Have you wondered how governments can do silly things that cause offence without realising how much that can upset people and, secondly, that they have no right to do this? To illustrate this question let me give you a small but telling example: the renaming of Aurangzeb Road.
First, however, I’m not about to defend Aurangzeb, his bigotry or his tyranny nor criticise Abdul Kalam and declare him undeserving of a road named after him. I have a simple but more important point to make.
A road name is not just the name of a road. It’s a bit like your own name. It’s part of your identity and one’s gets attached to it. So when it’s needlessly and abruptly changed it can be wrenching.
Second, a road name is not the property of the government. It belongs to all of us. Just as Delhi doesn’t belong to the NDMC or the chief minister but its residents, regardless of whether they cherish or despoil it, so too the names of its roads, parks, colonies, crossings or squares. It is, after all, our city and we don’t like authoritarian changes enforced dictatorially.
This is why, when road names are arbitrarily changed, the new ones often don’t catch on. Who, after all, calls Connaught Place Rajiv Gandhi Chowk or Indira Gandhi Chowk in preference to CP? In fact, I bet most of you don’t know which bit is Rajiv Gandhi Chowk and which is named after his mother.
Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary, the minister of state for home, understands my argument and agrees with it. On April 21, just over four months ago, in reply to a question he told the Lok Sabha that the names of roads, streets, colonies and parks in Delhi were governed by guidelines issued by the home ministry as far back as 1975. They are No. 13022/34/74 — Delhi of 27.9.1975. These guidelines, he added, make it clear that “changes in the names of streets/roads, etc. not only create confusion for the Post Offices and the public, but also deprive the people of a sense of history. Therefore, it was decided that the name of existing streets/roads, etc. should not be changed”.
So why has the government gone back on this? I admit the renaming of Connaught Place was a similar breach but it hasn’t worked. So why is the BJP (or the NDMC, if you prefer) repeating the same mistake?
In fact, last December the Modi government told the Lok Sabha that the NDMC had in October received a letter from the Delhi branch of the BJP asking for Aurangzeb Road to be renamed Guru Gobind Singh Road and a request from the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee for it to be called Guru Tegh Bahadur Road. But as Mr Chaudhary — bless him for his honesty! — told the Lok Sabha on December 17: “The name of the said road was not changed by the NDMC in light of the guidelines of the Ministry of Home Affairs.”
So why has the government now succumbed to pressure and renamed Aurangzeb Road after Abdul Kalam? If, like me, you suspect there’s something wickedly political behind this then we’re both right in feeling an even greater degree of offence. Not only has the name we’re accustomed to been scrapped but it’s been done with base political motives.
Finally, if you’re still not convinced google My Fair Lady and listen to one of its most enchanting songs ‘I’ve grown accustomed to her face’!
PS: As of yesterday, Aurangzeb Lane survives!
(The views expressed are personal)