In whose name?: on BJP's renaming spree

The BJP’s rechristening spree goes against India’s plural ethos

November 10, 2018 12:02 am | Updated 12:02 am IST

Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, promises to keep map-makers busy. He has not only picked up the pace in changing names of places in his State, but his colleagues in the BJP seem to be going through the atlas to identify cities elsewhere that could be re-designated in a competitive spiral of Hindutva rigour. This summer, U.P.’s Mughalsarai Junction, among India’s busiest railway junctions, was renamed to honour Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, a leading ideologue of the Jan Sangh, the BJP’s predecessor party. Last month, the U.P. Cabinet approved the rechristening of Allahabad as Prayagraj . And this week, in the midst of commanding Deepavali bustle in Ayodhya, Mr. Adityanath determined that Faizabad district, in which Ayodhya town is located, would henceforth be called Ayodhya district . Presumably reluctant to be left out of this mission to strip historical centres of association with Muslim rulers, Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel said the State government was willing to rename Ahmedabad as Karnavati. Such moves reflect a jaundiced view of history and the Sangh Parivar’s disregard for India’s plural identity. Stripping places of names that evoke a mixed cultural heritage and replacing them with names to project a Sangh iconography or Hindu revivalism sends out a deeply prejudiced message — that one community has a greater place in society.

Changing names of cities and roads has been an ongoing process in independent India. There were, in this, anti-colonial and grassroots considerations. Place names that asserted British imperial power were replaced with names and symbols that attest to the subcontinent’s composite identity and history through the ages. British inflexions were removed — so, Cawnpore became Kanpur. In an ongoing and sometimes disputed process, names of cities have been reworked to reflect their organic origins — Madras to Chennai, Bombay to Mumbai. What the BJP government in U.P. is doing is qualitatively different. It has stepped out of the previous secular, anti-colonial, grassroots-resonant frame and is unabashedly picking names with a Muslim connection and changing them in an ‘us versus them’ messaging. The State government has not paused to consider whether Allahabad draws its name from Ilahabas, as some contend, or whether the town was founded at a remove from the Prayag confluence. That Allahabad reflects India’s heritage since Mughal emperor Akbar’s time is deemed to make it target enough. The renaming of Faizabad, in turn, comes at a time when a section of the ruling dispensation is defiantly upping the ante on seeking a Ram temple at the Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya even as the issue is before the Supreme Court. It reinforces the signs that the BJP is ploughing a very polarised terrain ahead of general elections. And in the larger culture war, this renaming frenzy leaves no doubt that India’s rich legacy of assimilation and its constitutional ethos are under assault.


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