Allahabad — saffron communal politics at work #2019

Politically speaking, it is fairly surprising that the game of changing names of places, including cities and towns, appears to bear great importance for some politicians. Yes, this refers to name Allahabad having been recently changed by UP government to Prayagraj. Of course, this move bears great importance for ardent fans of the party in power at the centre and in UP as well as of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. The impression has been created of a long overdue task having been finally accomplished. Now, the question that needs deliberation is as to what prevented them from changing the name till now?

The state government has most probably not indulged in this task without taking the key party leaders at the centre and its saffron brigade associates into confidence. Taking note of this point and also timing of this move, clearly this appears to be nothing else but an electoral move with eyes set on coming parliamentary elections. If they were not around the corner, Allahabad may have still retained this name. Change of name may be viewed as a part of BJP’s political campaign. With UP home to largest number of parliamentary seats, the party is apparently bent on trying its hand at each strategy which may help it retain its hold here.

Now, would it be fair to assume that changing Allahabad’s name to Prayagraj should be rated as an extremely wise political move of BJP? Well, this certainly cannot be rated as a billion dollar or even a crore-rupee question. If changing names could contribute to easing economic grievances of people, the situation would be different. If this move could help create employment opportunities, reduce inflation, increase educational opportunities for people, decrease communal tension, enhance peace and harmony, contribute to secular culture and so forth, it may have been worth the effort. Seriously speaking, if the state government had devoted itself to pursuing such goals, it may not have been probably politically desperate to consider other moves (including name-changing) to win people’s votes.

One has no problem with change of name of any place. After all, Allahabad is not first and/or only Indian city the name of which has been changed in recent past. Bombay is now called Mumbai, Calcutta-Kolkata and similarly quite a few other places have new names. However, the difference in these two moves is not too marked. For instance, Calcutta was always pronounced as Kolkata by Bengalis. Also, the change in name of both places is barely linked with identity of people of both places. For instance, people of Mumbai are commonly referred to as Marathis as they were earlier just as those of Kolkata are known as Bengalis. Besides, the change in name of both places is primarily linked with regional factors and not religious.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Allahabad’s name being changed to Prayagraj. In fact, several cities/towns of UP have their own distinct identity and so do people of those places. As for example, those of Lucknow are known as Lukhnawi, of Allahabad as Elahabadi. There is no popular term which is used for people of UP as a whole. This is interesting as people of Bihar are referred to as Biharis, Maharashtra as Marathis, Jammu & Kashmir as Kashmiris, Punjab as Punjabis and so forth. In this context, not all Elahabadis may welcome being addressed as Prayagrajis. For after all, for them being an Allahabadi has its own distinct identity.

Well, in coming years, the new generations may gradually get accustomed to being addressed as Prayarajis. However, communal motive behind Allahabad’s name having been changed cannot be sidelined. Yes, the impression has been created and propagated is that the name of this city has been changed as it is a “Muslim” name. Clearly, no importance has been given to verifying the historical credibility of this impression. Also, the fact that this name is spelt as Ilahabad (इलाहाबाद) and not Allahabad in Hindi has been totally ignored. Spelling of Allahabad in Hindi begins with the alphabet I/E and not A. In Hindi, spelling of Allah begins with Hindi alphabet A and not I/E. English spelling of Allahabad is its anglicised version and not what the Mughal Emperor Akbar decided.

The city was named as Ilahabad and not Allahabad by Akbar. Irrespective of which place’s name is changed to which one, the problem surfaces when this exercise is marked by a communal link. Yes, the name has been changed because a Muslim Emperor gave the city this name. This move is equivalent to adopting a discriminatory approach to whatever is linked with Muslims. Change of Allahabad’s name is expected to be followed by changing other names in UP. Interestingly, reports suggest that Urdu names of several places are likely to be changed to Hindi names. Again, little importance is being given to the fact that Urdu is an Indian language. Clearly, saffron brigade is banking on communal strategies in its campaign for parliamentary elections!