Motera Stadium
View of the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. It is the largest cricket stadium in the world. Image Credit: PTI

Things were calm last week. No one was arrested for an innocuous tool kit, not many were getting vaccinated, and Amitabh Bachchan was still rectifying the numbers on his tweet.

All is well with the world said my mann ki baat as I got comfortable to watch some good cricket. Thankfully though, I hadn’t bought a ticket.

A stadium changed its name and down went the fortunes of countless fans who were probably left wondering if there is something in a name.

Lagaan 2.0 was a two- day test match at the newly minted Narendra Modi stadium in Ahmedabad, all those who had bought tickets for the remaining three days were a mixed bag, should they celebrate India’s demolition of England or would it be too much to ask for a refund.

It was over so quick that even Wikipedia would have found it tough to keep pace with the updates- not just the falling wickets but also who was appropriating whose legacy. The Narendra Modi stadium- now the world’s largest- was earlier the Sardar Patel stadium.

The cult of naming and renaming started decades ago with the first family of Congress that even now insists, it is family first. The party made sure no one forgot Nehru, Indira or Rajiv Gandhi.

Even if we tried it isn’t easy when 450 schemes and institutions in the country are named after them although sometimes it’s confusing to differentiate between an award and an airport! Sanjay Gandhi who is only remembered for his role in the emergency also has a scheme and a park dedicated to him.

Recent op-eds by Jyotsna Mohan

But there is a small matter of life and death- the dedication sprees were launched after the Congress prime ministers had passed.

Even the statue of BJP leader Arun Jaitley at Feroze Shah Kotla cricket grounds in Delhi- no, he didn’t play cricket either- was installed after his death. But where there is a monogrammed suit, there is a stadium. And soon there will also be a new Parliament building.

Not a single stadium in the country has been named after a cricketer, the real game is played on another pitch and the ability of Indian politicians to infiltrate sports is the actual power play.

Most of the country’s sports bodies are run by those who have probably never jogged even once in the lawns of their government bungalows. In 2016, it was reported that only 1 out of 27 federations had a former athlete as the president.

Federations and associations of even sports like judo and chess which are not the most popular in the country have also been under political control for decades. I may be late to the party, but I was recently told that there is also a Rajiv Gandhi beachball Kabaddi federation. I am still trying to get my head around the combination! The big daddy of course is the BCCI.

A fascination with tributes

India’s fascination with tributes- often to self, emanates from a rampant VIP culture that has much to do with the overpowering desire to be the only man of the match. Or woman.

Mayawati- the erstwhile chief minister of Uttar Pradesh demolished an entire green belt to dedicate a mammoth park to herself in the city of Noida, a Delhi suburb. All at the cost of more than 600 crores public money. 24 elephant statues- her party’s symbol stare back resignedly every time I cross the traffic bottleneck just outside the park gates.

In a country where astrologers can change your karma with an alphabet and their wallets with your money- some days I barely recognize my own relatives who have undergone numerology and come out unrecognizable, imagine the pressure on the infamous bureaucracy that has its own speed of allowing things to remain undone.

The here today, unseen tomorrow names of towns, streets and schemes can be a real test- paperwork has never been their forte. In Tamil Nadu, the names of 1,018 places were changed during the pandemic. The vaccine hadn’t even been discovered before the order was withdrawn.

The city of Allahabad- named after the Mughal king Akbar is now Prayagraj, yet Allahabad High Court still functions with the old name. So, think of the common man who went to see Deepika Padukone starrer Padmavati but came back after watching Padmavat!

My association with the Mughals goes way back- my parents were married in Delhi’s ‘Babar Road’ – a lane that was more interested in the chole bhature and other street food next door at the famous Bengali Market ironically packed with Punjabis- than any hint of history.

During my college years I stayed there and knew at least one unofficial activist who wanted the name of the first Mughal emperor removed- my grandmother. She lived on that street her entire life but was no politician and as luck would have it even her local elected representative was a lady with the surname Babar!

During those days, the big social invite was at Aurangzeb road- a street with envious villas and old money, ornate architecture and lion mounted facades. The parties on that lane were legendary, often making it to tabloids. Today it is called a staid Kalam Road named after a much-loved President who the politicians of the country didn’t think deserved a second chance.

Sometimes it is about erasing British and Mughal history, these days it is also personal- to punish the haves for the have-nots, but most times dedications remain at the whims and fancies of political masters.

It isn’t easy being a historian, let alone a history teacher.