave quickly.

We found one tiny mention by The Hindu of the incident from their archives. This column dated February 4th 1954 could not have been more than a small column of 6-7 lines in one corner.

The Hindu column about the stampede

In 2013 under the Akhilesh Yadav led SP government too, over 30 people died in Kumbh. History bears witness to the fact that the Yogi government in UP and the Modi government at the centre has ensured better arrangements at Kumbh and made the religious festival a far safer even as millions attend the mela.

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