These days, name-changing has become the name of the game. After Allahabad and Faizabad , Ahmedabad and Aurangabad are on the chopping block. This exercise has two objectives. The first is the rewriting of history to eliminate those parts that run counter to the newly dominant historical narrative. The second is to cater to the biases of an important segment of the ruling party’s constituency to garner electoral support. The demand for the immediate erection of the Ram temple in Ayodhya regardless of the Supreme Court’s judgment is part of the same strategy. The second goal has become crucial as the time for the national election draws near, especially since the government has not much to show in terms of concrete achievements. Demonetisation appears to be a disaster and the imposition of the Goods and Services Tax seems to have had a negative impact on the financial capacity of a substantial number of people. Name changing has, therefore, become a convenient ploy to deflect people’s attention from the government’s economic incompetence. Byelections in State after State, most recently in Karnataka, have shown that the ruling party has lost the confidence of a substantial number of its erstwhile supporters.
The name changers stand in stark contrast to the game changers. The first generation of India’s leaders after independence exemplified the game changers. Building a modern, secular state in the aftermath of the bloody riots accompanying Partition was no mean feat. Writing a Constitution that considered the country’s linguistic and religious diversity as well as demands for social and economic justice was an equally great achievement. Setting the country on the road to industrialisation and laying the foundations on which it could build its technological capacity was a similarly impressive accomplishment.
All this was achieved in a span of about 15 years, during the Nehruvian era. It could be done because the people at the helm of affairs then had a forward-looking approach. They did not waste time brooding over real or imagined injustices of the past. This attitude was best summarised in Nehru’s oft-quoted term “temples of modern India”, coined by him to describe scientific research institutes, steel and power plants, and dams that were being launched to provide impetus to the country’s scientific and industrial progress. Despite all the mistakes made during the past 50 years, we are now reaping the fruits from the trees planted during that time.
In this sense, independent India’s early leaders were genuinely progressive because for them India’s golden age lay in the future, not in the past. In contrast, those who look to the past in search of a golden age symbolise the reactionary tendency, which, as the example of Pakistan illustrates clearly, can lead to disastrous consequences.
The writer is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University