April 04, 2020
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Everything In A Name

Southern Railway sparks off a controversy by reverting Chennai to its old name—Madras. The DMK isn't too happy.

Everything In A Name

Ask a DMK politician what’s in a name and he will answer without batting an eyelid—everything. Not surprisingly, one of the DMK government’s first priorities when it comes to power is to change names at will. In 1967, when it won elections for the first time, it renamed Madras state Tamil Nadu; after its triumph in 1971, buildings were given the names of leaders and districts were renamed. It began its latest tenure by renaming Madras, the capital, Chennai. While Chennai has been in use in Tamil for decades, a section of the anglicised middle class was offended by the change. Little did this powerful section know that it has an ally in the form of the Central Government. Despite the fact that the DMK is part of the UF Government, it has not got the clearance for the change.

While both the Centre and the state government are not willing to come out in the open about the controversy, Southern Railway has taken the lead in reverting to ‘Madras’ in all its official transactions and communications. A circular issued by the station manager of Chennai Central on February 21, 1997, without mentioning any reasons, cancelled the revised code initials—‘Chennai’—for the central station and other city booking offices with immediate effect.

Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi had earlier announced that "the name Madras traces its origin to some other language. The government has decided that Madras will hereafter be known in all languages by only one name—Chennai. We will take appropriate action to give effect to this new measure." The Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly passed a bill to enact the change on August 31, 1996. The objects appended to the bill states: "The area comprising the city of Madras has been called Chennai from ancient days. Keeping in mind its universal acceptance as well as the historical, social, cultural and other details of the city of Madras, the government has taken a policy decision that Madras would be hereafter called Chennai in all languages." Replying to the debate on the bill, Karunanidhi told the House that he would write to all the states about the change. The presidential assent to the bill was obtained in September last year.

The DMK leadership blames the Prime Minister’s Office for the UF’s decision. DMK leaders feel that if the Government had no problem in renaming Bombay, Trivandrum, Cochin and Calicut, it has no reason to deny the Tamils their wishes. They even see Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda’s hand in the issue.

Says a senior minister, who did not want to be named: "Gowda is not treating most coalition parties with due respect. His pastlinks shadow his functioning as the chief executive officer of the country. We are not the only victim. Chandrababu Naidu feels it, Mulayam Singh Yadav resents it, the CPI is also not too happy and the AGP tries to gloss over it. The threat of the BJP cannot give him the room to extend the boundary line of our tolerance." The DMK high command has instructed Murasoli Maran, the party’s parliamentary leader and industry minister, to sort it out with the high command. The Budget session may have prevented the DMK from going public, but if the issue is not sorted out amicably, it could spell trouble for the UF.

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