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A sense of pride towards the nation-state is essential for a country. However, sometimes, the idea of nation and nationalism is misconstrued. For a country to grow, it is important to pave a path for a better future rather than look back into the past to supposedly glorify the nation which may hold no significance in this modern era and specially in the cases where there are other important matters to be looked after and when the move may also disrupt the communal harmony. Democracy is an instrument for equal rights across the vast diversity. It was introduced to maintain peace, prosperity, equal representation and more so over, to uphold the fundamental rights of a human being and not for the majority to exercise their power over any community with a lesser population. || Sacred Game of Names by Abhinav Ashok
Living in the 21st century, in a rapidly developing country like India where the nation is broadening its horizons to legally accept the individuality of every person by abolishing Section 377 which is a landmark achievement, how justified is it to change the historic ‘Islamic’ names of places that have shaped the current world. With the increase in the right-wing ideology, the names of a number of places were changed. This move is unethical on the part of a Secular government and could lead to clashes in the country which is against India’s main policy of ‘National Integrity.’ On a global level, India has been proving its mettle to demand a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council which may be rendered futile with the concern of not being able to uphold Secularism in the country. Henceforth, it is of utmost importance to also give credit to the evolution in the past few centuries. After all, a country is made great by its actions of making the world a better place to live in!
Originating from the right-wing organisation, Bhartiya Janta Party has greatly retained the ideologies of their parent body. Promoting the Hindu stand has been of utmost importance all along. Saffronisation is not a new concept for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh but instead has been a major agenda for years now. Right from moral policing to a will of renaming places in order to inculcate a sense of pride among Hindus, the group has done it all.
The act of changing names of places has turned into a full-fledged ‘Sacred Game of Names!’
Saffronisation of Public Spaces
The current government of India has done wonders in the religious sector of the Indian society which mostly limits to one specific religion of ‘Hinduism.’ With A Hindu Godman in power in the state of Uttar Pradesh, a rapid increase in the proposals for changing names was seen. The government was adamant on renaming places to Hindu names which do not go hand in hand with the ‘Secular’ outlook of the nation. Cities with the richest history were renamed to supposedly please a specific religion in the country. The bill was readily passed by the state government which majorly constitutes of people that follow the ideology of ‘Hinduism.’
The government has been eager to change the record number of names and went on a spree to do so. Allahabad became Prayagraj because of the significance of Prayag in the religion which is situated in the same city. ‘Allahabad’, as was called, witnessed the rise and fall of numerous rulers of some great dynasties. Some of these dynasties were very powerful and have shaped modern India greatly. The Mughalsarai junction, one of the busiest and oldest junctions ever set up originally by the British government, was renamed to Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay Junction.
Faizabad served as the capital for the Nawabs of Awadh which was given to them by the Mughal Court. The city of Faizabad which forms a municipal corporation with Ayodhya was renamed to Ayodhya in November 2018. Names of places close to the heart of the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, in his home city of Gorakhpur, were changed and led to Urdu Bazar being called as Hindi Bazar, Miya Bazar being called as Maya Bazar, Ali Nagar being called as Arya Nagar, Islampur renamed as Ishwarpur, Lahaladpur became Alahaladpur and Humayun Nagar was renamed Hanuman Nagar. He claimed that changing names of the places brings out pride. But this pride seems to be associated with only one religion which is why the names being changed are related to ‘Hinduism’ specifically.
In a talk with the media, it was stated that the names had been changed according to what the government thought was suitable and as per the requirements. There were no requirements, to begin with, and it was not suitable to mix politics and religion. History is proof that politics and religion don’t get along well. In another rally, it was announced that the government also intends to change the name of the historical city of Hyderabad to Bhagyanar and Karimnagar to Karipuram. Yet again the city of Hyderabad has been ruled by The Shahi dynasty, The Mughals and The Nizams. A BJP lawmaker from Agra said that the city should be renamed as Agravan or Agarwal.
A legislator from Sardhana, wanted the name of Muzaffarnagar to be changed to Laxmi Nagar. How justified is it to change the name of places in the 21st century in a country like India to supposedly make it great again? There was no existence of a geographical India during the era of most of the rulers. While addressing a gathering, the respected Chief Minister justified his actions of changing names by asking why names like Ravana and Duryodhana were not used in society. These names of people, considered to be evil apparently, were saints too! Keeping these controversial names aside, the names of the cities that were renamed were not evil no matter what. It was not harming any person or sentiment in any manner. A country which is developing needs to focus on a spectrum of more important aspects to truly be a developed nation.
The freedom fighters of India never raised an issue on changing names that were given by any ruler. Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who themselves hailed from Gujarat never demanded or showed interest towards changing the names of places. Mahatma Gandhi, as is well known, believed in making India great deeply, at no point talked about making Ahmedabad great again by changing its name to Karnavati. They never mentioned of the ruler Sultan Ahmed Shah who waged a war against the Chaulukya ruler Karna of Anhilwara to justify a name change or even propose the idea of doing so. Did these freedom fighters not have the clarity on how to make India great again or has the current government set its priorities wrong?
