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Re-naming: make-believe game
By A.N. Shibli

After a successful attempt to distort history textbooks by filling them with wrong and dubious 'facts' and saffronizing educational institutions, the Bharatiya Janata Party Government in Uttar Pradesh has now decided to change the name of the historical city Allahabad to Tirth Raj Prayagraj. Historians have heavily criticized the U.P. government's decision to do so.

Criticizing the decision of UP chief minister, the general secretary of Loktantric Congress Party (LCP), Mr Seraj Mehdi said ‘the Chief Minister has taken this decision under the pressure of the RSS. He should have consulted other coalition partners by convening a meeting of the coordination committee before announcing his decision to change the name of Allahabad. Mehdi further said that such a decision should only be taken after evolving a consensus among the coalition partners. As Allahabad is a historical name, the chief minister should not raise any controversy by changing its name.’ This is not the first time when the BJP decided to change the name of historical places or cities. A similar, but unsuccessful, attempt was made in 1992 when the then Chief Minister Kalyan Singh decided to change the names of Faizabad to 'Saket,' Mughal Sarai to 'Deen Dayal Upadhaya Nagar,' Aligarh to 'Harigarh,' Lucknow to 'Lakshmanpuri,' Kanpur to 'Khankar Vidyarthi Nagar,' Allahabad to Teerthraj Prayag' and the famous Hazrat Mahal Park in Lucknow to 'Urmila Vatika.'

Although the move did not get the statutory permission of the central government, but this writer found many boards in Aligarh with 'Harigarh' written on them instead. Even a school in Aligarh district had Harigarh on its board.

In 1992 a strong attempt was made to re-name the historical city Lucknow as Lakshmanpuri. Then the mayor of the city strongly resisted the proposal of the state government saying that ‘Lucknow is the identification of the Indian culture and it will be protected. Nobody would be allowed to change or even to think of changing the name of Lucknow,’ he said. Lucknow is a city which has been mentioned in the writings of different noted writers of the world.

In 1995 the Bharatiya Janata Party Government in Gujarat decided to change the name of Ahmedabad to 'Karnawati.' Under the BJP leadership the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation sent a proposal to the state government to change the name of the historical city. But the state government refused it. After this refusal the BJP withdrew its support to the Government in the state. Shiv Sena mouthpiece Samna refers to Aurangabad as 'Sambhaji Nagar.' In 1995 when Shiv Sena’s Sunanda Kohle was elected as the city mayor some enthusiastic Shiv Sainiks blackened Aurangabad at the city bus-stand and disturbed peace in the city. Lok Sabha MP Mareshwar Save said at the time: ‘the city should be renamed after Sambhaji who did not convert to Islam even in the face of atrocities.’

In 1996 Shiv Sena members demanded to rename the 300-year-old Haji Malang Dargah in Mumbai. The Dargah is revered by all communities. Shiv Sainiks demanded that it should be named ‘Shree Malang’ instead of Haji Malang. Shiv Sainiks had put up boards of ‘Welcome to Shree Malang’ and had made the situation tense in the city.

It is not that names of places and cities have not been changed in India in the past. But the changes have been done to pronounce them easily. But the BJP government, which no doubt has an exclusivist-extremist agenda, is trying to change the names on the basis of caste and religion.

Faizabad was established during the 'Muslim' rule. Those who are trying to change it don’t ponder over the fact that no 'Muslim' ruler ever attempted to change the name of Ayodhya. But the bigots are trying to change the name of 'Faizabad,' a city which was founded by 'Muslims' and was the capital of Awadh till 1784 when the Nawwab moved to Lucknow.

In the national capital, Delhi, local politicians are trying to change the names of Muslim dominated areas with Hindu names. There is a plan to change the name of New Jafarabad as 'Sadanandpuri Extension' and Babarpur as 'New Mangarhi.' Against this attempt last year in August an NGO, Anjuman Millat-e-Islamia, moved a petition in the court.

A majority of historians think that it is politics more than history and culture which forces politicians to raise the issue of changing the names of historical places and cities. Every name of any city and place has an historical importance. Therefore there should be no attempt to change the name of any city or place. The centre should stop this type of unwarranted attempts to fragment India’s cultural heritage.

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