On January 28, the Centre renamed the iconic Mughal Garden at the Rashtrapati Bhavan to ‘Amrit Udyan’ in line with the larger narrative of shedding off every spec of alleged colonialism. Parallel to this instance, last week, Delhi University’s Mughal Garden on North Campus was renamed Gautam Buddha Centenary Garden.
The trend of renaming places and cities is no more a new instance under the ruling government. India has undergone bouts of name changes in the past few years in a bid to create a stronghold of a certain political narrative.
While the renaming of old cities and places, with historic significance, will continue unabated in India’s recent political affairs, we look at a few important places that received a new identity under BJP’s efforts to reclaim India from the colonial hungover, leaving much space to speculate a not-so-concealed narrative.
Rajpath to Kartavyapath
Ahead of the inauguration of Central Vista Avenue on September 8, 2022, the Indian government decided to change the name of Delhi's iconic 'Rajpath' to 'Kartvya Path', meaning the 'path of duty'. Amid mixed reactions to the renaming, the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) approved a proposal to rename the street.
Allahabad to Prayagraj
In January 2019, Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh was officially renamed as Prayagraj. A fortnight ahead of the 'Kumbh Mela', the Centre approved the renaming of Allahabad as Prayagraj as sought by the Uttar Pradesh government.
The decision came more than two months after the state government, headed by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, took the decision to rename the historic city as Prayagraj. Commenting on the name change, senior Cabinet minister Siddhartha Nath Singh said, "The renaming of Allahabad as Prayagraj before Kumbh Mela came for approval in the meeting and I am happy to say Allahabad will now be known as Prayagraj. Rig Veda, Mahabharat and Ramayana also mention Prayagraj (for Allahabad)."
Faizabad to Ayodhya
Around this same time, the historic district of Faizabad was renamed as Ayodhya. While UP already had a city called Ayodhya at a little distance away from Faizabad and shared its municipal limits with the latter, the district of Faizabad was declared Ayodhya.
The renamed Prayagraj division comprises Prayagraj, Kaushambi, Fatehpur, and Pratapgarh districts. The Ayodhya division includes Ayodhya, Ambedkarnagar, Sultanpur, Amethi, and Barabanki districts.
Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium
In 2019, the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) renamed Feroz Shah Kotla Cricket Stadium as Arun Jaitley Stadium after former DDCA President Arun Jaitley as a tribute to the former Union Minister's contribution to cricket in India. A stand inside the stadium was named after Indian skipper and former national captain Virat Kohli.
Deen Dayal Upadhyay railway station
Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Junction, previously known as Mughalsarai junction, was inaugurated on August 5, 2018, by BJP President Amit Shah.
"Today is a very big day for the Bhartiya Janata Party as Mughalsarai station, where Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay was killed, has today been named after him. I am happy that under Prime Minister Modi's leadership a memorial is being made after Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay," Amit Shah had said after inaugurating the station.
Decked up in saffron colour now, the station is one of the oldest and biggest railway junctions in the state. The renaming of the iconic railway station was proposed by Yogi Adityanath in 2017, and was later approved by the Centre.
Gurgaon to Gurugram
On April 12, 2016, the Haryana government decided to the change the name of Gurgaon to 'Gurugram' and the neighbouring Mewat district to 'Nuh'.
According to online media reports, Manohar Lal Khattar's government said that it was the people's demand that the city, which has historically been a center of education for princes, be renamed as 'Gurugram'. Gurugram is said to be its historical name. With the origin of Gurgaon's name tracing back to ancient Hindu scriptures, the land is believed to have been owned by the legendary rulers Pandavas and Kauravas, who presented it to Guru Dronacharaya, their royal guru for warfare, as an appreciation of his training.
And it’s not only roads and cities that have been renamed in the last eight years. At least three state universities have been renamed after some lesser-known people and local heroes in BJP-ruled Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh.
For example, North Maharashtra University is now known as Kavayitri Bahinabai Chaudhari North Maharashtra University; Chhindwara University is Raja Shankar Shah University; and Allahabad State University is Prof. Rajendra Singh (Rajju Bhaiya) University.
Other villages and proposed names
Last year, Delhi BJP leader Adesh Gupta asked the AAP-led Delhi government to rename 40 villages with “Mughal-era” names after freedom fighters, artistes, and martyrs including IB staffer Ankit Sharma and constable Ratan Lal who were killed in the 2020 Northeast Delhi riots. He said there are 40 villages that have names “associated with the Mughals” and “symbolise slave mentality”.
“The 40 villages have names like Jia Sarai, Zamroodpur, Masoodpur, Jafarpur Kalan, Tajpur, Najafgarh, Neb Sarai. Delhi is no longer a sarai (inn). It is the national capital of the country,” said Gupta.
In his letter to the NDMC chairman, the Delhi BJP president said despite several years of Independence, names of some roads in Delhi symbolised "slavery". Gupta demanded Tughlaq Road to be renamed after Guru Gobind Singh and Babar Lane after revolutionary Khudiram Bose.
The politics of name change
The government has given the ostensible reason for the name changes as a way to discard the colonial hangover and restore pride in Indian heritage and pride. In his Independence Day address this year on August 15, PM Modi had said that a majority of the names were changed to do away with "symbols" relating to the "Colonial mindset".
The Modi government has nevertheless faced criticism over selective name changing and favoring Hindi or Hindu names over names of Mughal or Islamic origin.
Outside the capital, renaming of Allahabad to Prayagraj, for instance, was decried by many across India as an attempt to wipe out the Mughal history and heritage of certain states where the former rulers had been powerful. There are also proposals to change the name of Gujarat's Ahmedabad to Karnavati and Telangana's Hyderabad to 'Bhagyanagar'.