Impact on India
The basic aspect of democracy is for the people, by the people and of the people. It is not limited to a particular caste, creed, sex or religion but intends to treat everyone equally. With the increase of the right-wing ideology, promoting Hinduism does affect the sentiments of the other religions residing in the country which may lead to the suppression of the sentiments of the others. This may lead to unrest and lead to communal riots as has been seen in the past during the Babri-Ayodhya riots in 1992 and Hindu-Muslim riots of Gujarat in 2001.
The essence of a democracy is to maintain order and peace in the community and not to instigate religions against each other and spark chances of unrest. This saffronisation increases the chances of lynching which has already shown a significant rise during the past 5 years of service of this government. Promoting the power of a specific religion is unethical on the part of the government. It is extremely important to remember what religion is capable of.
India was split into two countries following independence based on this very concept of religion. The rise of this feeling has led to the shift the focus of the Uttar Pradesh government towards the construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya which is a disputed holy land for Muslims where once also existed ‘Babri Masjid’ which was holy for them. Surprisingly, the names being targeted are mostly limited to Islam. The will to suppress the feelings of Muslims seems to be a great agenda.
The abolition of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution has been a subject of debate for long. There are many pros and cons but with adopting the same mindset as the UP government, if the state of Jammu and Kashmir were stripped off the autonomous power and the names of places were to be changed with the intention of suppressing the demands of other religions, it may lead to an even more sensitive situation leading to communal riots of the worst order!
Impact on the Global Image of India
Countries of the world come together every year at the United Nations to make this world a better place to live in. Millions of dollars are spent every year for this conference. Countries host summits and form groups and work to achieve their goals. For there is a lot to be achieved and fulfilled to deliver to the goals adopted by every country. But to achieve greatness, the country needs to have a strong set of principles to be doing well on a global level.
India is seen as a rapidly developing nation but the prevalence of such acts exhibit that the country is still struggling with petty issues such as changing names which is of least importance in the current scenario. Rather than focus on solving the grass root problems of the citizens such as eradicating poverty, improving health care facilities and the education in villages, more importance is being given to issues that make no difference at all in the Indian society and does not make this world a better place to live in.
Being a nation demanding a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, this only sends out a message that the country is still struggling with the basic ideas of secularism in a democracy. The ultimate goal of The United Nations has been to ensure stability which might render the country not being considered the same way if it caused a stir among other religions. What a terrible move it would be for a country that preaches world peace and harmony to justify name changes on the pretext of the foreign descent of a name.
Apparently, applying the same logic, India should not have been participating in The Common Wealth Games because it is a reminder of the colonial rule of the British in India! Some places being renamed are well-renowned cities in the world. Changing the names of these places adds up to the confusion and is capable of directly affecting tourism to a great extent.
Saffronisation of Mind-Set
The saffronisation is in fact not only limited to renaming the places but also trying to alter the lifestyle of the entire human community at large. This act of name changing has been increasing the feeling of power into the hands of the right-wing group followers.
With moral policing on the rise, the volunteers can often be seen violating the freedom of people all over the country, especially in public places. In fact, the right to privacy is violated in many cases. The party workers are most active around consenting adult couples. Acts like beating, threatening in any and every manner is widely prevalent. Anti-Romeo Squad remains to be a well-known group of people who have the support of the leader of the state himself!
A Widely Applauded Name Change
The only justified move to change the names of places seemed to be that in Andaman and Nicobar Islands where the name change had nothing to with a specific religion. Rather it glorified the freedom fighters and the names of the tyrant British generals were scrapped off. Ross Island changed to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Island. Neil Island changed to Shaheed Dweep and Havelock Island changed to Swaraj Dweep. This move never gathered any flak from society because of no conflict of interest for any religion.
The sacrilege of religion for propaganda needs to be stopped which has been affecting the sentiments of other religions. Currently, India does not require the government to focus on such trivial issues because this country has a vision of being a superpower which would be opposed by the already established countries. It seems the government has misplaced priorities in its list. The act of changing names has no relevance in the modern world. This is just a game, ‘A Sacred Game of Names!’
It would be wrong to state that the people demanded this because people want to focus on more important matters and if there is anybody demanding such name changes at all, those are the followers of the right-wing groups such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Our country still has a long way to go which can only be achieved by talking about the real issues and not just appease a particular section of the society which is a majority in the country for the sake of vote bank politics. The aim of the government should be to promote national integrity and not create a division among the people!
By – Abhinav Ashok, NSIT Delhi
This Essay was shortlisted in the Third Edition of the National Essay Writing Competition on Nation and Nationalism 2019
 Kumar Abhishek, Why Mughalsarai station lost its name after 156 years, India Today, August 5, 2018, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/mughalsarai-junction-renamed-why-name-changed-after-156-years-1305650-2018-08-05
 Pushkar Banakar, Allahabad not the first place whose name has been changed by Yogi Adityanath, Indian Express, October 17,2018 http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2018/oct/17/allahabad-not-the-first-place whose-name-has-been-changed-by-yogi-adityanath-1886499.html
 Alok Pandey, Did What Felt Right, Will Keep It Up, NDTV, November 11, 2018 https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/yogi-adityanath-justifies-renaming-faizabad-allahabad-and-mughal-sarai-1945456
 Roshni Sengupta, How Do I Explain the Rise In Mob Lynchings In India? The Quint, July 19 2018 https://www.thequint.com/voices/opinion/mob-lynching-hindu-nationalism-in-india
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