Naming Chandigarh New Airport: Bhagat Singh vs Mangal Sein

The political struggle of naming the new international airport in Chandigarh.

3 min read
Mangal Sein (left) and Bhagat Singh supporters at loggerheads over naming Chandhigarh airport. (Photo altered by <b>The Quint</b>)

Nearly three months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the interntational airport in Chandigarh, no flight has departed for foreign shores from there. Yet, a controversy has raged between Punjab and Haryana over naming it.

Naming the airport has been a bone of contention between the two neighbouring states from the time it was conceived to be upgraded to an international one, six years ago. It is now called the Chandigarh International Airport.

Last week, when BJP-ruled Haryana suggested that it be named after an RSS ideologue and Deputy Chief Minister Mangal Sein, instead of an earlier proposal to name it after Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, the conflict garnered public attention.

The Trouble Began With Including Mohali, and Not Chandigarh in the Name

The location of the new terminal building in Mohali is at the root of the christening controversy. The airstrip, under the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) charge, is located in Chandigarh – the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana. While the domestic terminal was located in the Union Territory of Chandigarh, the international terminal was constructed nearby Mohali.

Soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the new terminal, domestic flight operations were shifted to the new building. But as mentioned earlier, no international flight has taken off till now.

As soon as Punjab initiated the plan to construct the new terminal, once the Centre approved of it in 2009, Haryana too staked claim over it. The then Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda was of the view that since the airport was located in the joint capital, and would be used by residents of both states, Haryana should be a partner in the construction.


Equal Stake in Construction, Hence Equal Stake in Anming

When Punjab did not object to this, the Centre decided to take it up as a joint venture. A special purpose vehicle was created with 51 percent stake of the Airports Authority of India (AAI), and 24.5 percent each of Punjab and Haryana.

The problem surfaced when Punjab proposed that the airport be named Shaeed-e-Azam Sardar Bhagat Singh International Airport, Mohali. Haryana agreed, but the point of contention lay in the reference to Mohali. Haryana objected to the use of the word ‘Mohali’, saying the airstrip is located in Chandigarh and it should, accordingly, be named after that city.

File photo of Bhagat Singh. (Photo: <a href="">PMIndia Website</a>)
File photo of Bhagat Singh. (Photo: PMIndia Website)

It further argued that it was a partnership project, and the name ‘Mohali’ would imply that the airport is located in Punjab. Haryana also opposed the use of the honorific ‘Sardar’ for Bhagat Singh, insisting that he simply be called Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh.

Although it may appear childish, Punjab argued that since the terminal is located in Mohali, the town’s name must be included in its nomenclature. Even as the name controversy simmered, the Rs 960-crore complex was completed with Modi inaugurating it on September 11, 2015.

Partly due to foggy weather conditions, and partly due to delay in completing formalities, international operations are expected to begin early next year.

Man riding a motorcycle on a foggy morning in Chandigarh. (Photo: Reuters)
Man riding a motorcycle on a foggy morning in Chandigarh. (Photo: Reuters)

Direct flights will be only going to neighbouring countries as of now, given the current length of the runway. It has been proposed to increase the length of the runway subsequently to enable wide-bodied and bigger aircrafts to operate.


Haryana Wants the Airport Named After Mangal Sein, and Not Bhagat Singh

It was at this stage that the Manohar Lal Khattar-led government shocked all by suggesting to the Centre that the airport be named after Mangal Sein. Besides, Khattar considers him his guru. Clearly, however, there is no comparison between Sein and Bhagat Singh.

No wonder that the Haryana government’s proposal met with a lot of flak from various quarters.

It is distasteful and even an affront to all our great national icons to drag the issue of naming the international airport at Mohali after Shaheed-e-Azam Sardar Bhagat Singh into a controversy.

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal in a Letter to PM Modi

Although the Haryana government is yet to officially withdraw its claim, and the Centre is yet to respond, Punjab BJP Chief Kamal Sharma has claimed that Haryana was fine with the airport being named after Bhagat Singh, even though it insisted on its demand that Chandigarh’s name be included, rather than Mohali’s.

The ball is in the Centre’s court, with the AAI having the majority stake.

(The writer is a Chandigarh-based senior journalist)

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