Darbhanga (Bihar), Nov 4: 30-year-old Gopal Jha feels a sense of betrayal when he sees the once-regal palaces and forts in his hometown being reduced to mute backdrops for high-octave election campaigns in this historic city, once a thriving centre of Mithila heritage.
"Politicians come here every election, make loud speeches, attack their opponents and then go back, only to return in the next polls. But Darbhanga and its people remain there, in that same state of affairs, even worse after every poll," he says.
Dust and din of political campaigns have settled in the nine districts of Bihar, including Darbhanga, Madhubani, and Purnia, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi held massive rallies, ahead of the last phase of the high-stake Assembly polls due tomorrow.
Darbhangha town, falling in north Bihar's historic Tirhut region, was once the capital of the princely state of Raj Darbhanga, but government apathy and public indifference have led a heritage city to go to seed, allege its residents.
The region under the Raj, thrived for over four centuries, and saw its heydays till 1960s, when its royal palaces and gardens were celebrated with glowing words in London's prestigious magazines.
But soon, after the death of the last king Maharaja Kameshwar Singh in 1962, the legacy slipped into decay and the place, instead of becoming a tourist magnet, never could find a place on the tourist map.
Raj Maidan, where Modi addressed his rally on Monday, was once the manicured Polo Ground, and the premises of L N Mithila University, established in 1970s, was the imposing Raj's Secretariat while the Laxmi Vilas Palace or Anand Bagh Palace now houses Kameshawar Singh Darbhanga Sanskrit University (KSDSU), all in dire need of restoration.
Fate of Ram Bagh Fort, once hailed as India's other Red Fort, has been much worse, its boundary walls splattered with garish advertisements, the moats all dried up, and high-rises have come up inside its famed grounds, diminishing the grandeur that it once exhibited.
A section of city residents, blame the region's loss of glory to both the "neglect of Bihar by the Centre" and "lack of vision" on part of leaders from Bihar.
"After death of Rajendra Prasad (first President), Krishna Singh (first Chief minister of Bihar) and Maharaja Kameshwar Singh, in succession, Bihar never really saw a leader who had any vision for heritage preservation. And, contemporary leaders are even worse."
"One of the Chief ministers in 60s, was even against the idea of museumisation of buildings. And, these are some of the factors, why Bihar in general, and Darbhanga in particular have not been able to cash in on the heritage, the way Jaipur, Jodhpur and other cities in Rajasthan have done," alleges Ashish Jha, a journalist with a Hindi daily.
Ashish moved to Patna along with his wife, a few years ago, but says, "My heart and soul are still in Darbhanga and it pains me to see it decay so ingloriously."
"But, what is more painful is that now people of Darbhanga also do not care. Encroachment and vandalism and disregard for heritage have become very common. Instead of becoming a heritage city that would have brought unparalleled tourism, the city became orphaned," he rues.
"Darbhnaga was one of the first places in Bihar to have its own airport."
Ashish's wife Kumud Singh, a homemaker who edits an online Maithili portal that focuses a lot on Darbhanga and its history and heritage, says, it wasn't just grand palaces and mansions but Darbhanga also was known for its mills, factories and aviation facilities.
"Darbhnaga was one of the first places in Bihar to have its own airport, besides Purnia. And, Maharaja Kameshwar Singh's Darbhanga Aviations company brought Douglas aircraft to the region, which after the liquidation of the company post his death, were taken over by the India Air Force. With so much of heritage to see, if only a good airport had been made, it would have helped tourism in the region," she says.
Tejakar Jha, who has edited several books on Raj Darbhanga family and its heritage, says, while people are battling with many issues, many will still go and vote on caste lines.
"Heritage is not on anyone's agenda, no one cares for preservation, so voting will be on caste, civic issues like 'bijli-pani-sadak' - the pet theme of all politicians, across the board. The factories and mills, especially the famed sugar mills, which have been closed for several decades now, hitting the interest of farmers, forcing them to migrate," he says.
And, Tejakar says, it wasn't just education, hospitals and factories that Raj built but also published newspapers, starting with 'Mithila Mihir', a Maithili periodical from Darbhanga, followed by 'India Nation' (English) and 'Aryavarta' (English) from its palatial building in Patna. Besides, a monthly English magazine 'The Dove' was also published from its stable.
Ashish, who also holds 'Vibrant Darbhanga' event annually here to promote its heritage, cites the example of 'Nargaona Palace' to emphasise his point that Darbhanga was a 'smart city' even in British days.
"Nargaona, built after 1934 quake, was country's first earthquake-resistant building. It was centrally air- conditioned in 1930s. But, instead of being showcased by Bihar to the outside world, as a specimen of wonder, it has been converted into a department of a university, for which separate land had already been allocated. And, its heritage elements are being changed in the name of development," he adds.
"No matter which party wins the elections, Darbhanga and Bihar will lose," he rues.
Mumbai-based filmmaker Nitin Chandra, who recently shot a film in Madhubani's (earlier part of Darbhanga district) Rajnagar, amid the ruins of old palaces of Raj Darbhanga, says, "Bihar government should promote these heritage places like other states do. But instead, over the years, the grand palaces have only met with grand apathy."