Wrong to rename Aurangzeb Road

The names of cities, villages, places, roads and even road junctions are a part of history, and they should not be changed or blacked out by present and future dispensations at will. The decision of the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) to rename Aurangzeb Road in Lutyens’ Delhi as Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road is wrong and prompted by a communal view of the past. The New Delhi Municipal Corporation says the decision was taken on the basis of requests from some sections of the people, who included BJP corporators and leaders. The name of an important road in the national capital, which has been in existence for a long time, should not be changed is such a cavalier manner. It is doubtful whether the prescribed procedure for renaming a road was follow-ed. But more importantly, the Council’s decision reflected a majoritarian attitude, and a politically vitiated, selective and partisan view of history.

Aurangzeb was the last of the great Moghuls and ruled the empire for 49 years. It is almost half a century in the history of the empire and the country, and the person who represented it cannot be wiped out of historical memory. Aurangzeb was a controversial ruler, and historians have different and even contradictory views about him. He may have been conservative, even bigoted, and authoritarian or disagreeable in other ways. There are less uncharitable views too. In any case, he ruled an empire which was then among the world’s biggest and wealthiest. His place in history cannot be erased by removing his name from a road that carried it. The wrong is not undone by renaming it after APJ Abdul Kalam. If the former President had to be honoured with a road named after him, there may be roads that do not have a name or do not carry historical names, which could be considered for the purpose.

The decision to rename the road is in line with the BJP’s tendency to change, whitewash or black out history. It has not been comfortable with the Muslim, especially the Mughal, period in India’s history and has tried to view it as an aberration or an unacceptable part of the tradition. But hundreds of years of history cannot be wished away, and they are part of the syncretic tradition that has come down to the present and is alive today. The renaming and the rewriting of history are motivated exercises, and are unreal and delusionary. The present cannot change the past, just as APJ Abdul Kalam cannot be declared the sixth Mughal emperor. 

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