The renaming business began in the name of removing the vestiges of British rule. Says H.S. Kamble, a senior Central Railway official: "VT reminded you of the colonial past." Adds state Congress chief Sushil-kumar Shinde: "It was improper to retain the name 50 years after Independence."
But nobody—not the commuters nor the railway authorities—think that Union Minister of State for Railways Suresh Kalmadi's announcement will do anything more than massage parochial political sentiments and cause a lot of inconvenience. "If shortsighted politicians want to remove the legacy of colonial rule, they should start at the very beginning," says Rashmi Desai, a commuter on suburban locals. "By, say, scrapping the railway system the British left behind in 1947, and starting from scratch."
That people viewed the move as cosmetic was revealed in a Mid-day opinion poll. More than 80 per cent of the respondents disapproved of Kalmadi's move. 'Victoria Terminated?' asked Gerson da Cunha's Amul ad.
The name-change will mean that all boards on stations and on trains, as well as all references to VT on official stationery will have to be changed. The computers that make automatic announcements and print tickets will have to be re-fed. All this, just weeks after the same process had been under gone for renaming the city.
VT station superintendent S. Noble Sudhakar says the exercise will not cost anything. Still, people will have to be constantly reminded of the change. For, unlike Kurachee and Cawnpore, Trichy and Ooty, VT's new name involves more than just a change of spelling.
Admittedly, the Centre has only undone what the British did in 1888, that is rename Bori Bunder station as VT to commemorate the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria. But its undoing will hardly erase 200 years of British rule from collective memory. Says railway historian G.D. Patwardhan: "The name of a station, much like an individual's, is an indelible identification mark. Changing it, in a way, alters our sense of history."
It may not, in this case. Jyotiba Phule Market continues to be Crawford Market, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Chowk is better known as Kalaghoda while Hutatma Chowk is still Flora Fountain in spite of sustained political efforts to rewrite Bombay's historical past.
Which is why not many in Bombay are surprised why the name-change came about. Although railway procedure demands that names for new stations and new names for old ones be communicated by the state government to the Centre, the initiative in this case came from the latter.
Even the state government was in the dark till Kalmadi made his decision public. He reportedly obtained the Prime Minister's telephonic approval just minutes before he stood up at a function to lay the foundation stone for the remodelling of VT and make the announcement.
That the Sena felt the renaming was done with one eye firmly on the polls was evident in the manner in which Samna , the party's mouthpiece, treated the news. The arrest of Anis Ibrahim, underworld don Dawood's brother, took precedence. Sena MP Mohan Rawale openly wished VT had been renamed after Jagannath Shankar Seth, one of the founding directors on the Great Indian Peninsula Railway which later became Central Railway.
Says another leader: "Much like his predecessor, C.K. Jaffer Sharief, Kalmadi feels the railways are a surefire way for him and the Congress to endear themselves to the electorate. Sharief announced rail projects in Karnataka. Ditto Kalmadi."
Kalmadi's over-enthusiasm on home-turf had already placed him on a collision course with the state government. Chief Minister Manohar Joshi threatened to launch a rail roko agitation if the Rs 350-crore railway modernisation programme in the city was implemented without the local bodies' permission. The latest announcement has taken the battle into the enemy camp. More name-changes are in the offing. Marine Lines station is tipped to become Sonapur, Charni Road station Girgaon and Grand Road station, Gavdevi.
Of course, that still leaves Sandhurst Road, Currey Road, Dockyard Road, Reay Road and Elphinstone Road stations. Also, the Church-gate Terminus and the Masjid station.