Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has now come up with the idea of renaming the cities of Hyderabad and Karimnagar as Bhagyanagar and Karipuram respectively if BJP were to be voted to power. The election rallies were held as part of the election campaign for Bharatiya Janata Party before the Telangana Legislative elections. However, now that BJP has lost the elections and Hyderabadi biriyani would remain Hyderabadi, it is important to revisit the politics of naming.
Renaming cities is not a new phenomenon to either the Bharatiya Janata Party or Yogi Adityanath. In 2015, Delhi’s Aurangzeb road was renamed as APJ Abdul Kalam Road while in 2016, the ruling BJP government of the state of Haryana renamed Gurgaon as Gurugram after the Mahabharatha character of Guru Dhronacharya. Yogi Adityanath on the other hand, started the renaming spree in the state of Uttar Pradesh by renaming the railway station Mughalsarai Junction after the RSS ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhyay. He subsequently renamed Allahabad to Prayagraj and Faizabad as Ayodhya. It is worth noticing that the renaming is specifically of places named by the Muslim rulers in the country.
Places and cities have been renamed across the globe post World War 1,2 and the subsequent decolonisation of the world. India too has renamed several places post partition to remove the traces of colonial rule be it Bangalore to Bengaluru, Mumbai to Bombay, Kolkata to Calcutta or Madras to Chennai. The motive was to erase repressive history from collective memory, reclaim pride and to erase linguistic remnants of the colonial era.
However, in the current renaming spree, the motive is the imposition of a majoritarian culture for political and electoral benefits. Given that renaming places is more than just changing the name of the plate, renaming of cities that are exclusively named by Muslim rulers seeks to imbibe an imagined sense of victimisation in the majority. In 2014 for instance, Narendra Modi talked about ‘1200 years of slave mentality’, clubbing 200 years of British rule with the medieval Muslim era that preceded it.
Reading the medieval Muslim era as an era of colonialism is wrong by the very definition of colonialism as the rulers of the era did not exploit the resources of India for the development of the place they came from. The renaming move thus tries to negate India’s Muslim history, its more recent history and revert back to the myths with its unending glory. It is also noteworthy that the newly conferred names like Gurugram not only marginalises religious minorities but also the Dalits. Guru Dronacharya, after whom the city of Gurgaon has been renamed, is a symbol of Brahmanical ‘upper caste’ oppression against the less-privileged caste of Dalits. The tale of Dronacharya who refused to teach Eklavya, an excellent archer of a less privileged caste, and requested his thumb as guru-dakshina cannot be forgotten.
As per media reports, the Union Home Ministry has given consent to the proposals of name change in 25 villages and towns across different parts of the country in a year. However, if one actually looks at the renamed city of Allahabad, it ranks low in the ease of living survey issued by the Urban affairs ministry. Additionally, no city from Yogi Adityanand’s Uttar Pradesh features in the top 30 of the list of 111 cities.
The renaming move of the BJP government must also be read in line with its other measures like the appointment of a 14-member committee of scholars for the purpose of rewriting India’s history as a country of and for Hindus. As per the report released by the Reuters, the aim of the committee is to use evidence such as archaeological finds and DNA to prove that today’s Hindus are directly descended from the land’s first inhabitants many thousands of years ago, and make the case that ancient Hindu scriptures are fact, not a myth. In 2017, the history department of Rajasthan University included a book in their syllabus which claimed that Maharana Pratap defeated emperor Akbar in the Battle of Haldighati and not the other way round. Following this, the Maharashtra education board reduced the Mughal emperor’s reign to just three lines in history books for class 7 and 9 and redesigned the cover to show saffron flags throughout the country. After erasing the monuments built by the Mughals and Razia Sultana, the first woman to rule Delhi, the textbook now focuses on the Maratha empire founded by Shivaji. Even the RSS spokesman Manmohan Vaidya told Reuters, that “the true colour of Indian history is saffron and to bring about cultural changes we have to rewrite history.”
These measures have erased minorities from Indian history and has conferred Hindus privileges of being the original descendants of the land. As Romila Thapar, one of the foremost historians in India, rightly pointed out, “in order to underline the greatness of the community that it is supporting, religious nationalism accuses the historian’s history of bias and invents its own.”