Washington, DC – The saffronization of India is picking up pace with the recent name change of the Northern Indian city of Allahabad to Prayagraj by the Uttar Pradesh state Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. He’s a hardline nationalist Hindu leader and a stooge of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who came to power with the promise of “Better Days” for the population but has failed to deliver.
Allahabad’s new name came soon after the Modi led federal government renamed the Mughalsarai railway station, one of the major railway hubs, after Bharatiya Jana Sangh co-founder and right-wing Hindu ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhyay in August.
In 2015, the Modi government officially changed the name of Aurangzeb Road in Delhi, named after a Mughal emperor to A P J Abdul Kalam, a pro-BJP former president of India and a rocket scientist. Earlier that year street signs in Delhi carrying Mogul or Urdu names including Aurangzeb Road, were painted black by radical Hindu activists.
In April 2016, the BJP government in Haryana renamed the city of Gurgaon as Gurugram, which derives its name from an upper caste Hindu Guru Dronacharya, who is viewed as a villain by India’s Dalits (lower castes) for his role in the epic, Mahabharata. Dronacharya had asked for his “Dalit and Adivasi” pupil Eklavya’s thumb as an offering for imparting education, thus nipping in bud his reign as one of the greatest archers of his times.
Additional name changes are In the pipeline by the saffron clad Yogi’s UP state government as it approached the Modi led federal government for approval to rename three airports: One in Bareilly will become Nath Nagri, Agra airport will take on the name Deen Dayal Upadhyay while Kanpur will be re-christened after freedom fighter Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi.
During the pre-Modi era, there were also name changes but to erase the symbolic signs of British colonialism as Bombay, Bangalore, and Calcutta were reverted to their pre-colonial names Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Kolkata respectively. The locals and visitors alike have, however, rejected these changes as IIT Bombay is not IIT Mumbai, and even in localized Delhi neighborhoods with changed names, Connaught Place didn’t change in popular usage to Rajiv Gandhi Chowk while Curzon road stayed instead of embracing Kasturba Gandhi Marg.
The latest moves by the Modi-steering, BJP led federal government and other states where the BJP rules are seen more as accentuating political, social and religious divisions. India under Modi is marred by various such divisive decisions and free-for-all for Hindus to impose their religious dictates on minorities especially Muslims, thus threatening the secular fiber of the country.
Another interesting but ironic fact that surfaces is the distortion of history to suit his narrative by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on several occasions. True to his mentor, Modi’s protégé Yogi Adityanath finds it convenient to follow in his footsteps and modify historical facts to suit his needs. Most of the changes to historical facts are aimed at Moghul period to tarnish the image of Muslims and label them as invaders. Ironically India has one of the biggest Muslim populations and most of them are converts mostly from Hinduism. Ancient India was a very tolerant society and Modi who used to be a chief propagandist of the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangha (RSS), a hardline, right-wing, nationalist Hindu organization, is distorting his speeches, his tweets and other utterances to suit the RSS point of Hindu India. It won’t be out of context to mention that Nathuram Godse, who shot dead Mahatma Gandhi, is no longer a criticized personality in Modi’s circles.
Lamenting the trends with a sigh, we feel that historical facts matter little for those whose thinking is clouded by their political whims and are obsessed to reach their political goals by hook or by crook. Having failed to provide any betterment in public life and promises (Achey Din, Better Days) falling flat, Modi and the Yogi with their cronies are doing cosmetic changes to divert attention as 2019 elections approach.