In an advanced stage of decay

This once glorious capital of the Vijayanagar Empire has been under assault for decades and no one wants to take up the onerous task of its resurrection

In an advanced stage of decay

An unexpected, but incontrovertibly important news item in The Times of India (January 12) has moved me to do a bit of reminiscing, which, I hope, readers will appreciate and even sanctify! It concerns Hampi, the capital of the Vijayanagar Empire, which grew to great heights during the reign of Krishnadevaraya. A world heritage site, it is under assault by ruthless elements, with no one venturing to interfere.
As the news item stated, “A capital steeped in political and cultural wealth through its monuments is sadly being eaten away by encroachers.” According to the reports, some part of a fort wall of the Vijayanagar capital, built in 1422 AD, have been demolished and levelled and “unauthorised persons have virtually taken over several streets in the 500-year ruins, to sell their wares, even as the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the State Tourism Department have been watching helplessly.”
Plainly, this is unacceptable. And to think that Veerappa Moily, presently a power in the UPA Government, is around with the additional responsibility of handling the ministry of environment and forestry. According to The Economic Times (January 12), in less than one month, Moily has cleared more than 280 projects pending environmental clearance. Why can’t he intervene in Karnataka, presently under a Congress government and see that justice is done? Why, it may be asked, should it be Moily’s business to interfere in Hampi?
Let me go back to 1981, when Moily was minister of finance and tourism in the Karnataka Govenrment. I was then editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India. As editor, I was bringing out every four weeks a special edition of the weekly, dealing with one or the other of India’s twenty odd states. In March-April 1981, it was the turn of Karnataka. I travelled extensively in Karnataka to do my cover story and especially spent a lot of time in heritage places, which included Hampi. Hampi was at that time practically in ruins. In addition to my writing the cover story, I even drew up a plan for Hampi’s reconstruction and wrote to four persons, I thought, would be interested.
They included first, Veerappa Moily himself, who was both minister of finance and tourism. I wrote a similar letter to the Director of Archaeological Survey, Nagaraj Rao, explaining what I had in mind. A third letter was written to my old friend H Y Sharada Prasad, a true blue Kannadiga and Press Adviser to Indira Gandhi. And the last letter I wrote to none less than P N Haksar, who was Indira Gandhi’s closest political adviser and a power by himself. I thought all four should know what needed to be done in Hampi almost immediately.
In his reply to me, dated March 31, 1981, Moily acknowledged that he had received my letter dated March 17, 1981, regarding the proposal for reconstruction of Hampi. He wrote: “I have gone through it and noted the contents therein. I sincerely compliment you for the efforts you are putting forth in the matter. You may rest assured of my cooperation and assistance at appropriate time.” He gave me a further promise when he came to Mumbai to address a meeting, over which I was to preside.
Nagaraj Rao, in his reply, also dated March 31, reminded me of Moily’s letter; pointing out that the finance and tourism minister had already called for a staff meeting to arrange for providing finances for the “resurrection of Hampi” and that he himself was looking forward to seeing “the budget documents.” He added, “I look forward to your continued encouragement in our project.” Suddenly it occurred to me the project was getting bureaucratic attention, though Sharada Prasad felt that even if the Hampi idea I had worked on was “exciting,” I should know I would be working with bureaucrats. “But miracles do happen,” he added.
Haksar, another dear friend, in his reply dated April 20 – he had been out of town and could not get in touch with me earlier – wrote to me with even more enthusiasm. After explaining why he couldn’t get in touch with me earlier, he wrote: Dear Madhav, I am quite excited about your Hampi project. I should like to know in what precise manner you propose resurrecting that great city.” He was full of support. I sent him my assessment of the situation and my plans for resurrection, which included the setting up of a Hampi University open to foreigners as well.
Moily, it is only fair to say, did call a meeting which was practically captured by the local MP, the local MLAs, the local petty politicians; the district officials, including the district collector and the district superintendent of police. I was invited to the meeting but nobody took notice of me, as if I was an outsider. For them, the Hampi Project which was my idea, was manna from heaven and who was a mere editor of a weekly to tell them what should be done? I was no “outsider, being a full fledged Kannadiga in my own right; but even if I was one, at least the audience should have listened to me for ideas. They didn’t.
A few years later, when I paid a visit to Hampi, I was devastated. New buildings had come up on the main streets, destroying the uniqueness of the place and nobody seemed to care. And the same thing has obviously been going on since then. According to The Times’ report in July 2011, the government began removing encroachments at the Virupaksha Temple complex being used by pretty traders. Shops were razed to the grounds, with the traders taking their case to the high court.
What is obviously needed is strong action by a government which is not afraid of public and traders’ outcry. The setting up of a university must be given full consideration, but primarily, the nexus between traders and petty bureaucrats has to be broken. According to the report, “even after the Karnataka Government was pulled up by the High Court, the former has done little to protect the glorious history” of Hampi. There has to be a public outcry. This article is intended to show the Karnataka Government-and Veerappa Moily – that they are being watched.

M. V. Kamath

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