Why The BJP’s Recent #NaamVaapsi Politics is Dangerous For India

Hindu-isation of city names has more to do with BJP’s fortunes in India and less to do with reclaiming our history.

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In the last couple of months, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has taken it upon himself to rename cities, towns, railway stations, and chowks in his state. Allahabad became Prayagraj, Mughal Sarai junction is now Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg Junction and Faizabad is changed to Ayodhya!

He and his party's ministers have told us that this new #NaamVaapsi of cities trend has all to do with returning to our origins. But, here's the deal – the Hindu-isation of the names of our public spaces has more to do with the BJP's fortune in the upcoming elections, and very less to do with reclaiming any history.

Indeed, cities have been renamed in the past too. Decolonisation, cultural pride, and linguistic nationalism have all led to the names of cities being changed. But the recent name changes sets a very dangerous precedent and here’s why.

To “Other” The Muslims

This time, the renaming is squarely aimed at the Hindu vote bank and is being used to "Otherise" the largest minority group in India... Muslims.

The BJP and the Sangh Parivar deliberately refer to the era of Muslim rulers as "years of slavery" to try and convince Hindu voters that Muslims in this country are outsiders.

And it's not like Yogi Adityanath's recent decisions should come as any big surprise to us – even as Gorakhpur MP, long before his CM days, Yogiji had renamed Humayunpur to Hanumanpur, Mian Bazaar to Maya Bazaar, Alinagar to Aryanagar and – laughably – Urdu Bazaar to Hindi Bazaar. In one of his interviews to India TV, he had boasted:

“More names will be changed. Whatever restores our identity, I will continue to do that. And there is nothing wrong in that.”

The sitting chief minister of India's most populous state had once essentially said that he has a problem with names that have anything to do with Allah, Faiz, Ali.... you get the drift.

Urges Hindus to Vote on Religious Pride

When cities that have names with Muslim origins are renamed to sound 'Hindu', it sends a very clear message to Hindu voters. It urges them to vote based on their religious identity and pride. And when democratically elected leaders so brazenly display their hostility towards a minority, it doesn't bode too well for our democracy.


But Why Now?

And why exactly is the BJP and its allies all up for this #NaamVaapsi spree just months before the big 2019 election?

It is a simple attempt to divert attention from the real issues of 'vikas' to manufactured problems based on religious identities. You can change names all you want, but does that mean a change in the city's conditions?


Focus on Lives, Not Names

In Allahabad, the confluence of the three rivers, called Prayag, lends the city its new name. But the rivers themselves, including the Ganga – a holy river for Hindus – remain extremely polluted and toxic.

The UP government continues to deliberate over renaming Muzaffarnagar to Laxminagar. But, dear government, perhaps you could focus instead on improving the safety of women in the region? I mean, 32 alleged rapists escaped punishment after a deal was struck between Hindus and Muslims post the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. The rape survivors had no say in that deal, even as the government stayed a bystander.

The Gujarat government has expressed its willingness to turn Ahmedabad into Karnavati. But will that make the city safer for the thousands of migrant workers who were targeted there recently for being outsiders?

And it is worth noting as this renaming saga unfolds that there has not been a single word of disapproval from either PM Narendra Modi or BJP President Amit Shah. This silence can only mean that these efforts to de-Islamise Indian city names is a CLEAR part of the BJP's strategy to polarise Indian voters. The 2019 general elections aren't too far off, after all.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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