What’s in a President’s name
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet
Thus said the leading lady to the protagonist in William Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet. The subtle message from these famous lines is that the character of an object or person does not change <g data-gr-id="115">with </g>the name. Aurangzeb Marg, now rechristened as APJ Abdul Kalam Marg, would remain the residence of powerful politicians and corporate honchos in Lutyens Delhi and not become a hub of science laboratories with a change in the name. Among those global corporate leaders staying at Aurangzeb Road include Arcelor Mittal’s LN Mittal, KP Singh of DLF and Max Healthcare’s Analjit Singh.
I am no admirer of sixth Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. Ever since I came to Delhi as a student at Delhi University, I wondered what made the powers that be name such an important road in the national capital after the emperor. Aurangzeb’s policies in the long term were to prove largely responsible for the decay of the Mughal Empire. That the road named after him ran almost parallel to one named after his ancestor Akbar, the best known Mughal emperor, also confounded me. There are other roads named after Mughal emperors like Babar, Humayun and Shahjahan, but they are relatively ‘low profile’ roads than the one named after Aurangzeb.
I also wondered why the city planners decided to banish the fourth Mughal emperor Jahangir from Lutyens Delhi altogether. There is a resettlement colony named after him in North-West Delhi, which obviously does not enjoy a similar brand equity as the avenues in the New Delhi district. It would be a matter of worthwhile research to find out whom and why somebody in the government decided to name a road after Aurangzeb, whose brutalities the city witnessed. Alas, we do not have author Khuswant Singh, also a veritable Sikh historian, living anymore to tell the tale.
One of Sikh history’s most painful chapters is the beheading of Guru Teg Bahadur at the behest of Aurangzeb for having opposed his aggressive policy of conversion to Islam. Harvard historian William Irvine states that Guru Teg Bahadur was tortured for many weeks while being asked to abandon his faith and convert to Islam. He stood by his convictions and refused. Such a dogged position soon led to his execution. The Sikh tradition states that the associates of the Guru were tortured too for their refusal to convert.
The Guru was beheaded at a place where Gurdwara Sisganj stands in the walled city. His last rites were carried out at where Gurdwara Rakabganj stands today. A memorial to Guru’s visit to Delhi, where he ultimately met martyrdom, was built nearly four centuries later by the Delhi government at Singhu border.
Aurangzeb became part of folklore for having jailed his father Shah Jahan, the builder of Shahjahanabad, today’s old Delhi and the Taj Mahal. Also, Aurangzeb is famous for killing his brothers Dara Shikoh, Shuja and Murad in his quest for power. Though rated to be best in military affairs among his brothers, Aurangzeb was a brute in matters of wielding power and a religious bigot.
Though many historians credit Aurangzeb with bringing almost all territories in the Indian sub-continent under the Mughal fold, his religious policy saw a series of rebellions. Important among these rebellions were those of the Marathas, Jats, Rajputs and Sikhs. These rebellions put the Mughal rule in the state of irrevocable decline.
Having expressed a lack of sadness at the Narendra Modi government’s decision to rechristen Aurangzeb Marg as APJ Abdul Kalam Marg, a few queries do remain. Why didn’t the powers to be call it S Radhakrishnan Marg? The instant answer would be that there is a road already named after him in Chanakyapuri.
Well, that’s true but how many people visit Chanakyapuri and how many parents of children studying at elite Sanskriti School know that it’s located on S Radhakrishnan Marg. The city planners could have found a better place for philosopher-president than just going through the routine of naming a road after him. When there are roads named after his predecessor Dr Rajendra Prasad and successor Dr Zakir Hussain in Lutyens Bungalow Zone, why not one after Radhakrishnan? Maybe the scholar president did not have the same kind of vote-catching charisma which other Tamilians like Kalam and K Kamaraj had, who also has a road named after him leading to Raisina Hill.
I am raking up the issue because the change in the appellation of Aurangzeb Road could have been better explained if it was named after somebody who did not follow the same religion as the Mughal emperor. The Hindutva protagonists within the BJP, led by East Delhi MP and <g data-gr-id="128">Sri Sri</g> Ravishankar’s acolyte Maheish Girri pounced on the opportunity provided by the sudden death of Dr Kalam. Well, I cannot find an English equivalent for the Hindi phrase “<g data-gr-id="106">saanp</g> <g data-gr-id="107">bhi</g> mar <g data-gr-id="108">jaye</g> <g data-gr-id="109">aur</g> <g data-gr-id="110">laathi</g> <g data-gr-id="111">bhi</g> <g data-gr-id="112">na</g> <g data-gr-id="113">toote</g>”, which means you kill the snake and save the stick too. Such moves, however, do smack of diabolical politics.
If the NDA government did indeed have such respect for the eminence of Dr Kalam, as illustrated by the respects Prime Minister Narendra Modi showed for the departed soul, it could have well saved the former president from an unnecessary controversy. Probably a memorial under the aegis of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) dedicated to the work of Dr Kalam would have been more befitting to perpetuate his memory than enmesh his name with a religious bigot.
(The author is president Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice and Consulting Editor, Millennium Post)