Allahabad has now become Prayagraj and, flush with this success, many groups in Uttar Pradesh are reviving their demand for renaming cities, towns and districts, amid strong objections by the Opposition. There’s a common thread in such demands: most are being made by Hindu groups, and the places they want renamed have names given by the Mughals centuries ago.
For instance, there are demands to rename Azamgarh district as Aryamgarh; Faizabad as Saket; Aligarh as Harigarh; and Muzaffarnagar as Laxminagar.
In Aligarh, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders are already riding around in vehicles that have Harigarh written on them.
BJP’s Muzaffarnagar district president, Sudhir Saini, said: “Hindu organisations have been demanding a change in the name of Muzaffarnagar as they believe the place was once known as Laxminagar.”
The suggestion to rename Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, was made by Bihar Governor and UP leader, Lalji Tandon, in his book ‘Ankaha Lucknow’ (Untold Lucknow) in May 2018.
“Lucknow was originally named Laxmanavati, then Laxmanpur and Lakhnavati, before finally being named Lucknow,” the book says.
The state could consider at least some of the demands. UP minister for medical and health and the government’s spokesperson, Sidharth Nath Singh, said, “The government will take a call after studying the issue. We may consider the demand or suggestion for changing of names.”
Singh was one of the prime movers behind the renaming of Allahabad, writing to both chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, and Governor, Ram Naik, on the issue.
Some Hindu organisations say Mughal or British rulers strategically changed the names of many towns to target Indian culture. “We are not against anybody. Our freedom fighters laid down their lives to win Independence. Many towns have names after Mughal rulers. It is high time our cities got back their ancient names and identity,” said Shivdash, a senior leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the man in charge of work at Karsevakpuram (where pieces of the Ram temple are being made in anticipation of the day either the courts or a law make it possible to construct one) in Ayodhya. “Names that are symbols of slavery should be named after patriots,” said Prabhu Narain, Awadh Prant Sanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
In August this year, the Yogi government had renamed Mughalsarai city and railway junction after BJP ideologue, Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyay. Then came the recent name change of Allahabad.
S Farman Naqvi, an advocate and a resident of Allahabad, said: “Chief minister Yogi Adityanath renamed Allahabad as Prayagraj only in five days. After the Board of Revenue passed a resolution on the issue on October 15, the state cabinet cleared it the next day. The state government notified change of name on October 18 and the district magistrate did so on October 20.”
“Local people were not consulted on the issue. This means someone sitting at a far off place decided the future of the people of Allahabad. The CM recently changed the name of Urdu Bazar in Gorakhpur to Hindi Bazar. He is obviously pushing a communal agenda,” he added.
This is not the first time that the governments are indulging in politics of name change. In the last two decades, successive state governments have changed the names of institutions, schemes/projects and districts.
The Samajwadi Party government in 2012 decided to reverse a number of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government’s decisions on names. It restored the name of King George Medical University that was renamed as Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University by the Mayawati-led BSP government.
The original names of eight districts, named after BSP ideologues by Mayawati, were also restored.