The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) unrelenting crusade of seeking to change the names of streets, markets, urban villages, towns, cities, monuments, railway stations and other locales is indicative of the realisation that it is essential to keep the pot of divisive politics boiling if the party wants to sustain its electoral sway.
Simultaneously, this sustained campaign is also a symptom of the acute discomfort within the Sangh Parivar’s ecosystem with a period of Indian history—11th to 18th century to be specific—on which a viewpoint has been formed on the basis of ‘facts’ provided by the proverbial WhatsApp universities and their predecessors.
The saffron clan’s unending drive is also an expression of the intense dislike, distrust and hatred for Muslims. Although the Centre has perforce forged cordial bilateral ties with almost every Muslim majority country barring, of course, obvious exclusions and these nations have reciprocated despite their apprehensions about the BJP’s majoritarian orientation, the majority of Hindutva activists view Muslims all over from the same prism of suspicion.
In the mind of the average Swayamsevak or foot soldier of other affiliates, every Muslim in the world conforms to the principle of pan-Islamism. Consequently, they believe, a conviction bolstered by Muslims’ ‘Punyabhumi’ not being in India, the loyalty of Muslims is ‘suspect’ and perhaps not towards India but outside it. According to this understanding of the prototype sanghi, Muslims can live in this country but not display their faith and identities in public.
The immediate prompt for BJP leaders in Delhi to demand a change of names of a plethora of roads, streets and urban villages in the National Capital Territory is, of course, the municipal corporation elections due this winter.
In fact, such is the BJP’s anxiety about its political fate in Delhi that one local leader went to the extent of putting up a new nameplate for the urban village of Mohammadpur, in south Delhi. Everyone, especially those in public life, is aware that the power to alter the names of localities or colonies vests with the state government, not the municipal corporation, local political leaders or people’s representatives. Yet the purpose behind this move has been served.
It is similar to the way the case filed in the Allahabad High Court seeking to open the 22 locked rooms in the Taj Mahal to ascertain the presence of Hindu idols. The intention is to introduce within public discourse the belief that there is ‘something’ which Muslims, secularists and the judiciary are inclined to hide.
According to the Sangh Parivar narrative, they wish to conceal the contents of these rooms because Muslims and their supporters want to prevent the ‘truth’ from coming out. BJP members—the petitioner in the case is Rajneesh Singh, the party’s media coordinator in Ayodhya—do not accept the Places of Worship Act, 1991, which was stated to be emblematic of the basic structure of the Constitution as spelt out by the Supreme Court in the momentous Kesavananda Bharati case.
In fact, one former BJP member of Parliament in the Gyanvapi Mosque dispute case went to the extent of rejecting the rule of law if it is against the Hindu belief of events and actions in history.
Whether it be the Taj Mahal or the Gyanvapi Mosque, the BJP’s effort mainly is to keep the issue smouldering and enlist more and more Hindus into the Hindutva fold and get them to endorse the idea of cultural nationalism.
In the case of New Delhi, people have been intimated that the ‘Muslimness’ of some localities was introduced as part of a concerted effort to destroy their Hinduness and no party but the BJP is committed to restoring the Hindu dignity by restoring the ‘original’ names of these areas.
Despite being in power in Delhi since 2015 and winning Punjab, which had enthused the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to contest elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, its leaders have been cautious while responding to the BJP’s move on renaming or location names. Instead of outright rejection of the demand, Delhi’s environmental minister Gopal Rai resorted to procedural matters and asked why the “BJP has been sleeping for the last 15 years. Did they not know the names of these villages then”?
The accusation is flawed because the Congress was in government for 15 years from 1998 to 2013. But this oversight apart, the AAP also no longer espouses the idea of India’s compositeness and past commitment to secular polity because the party too believes that the political discourse has developed a rightward tilt.
The spate of demands for renaming—even Qutub Minar is to be given the new name of Vishnu Stambh—has continued alongside litigation. The saffron clan will aim to push mosques and other Islamic places of worship to a future that resembles a denouement similar to the Babri Masjid.
