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Renaming Mughalsarai station: A futile exercise

Unless the railway management does improve, renaming the station may turn out to be a doubtful memorial to the BJP ideologue. Mughalsarai is a railway junction and not much else. Passengers either pass through or change to different trains. Those who pass through wait impatiently for the moment when their train is eventually allowed to leave.

columns Updated: Aug 11, 2018 17:26 IST
It also seems odd to commemorate a man as important to the BJP as Upadhyaya by reminding Indians of his very unfortunate death. It’s still not known whether he fell out of a train just outside Mughalsarai or was pushed.(Sonu Mehta/HT)

Perhaps the most relevant comment on last week’s ceremony to mark the renaming of Mughalsarai station as Deen Dayal Upadhyaya junction was made by Om Prakash Rajbhar, a minister in the Uttar Pradesh government. Although his party’s president, the ubiquitous Amit Shah, declared the ceremony to be “a very big day for the BJP” as he flagged off the first train, Rajbhar said: “Changing names of stations will not lead to trains running on time.” The change the minister called on the government to implement was “the rectification of the management of Indian Railways.”

Unless the railway management does improve, renaming the station may turn out to be a doubtful memorial to the BJP ideologue. Mughalsarai is a railway junction and not much else. Passengers either pass through or change to different trains. Those who pass through wait impatiently for the moment when their train is eventually allowed to leave. Those changing all too often find their connection has already left. I once made a complicated railway journey from Patna to Bangalore involving three changes. The first was at Mughalsarai. Seeing no sign of my connection and hearing no news of it, I found a railway official who told me my connection was “indefinitely delayed”. When I replied angrily, “Do you mean it’s lost?” The official replied calmly, “If you say so. But don’t worry, this is India, there is another train. It was lost but we have found it and it will take you to Varanasi.”

The renaming of Mughalsarai reminds me of those Sikhs who opposed the Akali Dal’s demand to rename the Mumbai-to-Amritsar Frontier Mail as ‘The Golden Temple Express’. Their argument was that, because the express often ran late, passengers would be cursing the Golden Temple. I can imagine that there could now be passengers who curse the name of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. Knowing that overcrowding is so common in the General Class, I can imagine there will be passengers cooped up in the new somewhat improved carriages named after Deen Dayal Upadhyaya who will curse the BJP ideologue.

It also seems odd to commemorate a man as important to the BJP as Upadhyaya by reminding Indians of his very unfortunate death. It’s still not known whether he fell out of a train just outside Mughalsarai or was pushed. What’s more, there is another Indian who has a prior claim to be commemorated at Mughalsarai. India’s former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was born at Mughalsarai. Apart from the historic role Shastri played in his short period in office, he was formerly railway minister, and the only one, if my memory serves me right, to accept responsibility for an accident and resign. But Shastri was a Congressman and so unlikely to be commemorated by the BJP government. The Congress has been too busy commemorating prime ministers from the Nehru/Gandhi dynasty to bother much about Shastri. The renaming of Mughalsarai also raises the question of Upadhyaya’s place in history. Has he achieved the status of those whose names will never be forgotten or will, in years to come, passengers travelling through the junction ask, “why that name?”

I dare say there will be some passengers now who ask that question. But then the BJP would argue that renaming is part of the process of raising their ideologue to the ranks of the immortals, those whose names live on.

That process by no means always reaches a successful conclusion. Probably the best known street in Britain is Downing Street, official residence of the PM, but how many people have heard of Sir George Downing after whom the street is named? How many Indians have much knowledge of the 19th century Tamil freedom fighter Subramania Bharati who has a road named after him in central Delhi?

Commemorating Upadhyaya wasn’t the only reason for renaming Mughalsarai. It was the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, who proposed the renaming of Mughalsarai. According to him, India suffered a thousand years of slavery under Muslim rulers and he wants to remove all traces of that from public life.

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Aug 11, 2018 17:11 IST