Failed game-changers become name-changers

Last Updated : 13 November 2018, 18:06 IST

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Scaling up the campaign to change the names of cities that were named or renamed under Muslim rule during the Mughal period or earlier, the BJP is on a Hindu-ising spree, inviting a sharp reaction from the opposition that says the saffron party’s governments will do better to “focus on changing the plight of the nation”, instead.

Many of these name-change demands have come from or have the backing of the RSS. If they have their way, Gujarat capital Ahmedabad would become Karnawati, named after a Hindu king, Karan Dev; Telangana capital Hyderabad would become Bhagyanagar, named after a deity; and Aurangabad in Maharashtra could be known as Sambhajinagar, named after Maratha king Shivaji’s elder son, Shambhaji.

Raja Singh, a BJP legislator in Telangana, said on Thursday that if the BJP came to power in Telangana, Hyderabad would be renamed Bhagyanagar and other cities named after Mughals and Nizams — Secunderabad and Karimnagar — too would get new names.

This is clearly the southward journey of Hindi-belt Hindutva politics, which has gone into overdrive due to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. He began this round of name-changing by renaming Mughalsarai railway junction as Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya junction. He followed it up with changing Allahabad to Prayagraj and Faizabad to Ayodhya.

Even as Gorakhpur MP formerly, Adityanath had changed names of many streets, mostly of ones with Muslim names and had said he would not hesitate to rename Taj Mahal as Ram Mahal. The Hindu Yuva Vahini, the right-wing outfit he floated, had earlier demanded that Azamgarh in eastern Uttar Pradesh be renamed Aryamgarh.

As the BJP is keen to cash in on the image of the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced in August that he would rename Habibganj railway station after Vajpayee. Demands to rename Patna as Pataliputra are already in the air. The most recent demands are by BJP MP Jagan Prasad Garg to rename Agra as Agravan or Agrawal and party MLA Sangeet Som’s demand to rename UP’s Muzzafarnagar as Laxminagar.

Earlier, Aurangzeb Road in Delhi was renamed APJ Abdul Kalam Road while Race Course Road, where the prime minister’s residence is located, became Lok Kalyan Marg. Gurgaon was formally changed to Gurugram in BJP-ruled Haryana in September to pay homage to Guru Dronacharya of Mahabharata.

The name-changing fad, which got going almost as soon as Narendra Modi came to power, has gained new urgency ahead of assembly elections in five states this year and general elections just months away. The opposition is acerbic in its criticism. “Modiji came to power promising to be a game changer. But he has proved himself to be just a ‘name changer’. We have no problem with this. He can change even his own name but he should have focussed on changing the destiny of the nation,” one leader said.

The BJP has its standard arguments — by changing names, it is seeking to revive the forgotten cultural heritage of the nation and to highlight Indian culture and history which, it believes, has been distorted by Leftist historians.

Opposition leader Sharad Yadav, however, is unimpressed. “I strongly condemn the government’s quest to change the names of cities, streets and roads, etc., at the cost of taxpayers’ money, which is unjustified. It not only causes lot of expense, but also creates confusion in the minds of the people. There is history behind the name of every city, and to change that history is not the prerogative of one political party.” However, there seems to be no let-up in the name-changing spree. Now, there is even a demand to rename Goa as Govapuri, a demand originally raised by the Shiv Sena in 2001.

Past precedents

In the past, the name-changing bug has bitten other parties, too. In 2012, former UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav renamed eight districts in UP, which had got their names during the previous regime of Mayawati’s BSP. In 2014, the names of 12 cities in Karnataka were changed. The central clearance came when BJP was in power at the Centre and there was a Congress government in the state.

From Jat land Haryana to the country’s most literate state, Kerala, name-changing continues, albeit for different reasons. So, there have been demands to rename Kerala to Keralam, Nagaland as Naganchi. In 1996, when the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance ruled Maharashtra, Bombay became Mumbai.

In 2011, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government wrote to the Centre to rename Bhopal as Bhojpal in honour of a legendary Hindu king of that name. The Madhya Pradesh government said it was to mark 1,000 years of King Bhojpal’s coronation. The UPA government did not approve. After BJP came to power at the Centre in 2014, a fresh attempt to achieve this was made again in 2016, but Bhopal has survived so far.

When Chouhan also proposed to rename some other cities like Indore to Indur, Jabalpur to Jabalipuram and Ujjain to Ujjaini, several groups of people held protests in 2011 and ran Facebook campaigns like ‘Save Bhopal Initiative.’

There are other dynamics at play as well. Even as Gujarat’s Baroda was renamed Vadodara in 1974, Bank of Baroda did not change its name. Similarly, while Bombay became Mumbai and Bangalore Bengaluru, IIT Bombay and IIM Bangalore continue with their old name tags. So does Bombay Stock Exchange. Despite Calcutta becoming Kolkata, Calcutta Airport and Calcutta University remain as such.

Published 13 November 2018, 17:57 IST

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