What about the renaming of places and when will the crusade end? Already the Uttar Pradesh government is reportedly identifying more districts to rename.
During Yogi Adityanath’s first term, the names of several places were altered—most famously, Faizabad to Ayodhya, Allahabad to Prayagraj and Mughalsarai railway station to Deendayal Upadhyaya Nagar.
In an instance of display of ‘real’ politics of appeasement of Hindus, demands to rechristen places named after either Muslim rulers and local chieftains or any name that ‘appears’ to be a Muslim name with a ‘bad’ or ‘stan’ as a suffix are being made almost everyday.
Even Adityanath has reportedly displayed an inclination to change the name of Badaun district to Vedamau because it was known such, he claimed, in ancient times for being a centre of studies of the Vedas.
In Adityanath’s claim lies the core anomaly of what Hindutva advocates consider as being ‘part’ of Indian history. Anything in the ancient period must be revived and resurrected for it represented past glory. But everything that is non-Hindu and between the 11th and the 18th century must be erased.
Significantly, the Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) affiliate, is working to ‘revise’ history. The crucial alteration is in periodisation: the first period of Indian history is from the Vedic era to the end of Harshvardhan’s reign in 647 AD.
The second period has been drawn from 647 to 1760 AD, the concluding period, when according to RSS historians, the British took control of Calcutta using dubious methods.
The third period is termed the era when the idea of cultural nationalism was conceptualised and popularised. It begins in 1760 and ends with independence. The last period of India begins in 1947 and is yet to conclude.
Although India witnessed continuous migration throughout history, the advocacy for erasure is limited to just the mediaeval period. The RSS and its affiliates do not take note of the paradox that when some Muslim rulers presided over kingdoms in different parts of India, the majority of ruling classes were mainly Hindus. The RSS continues depicting this period as “centuries of slavery” and evidence of this era—be it monuments or place names—must be either demolished or wiped out from statute books.
No analysis of the present crusade for renaming can conclude without mentioning an article written for the RSS weekly Organiser by Jay Dubashi, the once-prolific veteran journalist who was associated with various affiliates of the Sangh, including the BJP.
In January 1993, less than 50 days after the demolition of the Babri Masjid—an event he believed was momentous—Dubashi wrote that the country needed a new name because India is “an English word, not an Indian or Hindu word”. He contended there were no further reasons “to identify” himself with “foreigners”.
So what should be the new name was his poser. He contended that Bharat was ruled out because citizens would be called Bharatis. This would “sound like a surname, not the name of a nationality”. The attempt thus would be to “find a pucca Bharati word to describe ourselves and our country”. The nationality of people should also carry weight and meaning.
Dubashi rejected Hindustan as well because “there are too many ‘stans’ around and they have an Islamic, not Hindu, connotation. And what would be the term for a citizen of Hindustan? A Hindustani, like Hindustani music? No, I would rather have a term with a pure Hindu sound”, he wrote.
Getting closer to why he wanted a change, Dubashi eventually spelt it out by proposing that the new name of the country must be Hindudesh. If India was renamed Hindudesh, he wrote, the nationality of citizens would be Hindu and “this will solve many problems. Since everybody will be a Hindu, there can be no minorities for it is absurd to think that in Hindudesh, there can be a Hindu majority and a Hindu minority”.
Renaming India as Hindudesh served a double purpose: “When everybody is a Hindu, there can be no problems which arise only when you say that you are an Indian, not a Hindu. If you are an Indian, you can be an Indian Muslim or a Muslim Indian. But if you are a Hindu national, you cannot be a Hindu Muslim or a Muslim Hindu.”
Dubashi knew that in 1993, there would be opposition to his idea. But he believed in the BJP’s continued growth. He thereby continued that the critics, if they do not like the idea of being described as Hindus in their passports “can lump it” for Hindudesh and the subsequent decision to call citizens Hindus will become a reality “sooner than he (the critic) thinks”.
Unless there is a fightback and people begin rejecting the BJP in elections, the idea espoused by the veteran scribe may become reality sometime in future.