Ahmedabad might soon be known as Karnavati, Hyderabad as Bhagyanagar and Aurangabad as Sambhaji Nagar, if the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has its way.
The Sangh that was crucial in pushing through Gurgaon’s name change to Gurugram last month is now preparing for more such “reversals” to highlight Indian culture and cleanse foreign influence.
Critics say the name changes are an attempt to rewrite India’s history and extend the Sangh’s cultural influence.
The RSS has made such attempts in the past but its clout in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – that rules Gujarat and Maharashtra among other states – strengthens the possibility of such changes being accepted by governments.
RSS leaders believe the names of places should be tied to their “history and culture” and the Sangh already uses “historic names” to address cities.
“We use the old, historic names of cities and not the ones that were given by invaders. As a free country, we should take pride in our culture,” a senior Sangh functionary told HT.
The expanded list also proposes changing Kerala’s name to Keralam.
In April, the BJP-ruled government in Haryana changed Gurgaon’s name to Gurugram as a homage to Guru Dronacharya, who, legend says, was given the land by his disciples in the Mahabharata-era. The RSS has referred to the Haryana town as Gurugram for years.
The RSS wants Ahmedabad to be named as Karnavati after a Hindu king, Karan Dev, who is said to have established the city in the 11th century; Sambhaji Nagar after Sambhaji, the elder son of King Shivaji, who was captured and executed by the Mughals; and Bhagyanagar after goddess Bhagyalakshmi.
The BJP’s ally, the Shiv Sena, has also been demanding the renaming of Aurangabad as Sambhajinagar for years.
“This demand dates back to about 20 years. The Shiv Sena - BJP government in late 1990s even completed the procedure to rename Aurangabad as Sambhaji Nagar,” said state BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari.
“The decision would be in accordance with the sentiments of the people of Marathwada.”
The BJP is not in a position to push through the changes in Telangana and Kerala – where it is not in power – but local party leaders in both states appeared in favour of the changes.
BJP state legislator G Kishan Reddy said the RSS made the name change demand only because the people wanted it.
“Nobody questioned when Madras was renamed as Chennai, Bombay as Mumbai and Calcutta as Kolkata. Did the RSS demand the change of these names? Then, why is it being blamed for changing Gurgaon as Gurugram?” he asked.
He said Muslim invaders and the British changed the names of cities and towns at their will. “All that we want now is to restore the original names that reflect the local culture and tradition,” Reddy said.
In Kerala, BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan said he hadn’t heard of a proposal to change Kerala’a name. “In any case, when we write our state’s name in our mother tongue Malayalam it as Keralam but in English it is Kerala. I don’t think it will make any difference,” Rajasekharan said.
The RSS and the BJP have a history of proposing such name changes to link cities to their perceived heritage. During the BJP-Shiv Sena rule in 1996, Bombay was renamed Mumbai to honour a local goddess.
Months after assuming power at the Centre in 2014, the BJP-led NDA government consented to officially renaming Banglore as Bengaluru along with 11 other cities in Karnataka.
The government renamed Aurangzeb Raod in the Capital’s Lutyen’s zone to Dr A P J Abdul Kalam Road to honour the late president and agreed to an argument by right-wing organisations that said there was no merit in glorifying the Mughal king who was perceived to be “anti-Hindu”.
In 2011, the Shivraj Singh Chauhan government in Madhya Pradesh petitioned the Centre to rename state capital Bhopal as Bhojpal to mark 1,000 years of King Bhojpal’s coronation. The request was not approved by the UPA government. Attempts have also been made to rename Allahabad as Prayag.
(with inputs from Aurangabad, Hyderabad and Thiruvananthapuram)