Re-naming should be motivated by history, not chauvinism

New Delhi Municipal Corporation has changed the the name of a prominent thoroughfare in the city from “Aurangzeb Road” to “APJ Abdul Kalam Road”. The road was named decades ago after the Mughal emperor who united India and ruled for over half a century. No doubt, our current  masters would like to correct history by renaming streets or roads. But with this unsolicitous rush, we have also added a degree of silliness to the process. The people who are euphoric with the replacement of the name have obviously missed the big point that New Delhi’s geography had been motivated by history and not by political beliefs or chauvinism.

Historians have pointed out that it is difficult to single out Aurangzeb as a particularly ferocious or brutal ruler, or even a rabidly anti-Hindu emperor. It is undeniable, he clamped down on certain Hindu religious practices, destroyed some temples (as well as mosques) and killed some people, but it was more to suppress political rivals which was in no way connected to his personal religious beliefs. He destroyed some temples either for hidden treasures or to discourage their use for planning rebellion. All above can be verified by the fact, he did not abandon the Mughal graciousness of Hindu mansabdars.

He helped build, renovate and patronised many Hindu temples like the Chitrakoot or Balaghat where the Emperor himself granted 300 bighas of land for the Mandir or Umananda, the oldest temple of Bhagwan Bhosle Shankar situated on the banks of river Brahmaputra in Guwahati or offered annual grants to Maa Kamakhya Mandir, another famous temple situated on the hills of Nilachaal near Guwahati. In the Hindu holy city of Ayodhya he donated 1000 bighas of land to a Hindu trust to build a grand temple and also to build resting places for Hindu pilgrims. Yugal Kishore Sharan Shastri, head of Sarayukunj Ramjanaki Mandir in Ayodhya, confirmed this in a social media post the other day.

It’s imperative to understand that Aurangzeb was not democratically elected or inherited the empire peacefully. He had to fight hard to attain what he achieved, sustained and later ruled. Therefore, it is understandable that the occurrences during such course were neither exclusive nor an exception or in anyway limited to Aurangzeb only, as it was the norm to ascend thrones during that period. It is impractical to jump to an opinion on Aurangzeb, as he was not a short-lived experience defined by a single event. He lived and shaped Indian history through nearly seven decades, first as Shah Jahan’s son, then as his viceroy down south, followed by as “Shahenshah-e Hind” or India’s emperor. Apart from it, if he had been so rabidly anti-Hindu, hostile towards a large section of his subjects, then it would have been impossible for him to continue on the Mughal throne for such a long period.

Coming back to the point, changing names of roads or towns is fine if it gives people the feeling of pride and self-respect. APJ Kalam was certainly a great scientists and a former President of the country; there is nothing wrong on naming a street, town or a city after him, but why was he chosen for this particular Delhi road? Delhi is one of the greatest cities in the world with a rich history of over a millennium. It would be unfortunate if residents fail to appreciate this fact and focus their energy on inconsequential things like naming of streets.

    Aziz A Mubaraki

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 September 2015 on page no. 1

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