On Tuesday, the Uttar Pradesh cabinet rubber-stamped Yogi Adityanath’s renaming spree. Allahabad and Faizabad were renamed Prayagraj and Ayodhya respectively. Yogi's Gujarat counterpart too hitched onto the renaming bandwagon by declaring his intent to rename Ahmedabad as Karnavati.To be fair to both the Chief Ministers, this is not the first time that something like this has happened.
It’s all about Ayodhya now. (Photo: PTI/file)
Before Yogi and his ideological fellow travellers went on their rechristening drive, Benares had become Varanasi, Gurgaon had been renamed Gurugram, Bangalore’s name had been changed to Bengaluru, Bombay had become Mumbai, Madras had to give way to Chennai and good old Calcutta now went by the name of Kolkata — all told, about 20 cities were renamed.
The city formerly known as Calcutta, Kolkata found its name changed to a more rooted version. (Photo: PTI/file)
This time around, however, there is a clear ideological and political motive behind the renaming excercise.
Names like Mughalsarai, Faizabad and Allahabad have a clear Muslim link, and rechristening them to Deen Dayal Upadhya, Ayodhya and Prayag fits into the BJP’s agenda, feeding the 'otherness' narrative, in addition to keeping the communal pot boiling in the run-up to the all-important general elections next year. It's not without reason that in the Sangh Parivar’s reading of history, it is only the Mughals who are referred to as 'invaders' and the emphasis is on effacing the symbols associated with them.
To many, Akbar was ‘great’. To the Sangh, he makes them grate. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
There are those who fear that the rechristening excercise is unlikely to stop with just the cities and railway stations. An attempt has been made in the past to claim that the Taj Mahal was built on the ruins of a temple, hence the need to restore it to its original owners.
Though the claim was drowned out in the ridicule it attracted, it does suggest that even the Taj is considered an eyesore.
This is India’s pride. Will it see a change of name too? (Photo: AP/file)
The renaming spree would have been welcome if it had meant a huge upliftment for the cities and if it guaranteed a better life for its inhabitants. It would have meant a lot more to the people if the renaming was accompanied by greater access to quality health care, better schools, clean drinking water, uninterrupted power supply, a safe and secure environment for women and greater job opportunities for youth.
Instead, Varanasi continues to wallow in the same chaos, power outages and lack of infrastructure. The Ganges continues to remain as highly polluted as it was when the holy city went by the name of Varanasi. Allahabad, now Prayagraj, has lost its lustre and has clearly regressed from being the intellectual capital of the state to an over-crowded city whose infrastructure is stretched to breaking point. There has been no major effort to upgrade the infrastructure and attract industry to the city. It is now a city that lives on the nostalgia of its past.
Of course you can change a town’s name. But what about changing its reality? (Photo: Reuters)
On the contrary, the atttempt clearly is to further the Sangh Parivar's agenda of recapturing the 'golden past', which, according to them, was interrupted by Mughal rule, and to show the BJP as the party that is restoring the primacy and glory of the majority community.
The jury is still out on whether such endeavours will pay the kind of political dividends that the ruling dispensation is hoping for — there is, however, no mistaking the intent. Make no mistake, the renaming excercise has clearly been undertaken with the elections in mind.