By Dr. Elsa Lycias Joel
Change is constant. Sorry for the cliche. But constant name changing to wage a war on Islamic names or to rob a place of it’s glorious history, culture and identity or for the sake of saffronisation of public spaces or to appease an ideological parent of the ruling government doesn’t go well with the citizens because naming or renaming is supposed to serve the best interests of the city/country and ensure an enduring legacy. All of us were wondering about the rationality of a 182-metre structure at an estimated cost of Rs. 2,989 crore until the government renamed the Sardar Patel stadium, the world’s largest cricket stadium with a seating capacity of 1,32,000 people. When critics argued that the construction cost of the statue could have been used to irrigate 40,192 hectares of land, cover repair, renovation & restoration of 162 minor irrigation schemes and the construction of 425 small check-dams, Modi Bhakts called it a ‘historical rehabilitation’ meant to enlighten people about the “Architect of Modern India” who single handedly played the pivotal role of integrating 562 princely states with the Union of India. If the government really believed that the statue of ‘Iron Man of India’ would inspire the minds of generations in a positive way to unite and prosper, how would renaming the stadium go well with the people? Patel’s legacy is richer and it’s high time Mr. Modi’s council of ministers tell him some home truths. Mayhap, the ongoing farmers’ protest reminded our PM of the Bardoli Farmer’s Movement and he is irked.
Geographical renaming has occurred and occurs all over the world for reasons such as change of borders or colonization or a split of a nation into two or a merge of a nation with territories and definitely not to a ruling government ‘s whims and fancies. We can only hope Mr. Modi doesn’t go on a spree renaming statues. A name embodifies history. Adopting less-Anglicized names such as Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai did not receive so much flak because people believed Indian government leaders were motivated by some nationalistic sentiment. Rejecting the European colonial past is one thing whereas the capability to understand that Mughals subsumed their identity with India is another. In Spite of Mughals leaving behind much of the art and architecture, culture and cuisine by which India is still renowned, their “Indianness” is subjected to shrill debate which is a stumbling block that prevents a society from moving towards integration of its manifold political regions, social systems and cultural inheritances. Who are we trying to punish by renaming and demolishing monuments?
Critics of the congress government were loud and clear a couple of months back about Modi’s intolerance towards the congress party sidelining leaders of tall stature which resulted in the world’s tallest statue. It wasn’t so long ago BJP gave a fitting tribute to Vinayak Damodar Savarkar who transformed into “the staunchest advocate of loyalty to the English government”, to use his own words and our PM went one step ahead and bowed before the portrait of the Hindutva icon in remembrance of “his indomitable spirit and invaluable contribution to India’s history”. Therefore, the nation need not be shocked another time Modi renames some premier institution or monument after Savarkar.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani who proudly flagged off the Ekta yatra should do well to remember the fate of Advani, the face of and the brain behind the rath yatra. Whatever be the purpose of it, yatras undertaken under the auspices of BJP are deemed to be doomed. This act of renaming the stadium could also be the consequence of our PM acquiring a wee bit of general knowledge on the Green Park Stadium, Kanpur. The pervasive patterns of grandiosity is understandable but unacceptable. Seeds of the current trend was sown in May 2015 by Shiv Sena Hindustan, a radical Hindu organisation endorsed by the BJP. Aurangazeb Road was renamed into the bargain. Whether it sought to empower a public consensus or overturn a past injustice was never the concern of right thinking individuals for they knew it was the beginning of conundrums. To sense a kind of national identity that doesn’t feel the need to make these aggressive gestures is possible for a government that’s secure about it’s political and economic position. Trumpeting Aurangazeb’s alleged cruel legacy will not conceal the virtues of this king. Never an anti-Hindu, Aurangazeb made generous donations to several temples, banned prostitution, gambling, drinking and narcotics, never spent royal money for frivolous expenditure except building the two outer defence walls of Red Fort in Delhi and the Bibi-ka-Maqbara in Aurangabad. Nobody can contend Aurangazeb or any other ruler had no faults. Repeatedly effacing his name from school text books is a blatant attempt to exclude and marginalize a few, divide many and establish religious or ethnic supremacy. Our PM hopefully accepts the reality, which is, over centuries a great diversity has collected on the Indian subcontinent and public places, facilities and monuments belong not to any one group, but to all groups in equal measure.
Naming a public facility is always based on it’s association with or located near events, people, and places of historic, cultural or social significance and named after such events, people, and places. So, the purpose behind the renaming of the stadium looks big. May be to tell our successors that anything is possible in India. The other largest democracy that not only looked down on an Indian Chief Minister as one who failed to handle a riot in his state and whose government promoted attitudes of racial supremacy, racial hatred and the legacy of Nazism by glorifying the same in school textbooks but also denied him a diplomatic VISA under the terms of a 1998 U.S. law which bars entry to foreigners who have committed “particularly severe violations of religious freedom” was forced to rethink because of the “strategic” nature of the U.S.-India relationship. Few years after the supreme judicial body of India ruled that, that Chief Minister had no case to answer, he rose to become the Prime Minister and to rename anything and everything possible. During the Godhra riots, thousands were injured and killed, hundreds went missing and so many were raped and subjected to the most sadistic and vicious forms of violence; accordingly, the man who steered the state has nothing to boast as his sustained and lasting contribution. His name might only evoke flashbulb memories, haunting and traumatic.
This name changing obsession must end as it poses a danger for national integrity. Gurgaon becoming Gurugram serves no purpose on the national or international stage. National unity and inclusiveness should be the hallmark of any good government. Re-writing history or renaming places to promote Brahmanism augurs disharmony. Hinducentric spin of events as these pass on distorted values because a teacher with a sinister intent demanding the thumb of a student should not be advocated as greatness, let alone his casteist stunts. Hence, an Eklavya award will be the best award of recognition to outstanding Coaches in Sports and Games considering the fact that he never gave up on mastering archery in spite of being rejected and humiliated by Dronacharya.
While considering the naming or renaming of a place with names of stalwarts or achievers, the relationship of the person to the public place or facility must be demonstrated through research and documentation. Well, Sardar Patel wasn’t a cricketer. Yet his contribution towards integrated India is synonymous with sports that facilitate social inclusion/ cohesion and integration. At the moment, reserving the right to rename any public place and/or facility if the person for whom it is named turns out to be irrelevant or disreputable or pandering to a particular sentiment in a multicultural society will save many more places of reputation/inspiration. Unfortunately, the power to reserve lies with the undeserving, also the makers of “India’s first Nuremberg Law”, contentious farm laws and EIA 2020 Act.
Changing names cannot represent the interests of everyone but doing it for political symbolism and for very little else amounts to shaming a locality’s heritage. First and foremost, The Bardoli Satyagraha of June 1928 was a great victory for farmers and Gandhiji gave Vallabhbhai Patel the title of ‘Sardar’. Hope the PM reads this piece
The author is a member of research gate with more than ten research publications on mangrove fungi. Worked with the new indian express as sub editor for two years. Contributes stories to various national journals and magazines.
Views are personal