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Pankaj Vohra

To rename roads is to play with history

The government should be focusing on issues such as health and education.

The Centre's decision to rename Aurangzeb Road in Lutyens' Delhi as Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Road is nothing but an attempt by those in power to adopt an ostrich like approach towards history, while honouring one of the most popular Presidents of the country, who may now be literally turning in his grave. Abdul Kalam would have never appreciated from even afar his name to be superimposed on any person out of India's long and rich history. The government, on its part, would have been better off concentrating on more important issues like improving the health and education infrastructure instead of scoring brownie points aimed at pleasing Hindu hardliners in the Sangh Parivar.

For someone who was born and grew up in Delhi, such acrobatics in the past too have made no sense. A few years ago when Connaught Place, the capital's nucleus was renamed as Indira Chowk and Rajiv Chowk, it was equally deplorable. "CP", as Connaught Place is generally referred to, simply cannot be addressed by any other name. The Delhi Metro, which lorries lakhs of passengers daily and makes a halt at "Rajiv Chowk", has been absolutely unable to change the mindset of its commuters; they continue to disembark at Connaught Place. It is because, our administrators, in any regime, be it the Congress or the BJP, like to believe that they are powerful enough to impose their decisions on the common people.

Delhi is perhaps amongst the oldest capitals of the world. The names of roads reflect history and how it was lived in this country. There were both tyrannical rulers as well as benevolent ones who left their indelible prints on the city. No one can eradicate, erase and eliminate any aspect of history by indulging in brain dead gymnastics. No purpose is served by changing the nomenclature. On the contrary, it contributes to a nebulous situation. For instance, those living on Aurangzeb Road will now have to suffer the consequences of this renaming. Their ration cards, Aadhar cards, postal address, passport details, Income Tax documents, property papers, telephone bills, voter IDs, etc., all will also have to be changed in order to demonstrate the Muhammad Bin Tughlak type decision.

Just because a handful in the BJP wanted to assert their will, they have needlessly put to inconvenience thousands who live on this stretch of about two kilometres. In addition, the road signs will have the new name, which is very similar to a road not every far away named after Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, on which the Vigyan Bhawan is located. In a city, where the majority of people cannot figure out where Hauz Khas, Hauz Rani and Hauz Qazi are, another monumental problem has seemingly been created.

BJP supporters have been arguing that Aurangzeb was a tyrant and a cruel person, who imposed jizya and killed his siblings to usurp power, besides massacring a large number of commoners, mostly Hindus. In history, there are so many such figures who indulged in unjustified killings. Emperor Ashoka was one of them. Before he was called Ashoka the Great, he had the blood of thousands including his own relatives on his hands. Subsequently, he evolved as a spiritual individual.

Aurangzeb, in earlier history books, was described as the Champion of Islam. He was the ruler at that time and if he pushed or influenced conversions, there is nothing much that could have been done. There were brave people like Guru Tegh Bahadur, who resisted and were killed. He murdered his siblings more out of his self preservation instinct. It was possible that had he not done away with his siblings, they would have killed him. History is full of such stories. He was also an erudite scholar and during whose reign, the boundaries of the Mughal empire stretched to many places which remain parts of modern India.

What is evident is that since Aurangzeb is seen as the propagator of Islam, some in the present government, to get an endorsement from the Hindu ideology driven Sangh Parivar, want to make a public display of knocking down the Mughal Emperor's name from the streets of the capital. Symbolism is an essential part of any regime change. As a matter of fact, even in Native Indian reserves in the United States, the placement of the Holy Cross serves as a reminder to the inhabitants that this is the symbol they needed to regard.

The Aurangzeb debate suits the BJP, which has thrived on the politics of polarisation for the past several years and shall continue to do so in the future as well, with development and good governance being used as mere slogans in the electoral arena. There are already demands of renaming Aurangabad by the Shiv Sena, which is equally jingoistic. However, history is a very important component of our life. Questions in future are bound to be asked why successive Prime Ministers address the nation on the Independence Day from the ramparts of Red Fort, which was built by Aurangzeb's father, Shah Jahan. The plea here would be that the government should stop wasting its energy on such senseless activities. Between us.

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