On the Politics of the Name Changing Spree

On the Politics of the Name Changing Spree
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Suhail Ahmad Wani

Srinagar, is one of the several places, that has been called the “Venice of the East” or the “Kashmiri Venice”. The city has had a chequered history. The name of this city of great antiquity is found in Kalhana’s Rajtarangni. According to this author, ancient Kashmir has had a number of capitals. The most important of these ancient cities was “Srinagri” which was founded by Ashoka in 250 B.C.
Srinagar remained the capital of Kashmir till about the middle of sixth century A.D. Hien Tsang, the first Chinese traveler to visit Kashmir in 631A.D, mentions two capitals of Kashmir. During the Muslim rule (1320-1819) in Kashmir the ancient name of the capital fell into disuse. The city of Srinagar was termed “Kashmir”. Accordingly with the exception of Mirza Haider, Abul Fazal and Jahangir, almost all Mughal chronicles call it either Kashmir or Shahr-i-Kashmir. For several centuries Srinagar was thus known, until the advent of Sikhs in 1819, who restored the old name by which it is known now.
On 17th March 2014, former Chief Minister of J& K Omar Abdullah made it clear that there was no proposal to change the name of Shankaracharya Hill. Legally speaking: the question here arises is despite being Muslim dominated state, no Muslim ruler ever changed Srinagar City’s name. But some political parties are hysterical about renaming roads, places and schemes in cities of India?
India became independent on August 15, 1947, but the christening of the country was approved by its Constituent Assembly in the second half of 1949. There were plenty of names suggested and most common among these were Bharat, Hindustan, Hind, Bharatbhoomi, Bharatvarsh, Jamboo Dwipa and Aryavarta. Even after the members zeroed on Bharat, there was still more heated debate on how Article 1(1) of the constitution should be framed-whether “Bharat’’ should figure before or after India. The proposal to put Bharat before India was defeated by 51-38 votes and the members adopted ‘India’, that is ‘’Bharat, shall be union of states’’ as Article 1(1).
With attempts to change the names of iconic places in India increasing, right the elections, one tends to wonder if the country is seeing a quest to have an ideological dominance by the ruling party. While campaigning for elections, these acts could be used like trophies, BJP is likely to show its voters and reassure them that they stood by what they had promised.
However, the questions are: will Hinduism be benefited from these? Will Hinduism spread by such acts of symbolism? Moreover, the name of a place holds a cultural significance and merely changing the name will not change the essence of a place from its history. The previous government, in its desperate attempt to channelize Nehru-Gandhi contribution for the country, started naming every new project after them. It was seen as an attempt to leave an impact of the Nehru-Gandhi lineage in the collective consciousness.
Ever since it came to power in 2014, the BJP government has changed the names of prominent places or landmarks. The government re-named the most prominent Aurangzeb Road in the Lutyen’s city after the late President, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. The reason behind this move was that the party didn’t see it fit to ‘glorify’ a ruler that was seen as ‘anti-Hindu’ by the masses. To begin with, the Sangh had forward the plea to change the name of Allahabad to Prayag, Ahmedabad to Karnavati, Hyderabad to Bhagyanagar, Aurangabad to Sambhaji Nagar and recently Lucknow to Ayodhya. The Sangh’s message was very clear: the old names of cities should be used and not the names given by the “invaders.” However, it isn’t just the Mughals whose traces the government is trying to wipe from the map of India. Haryana government also re-named its corporate hub from Gurgaon to Gurugram. This political edit of history isn’t just done by the current government. While BJP has been highly criticized for attempting to re-write the legacy of Mughals, it started with Mayawati imposing Dalit iconography on the people of Uttar Pradesh. This spree isn’t just limited to changing the name of the place. It certainly could have another connotation.
One cannot deny the influence of Mughals had on the history of India; be it the cuisines, the architectural marvels and so on. The name of a place holds cultural significance and merely changing the name will not change the essence of a place from its history. The question here remains is the current government trying to change the course of history and trying to deny the people their past?

The author, a PhD search Scholar, at the niversity Of Indore can be reached at: wanisuhail51@gmail.com