The Renaming Game

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The recent renaming of Allahabad to its original name Prayagraj has created some commotion. Some are propagating it as beginning of “Shuddhikaran” (read Purification) of Uttar Pradesh. A Congress MP has denounced the renaming, and has been trolled that plenty renaming of cities have been undertaken during Congress rule at the Centre. The social media has exploded in mirth – suggesting Smriti Irani be renamed Smriti Hindustani, Obama be renamed Sudama, so on and so forth. But the fact remains that this renaming game is not on account of a tablet of ‘mentos’ leading to sudden ‘Dimag Ki Batti Jala De’, but is thought of in advance but timed to draw maximum votes. In the case of renaming Allahabad to Prayagraj, obviously the change was planned well in advance and timed with upcoming elections. We may witness more of these as elections draw near in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere in the country.

Over the years, many Indian cities have been renamed, like Cawnpore to Kanpur, Indhur to Indore, Panjim to Panaji, Poona to Pune, Simla to Shimla, Trichinapoly to Tiruchirapalli, Benares to Varanasi, Waltair to Visakhapatnam, Tanjore to Thanjavur, Jubbulpore to Jabalpur, Ootacamund to Udhagamandalam, Calicut to Kozhikode, Cochin to Kochi, Trivandrum to Tirivanthapuram, Baroda to Vadodra, Bombay to Mumbai, Madras to Chennai, Calcutta to Kolkatta, Gauhati to Guwahati, Allepey to Alappuzha, Mysore to Mysuru, Mangalore to Mangaluru, Pondicherry to Puducherry, Vijapura to Bijapur, Belgaum to Belagavi, Kalaburagi to Gulbarga, Gurgaon to Gurugram, Allahabad to Prayagraj – all told 28. Unlike China renaming six places in Arunachal Pradesh to Wo’gyainling, Mila Ri, Qoidêngarbo Ri, Mainquka, Bümo La and Namkapub Ri to exert illegal authority, the renaming of Indian cities is more to do with reverting to historical roots, yet done piecemeal and timed with prevailing political environment.

Unfortunately in India, anything and everything is linked to elections and vote banks. BR Ambedkar is put on high pedestal for drafting the Constitution but his dictum that reservations don’t go beyond a decade is trashed. One has to be naïve to not examine why some of the judicial rulings are left vague or rather left to the government (like barring individuals with criminal records from contesting elections), government overruling judiciary in amending the SC/ST Act and SC leaving decision of ‘quota’ in promotions to the government. These are just few examples. Timings of events and judicial rulings are also similarly orchestrated, whether it is opening of the Haji Ali Dargah to women or the Sabrimala ruling, and expected ruling on ‘Ayodhya’ before general elections. In case of Sabrimala, the whole episode including the unrest and agitation appears politically motivated with eye on elections, with the Opposition swallowing the bait. But which way the vote-bank will eventually tilt, is what politicians of all hues are interested in.

India has been witnessing criminalization of politics, which includes the favourite sport of whipping up religious passions. One wonders why the SC can’t take suo-moto notice for the need to take holistic view of access to holy places in the country – same for the government? If there is furor over women entry into Sabrimala, there are many temples in India where men are not permitted, one example being the Attukal temple in Kerala. There are aberrations as well; like married men not permitted in Brahma Temple in Pushkar and in Kamakhya Temple, Guwahati, women in menstrual period are not permitted. Now there is clamour from a section of women to be permitted to mosques, especially with the Supreme Court ruling on September 27, 2018 reiterating its observation of 1994 that a mosque is not integral to Islam; implying mosques are for teaching, not praying – akin to schools? . As a nation, we need to take a decision once for all whether we want to enforce uniform entry in all our religious institutions irrespective of caste, creed and gender (like all Gurudwaras), and its consequences, or whether we want to respect and permit traditions of individual religions that don’t harm society and don’t trample on individual rights. We need to stop politicization of religion, which confirms periodically to the world we are a banana republic.

Similarly, why can’t the government take a holistic view of renaming cities and places as required by appointing a Committee, rather than periodic brainwaves based on political considerations? An ordinance could solve the problem once for all, no matter dissent by some. As it is, examination of the 28 cities renamed so far indicates that bulk is in South India. The task of such ‘Renaming Committee’ must include examining roads and monuments as well. Not that we can’t change names of what is glaringly warranted before a committee goes into the whole gamut. For example, the Krishna Menon Marg in the heart of the Capital, named after a defence minister who disgraced India in 1962 and set the stage for corruption in MoD by the ‘Jeep Scandal, should be a matter of shame to Indian Governments. The Congress naturally would not, Krishna Menon being Nehru’s blue-eyed, but what stopped other governments?

In 1972, Ceylon shed its British name and became Sri Lanka. Myanmar followed suit in 1989, changing from its British name of Burma to Myanmar. So when we are bandying about “Shuddhikaran” of Uttar Pradesh having been initiated by renaming Allahabad to Prayagraj, what about “Shuddhikaran” of India? The Vice President has gone on record to say that English language is a “disease”, whatever that means! But why do we want to stick to the country’s name given by the British? When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Iran in May 2016, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani referred to India as “Hindustan”. Going by the calculations of the electoral pundits of the government, “Hindustan” may not be found politically beneficial given that its first four letters may be anathema to some in the Opposition. When there are lack of guts, the favourite line is “What’s in a Name?”. But if that really is the fear, what about renaming India to ‘Bharat’ or ‘Bharatvarsh’? Any takers amongst the high and mighty?

Prakash Katoch is third generation army officer hailing from Himachal Pradesh. He is former Lieutenant General from Special Forces and post retirement has published over 1300 articles on international affairs, geopolitics, military, security, technical and topical issues besides authoring two books. He is active in seminars at both national and international levels.

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