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Signboard of Hindutva: Why Gurgaon was renamed Gurugram

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay
Nilanjan MukhopadhyayApr 14, 2016 | 17:57

Signboard of Hindutva: Why Gurgaon was renamed Gurugram

It is common knowledge that the more the number of syllables in a word, the more difficultly it sits on the tongue. Take this test and decide which is easier for you to mouth: Gur-gaon, Gur-gram or Gu-ru-gram. Say it slowly and then swiftly as in the course of a normal conversation. Even amateur experts in phonetics would conclude that the first of these three names is easiest to pronounce.

Convenience, therefore, is not the reason for the sudden dramatic renaming of the Millenium City which was supposed to symbolise the IT-driven new urban India where lakhs of people either settled or travelled to make careers in BPOs and other technology-driven companies.

More than a quarter of a century when India was raging over the Ram Janambhoomi issue,  the government of the time asked warring groups to submit documents stating their case. Muslim groups demanded that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad prove historicity of the story of Lord Ram. Lal Krishna Advani stepped into the fray immediately and said it was not the task of Hindus to prove this because "Ram was a matter of faith."

A few years later, as I was proof reading my first book (The Demolition: India At The Crossroads), it turned out that for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the "Krishna" in Advani’s name too was a "matter of faith".

This was not his actual name (it was Kishinchand, his father’s name as middle names normally are in western India and he later legally altered the name). But when I asked party officials if they would stop using Krishna in press releases or while issuing his statements, they replied in the negative. They believed that he was Krishna, the charioteer for the party!

Mythology has been treated as history by votaries of Hindutva for decades. Among the first tasks that the BJP government in Haryana directed after being elected was in March 2015 when it began excavations to bring the myth of Saraswati River to life. The initiative of the state government added to years of research to uncover the palaeochannels of the extinct mythological river.

In March this year, Uma Bharati, Union water resources and river development minister declared that various researches and studies made it clear that "some palaeochannels do exist from Adi Badri (in Haryana) to Gujarat."

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Uma Bharati.

If only the same resources were spent on restoring living water channels, whether rivers or small dying and disappearing urban water streams (remember Chennai floods and its causes?). Water channels alter their course or dry up as civilisations shift and in time they get submerged. But none of this is always due to a historical conspiracy as is repeatedly made out to be.

Saraswati River is being "rediscovered" and Gurgaon has been renamed because of deliberate strategy to present mythology as history and incredulous tales as scientific evidence (recall Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s theories on cosmetic surgery and reproductive genetics being prevalent in ancient India). This is part of the ploy to establish that Bharatvarsh "had everything" and was the idyllic world, the sone ki chiriya till the evil men came 1,200 years ago and imposed bara sau saal ki gulami.

In this period of subjugation, India’s temples were destroyed, people were forcibly converted to other faiths, riches plundered, women raped, ancient cities renamed because they wanted to "destroy our culture" and so on.

Enter the "saviour" (read present regime) with a plethora of "missions" and "Mission Renaming" is one of them. Haven’t you heard that someone has a penchant for working in "mission mode"?

There is a certain design behind this. Aurangzeb Road in Delhi has been renamed APJ Abdul Kalam Road because of uni-dimensional interpretation of history which frames the Mughal king solely as a villain.

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Aurangzeb Road in Delhi has been renamed APJ Abdul Kalam Road.

Gurgaon has become Gurugram because the Mahabharata that is mythology - and not history - says that it was given as gurudakshina to Dronacharya. If this story of mythology about Dronacharya is to be mainstreamed, then will the BJP also do the same with another account – especially prevalent in areas inhabited by the Bhil tribals?

As per belief, Eklavvya, son of Vyatraj Hiranyadhanus – the king of outcasts - was a Bhil and student of Dronacharya. Because his prowess with the bow and arrow bettered Arjun, he was asked to offer his right thumb as Guru Dakshina, to ensure that the upper-caste emerged as best. Tradition has it that Bhils, even today when they string the bow and arrow are not to use their right thumb.

Mythology is a double-edged narrative and has takeaways for all. But for the moment, the inconvenient parts of mythology are being ignored or sidestepped.

The politics of renaming is not new and has been a feature in the post-colonial world as new nations, one after another, became independent after the end of the Second World War. In Africa, nations have even changed country names – Rhodesia has become Zimbabwe for instance.

Similarly, Francistown, the second largest city of Botswana faces a recurrent demand for renaming the city. While this is still being debated, the city’s streets and other public spaces have new names, all after local heroes.

India also underwent a fair amount of decolonisation and for kickstarting this process, the credit must go to government from the beginning. In the Indian capital, beyond the Coronation Park in north Delhi is largest open "graveyard" of statues of British noblemen and women. Cities, streets and colonies all over the country, except the ubiquitous Civil Lines, have been renamed after Indians freedom fighters and historical characters.

When it came to renaming colonies and streets, the choice of historical characters thus honoured reflected the politics of the ruling party. The BJP would be well within its rights to name streets after their icons – remember installation of VD Savarkar’s bust in Parliament was ordered by the Vajpayee government and Modi paid tributes to his memory immediately after becoming prime minister.

The problem, however, is that the BJP is attempting to wish away the medieval era from India’s heritage. In the Hindu sectarian view of history, Bharatvarsh evolved directly into India and the entire period when Hindustan was a preferred way of referring to the country, simply did not occur. Truth is however poles apart.

Gurugram after all, is part of the region called Mewat known for the Meos who till recently were noted for their dual religious identity. After the demolition of the Babri Masjid, a leading journalist and sympathiser of the Sangh Parivar wrote an article in the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser, arguing that India needed to be renamed because this was a "foreign word". He evaluated various alternatives. Hindustan was ruled out because there were too many "Stans" in the neighbourhood. Bharat too was rejected because the nationality would then be Bharatiya, "resembling a surname".

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Late VHP leader Ashok Singhal hoped Modi would restore Hindutva's lost rule.

The final suggestion was a gem. Let’s rename India as Hindu Desh. Two birds would be killed with one stone. The word India will be dumped into dustbins of history. Secondly, since every passport holder would be termed Hindu and even the neighbourhood Maulana, whenever he went for Haj, would have to go as a Hindu. People may follow any religion but they would still be Hindu because this would be their nationality!

Don’t think Gurugram is the last in this drive of Sanskritisation. Delhi has to be become Indraprastha. Similarly Ahmedabad will soon be renamed Karnavati, Allahabad must become Prayag because anything with the "bad" suffix is BAD. Bhopal too has a pending alternative name – Bhopjal and Jabalpur – Jabalipuram. Remember the forceful and arousing slogan from the Ayodhya movement? Yeh to bas jhanki hai, Mathura-Kashi baki hai.

A day before Modi took oath, the late iconic VHP leader, Ashok Singhal said that the BJP strongman was akin to Prithviraj Chauhan and hoped he would restore Hindutva's lost rule. "After Prithviraj (Chauhan), it is now that Hindutva has got the reins of Bharat," Singhal had said.

In the absence of other evidence, camp followers will cite renaming of cities as evidence that the tide is turning Hindutva’s way and Golden Ages are within the nation’s grasp.

Last updated: April 15, 2016 | 16:19
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