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What’s in a name? Stupid politics!

What’s in a name? Stupid politics!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Romeo and Juliet (Act II, Scene 2)

The famous lines by the Bard of Avon have echoed through the columns of our newspapers every time the name of a city, a city square, or a road changed. Many years ago, I recall, BJP spokesperson and Member of Parliament MJ Akbar doing a programme on Doordarshan on Shiv Sena’s attempt to change Bombay’s name to Mumbai.

Akbar, then a most respected editor, did a fantastic job taking on then Mayor of Bombay – Chaggan Bhujbal. The disgraced former minister in the Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra was then a Shiv Sainik. The narrative throughout had resonating in the background the famous number from film CID, “Ai Dil Hain Muskhkil Jeena Yahan, Yeh Bombay, Yeh Hain Bombay, Yeh Hain Bombay Meri Jaan.” Composed by the master of rhythm and melody OP Nayyar, the song was sung by Mohammed Rafi and Geeta Dutt. For years together it remained the signature tune for the city on India’s west coast, which has for decades attracted in hordes people with a dream.

“Bombay” inspired many songs, film titles, and even a film company. “Mumbai”, I don’t recall having inspired any popular number so far. Nearly a quarter of a century-old, Mumbai is yet to catch people’s imagination. This is also true for the renamed city squares. Flora Fountain and Piccadilly Circus continue to be part of the city’s vocabulary though the area was renamed Hutatma Chowk long ago.

Similarly in Calcutta – oops! Kolkata - Dalhousie continues to be integral to conversation though the square named after the British Viceroy for long has been renamed as BBD Bag. Even in a comparatively small town like Patna, the Boring, Circular and Serpentine roads are more easily recognisable than the names of the leaders they are named after.

And the biggest testimony to Shakespeare’s famous lines is Connaught Place in the national Capital. Named after late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the outer circle being called Indira Gandhi Circus, nobody calls Connaught Place by any other name excepting for its acronym – CP. Similarly, former Congress Member of Lok Sabha from Chandni Chowk Jai Prakash Agrawal has spent his entire life getting people call the busy ITO crossing as Lala Ram Charan Agrawal Chowk, renamed after his freedom fighter father, but to no avail.

But do the people of our times have no luck getting their names on street signages or reviving the historical names. The Manohar Lal Khattar government in Haryana, which recently renamed Gurgaon as Gurugram, would have done better to take a lesson or two from Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) and for that matter even the Bihar government.

We will come to the Delhi Metro later, but first Bihar. The capital of the state is called Patna and unlike the case of Gurgaon, there are enough historical and archaeological evidence that the city was called Patliputra in ancient times and was the nerve centre of early Indian empires. However, the state government resisted renaming the city as Patna has its own identity and presence in the medieval and modern texts.

The challenge before the state government was to commemorate ancient magnificence and at the same time retain the current brand. The state government then led by the redoubtable Srikrishna Sinha named modern Patna’s most posh locality Patliputra Colony. It brought the ancient name into current vogue. Several years later when Patna Lok Sabha seat was bifurcated it came to be named as Patna City and Patliputra. A new railway station now has been named Patliputra. So Patna lives happily with no conflict whatsoever with Patliputra.

Coming to Delhi Metro, when the modern public transport system was about to roll, then Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and DMRC’s legendary Managing Director E Sreedharan were extraordinarily careful in naming the stations. Dikshit insured a better political deal for her party leader by getting the Connaught Place metro station named as Rajiv Chowk. The name clicked and Rajiv Chowk managed to become part of people’s vocabulary.

Similarly, they decided to name the Metro Station outside Old Secretariat as Vidhan Sabha. The heritage building which was the venue of India’s first legislative house, which later shifted to Parliament building, and in public parlance is still called the Old Secretariat. But the fact that it now houses the state Assembly, what better way than to call the new station Vidhan Sabha.

Thankfully, they did not name Kashmere Gate metro station as Maharana Pratap ISBT or something like that! The BJP government under Sahib Singh Verma had named Kashmere Gate ISBT as Maharana Pratap ISBT and Anand Vihar ISBT as Swami Vivekanand ISBT. Neither Pratap nor Vivekanand had any connect with the city to have such public places be named after them. No wonder people continue calling them Kashmere Gate Bus Adda and Anand Vihar Bus Adda.

When the Metro reached Gurgaon, they did just the right thing to call the first station on the yellow line in Haryana Guru Dronacharya, after the teacher of the princes in Mahabharata. Dronacharya has entered public parlance and people have accepted it without any difficulty. But will Gurugram find same acceptance in people’s vocabulary, will have to wait and watch.

(The author is President Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. The views expressed are personal.)
Sidharth Mishra

Sidharth Mishra

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