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Kalam v Aurangzeb: Too few icons, too many motives

analysis Updated: Sep 09, 2015 10:53 IST
Viju Cherian
Viju Cherian
Hindustan Times
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The Delhi government has decided to rename the Aurangzeb Road in the heart of the national capital after APJ Abdul Kalam to honour the former President. (Arun Sharma/HT Photo)

So Aurangzeb Road is now Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road, with the emperor’s name scraped off on Thursday night and the beloved late president’s painted over. No sooner was the decision announced to rename the leafy road than accounts of the brutality of the Mughal ruler were refreshed; it’s as though the government was waiting to rename the road and only found the right person on July 27 (the day Kalam died).

In this case AAP seems to be eager to cash in on his popularity and the nation’s sentiment for Kalam. There doesn’t seem to be a political motive to the move, or if there is one, it isn’t evident. But that’s not the case when a group aligned to the ruling party at the Centre wants to rename all roads named after Mughal and the Delhi Sultanate rulers. The political subtext to such demands is all too evident.

Meanwhile, there are also suggestions of turning to national heroes; to look for people of eminence in modern India, in this renewed zeal to rename existing roads. Barring Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, BR Ambedkar and a handful of others, how many names can we think of that resonate throughout the nation? Not many — or not as many as the roads waiting to be renamed.

In that sense, the late president Kalam is a safe bet — he’s accepted across the political spectrum and has a fan following across the length and breadth of India. The sad part is that India has not produced many Kalams.

In the decades after 1947 this paucity increases. So where are our national heroes? We could turn to the field of science, sports, and to a limited extent to the arts. How can we conclude that this road needs to be named after Saurav Ganguly more than Leander Paes, or that road after Bismillah Khan and not Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer? The choices are difficult and achieve little. Moreover, these do not serve the motives of political parties.


NDMC worker changes the name of Aurangzeb Road to Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road. (HT Photo/Arun Sharma)

The fact is that, in politics, we do not have many leaders who have a pan-India appeal. However, this is made up for by the rich basket of regional leaders. And rather than a handicap, it should be seen as a blessing. It is the strength of the regions that lend might to the Centre. The dilemma is in projecting them as national leaders. Chhatrapati Shivaji is perhaps the greatest Maratha leader ever, but to project him as a pan-India hero is inaccurate.

Partisan politics has scarred our political discourse and the roads are the latest arena where this fight is being taken. Rather than renaming streets, authorities should give their time and energy to plan how to make our roads safer to commute.

Post script: As you drive into Puducherry from Chennai, there is a bylane, to the left, near the Pondicherry University. This partly cemented dirt road will catch your attention when you read its name — Rue Salai. The French masters while leaving Pondicherry left behind their culture and language that even today beat the shore rocks on the Promenade Beach. ‘Rue’ in French means street and ‘Salai’ is the Tamil word for street. The history behind the name is not known, but it’s an aptly ironic way to keep both the French-loving and Dravidian constituencies happy. It’s as if whoever decided this was saying: Get a life, naming a street isn’t all that important, and it certainly shouldn’t be a way of making a historical point.

( The writer tweets as @vijucherian )


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