The chief minister of the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Yogi Adityanath, has lived up to his reputation as a Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) hawk. His attitude has not mellowed after ascending to power. Instead, he has used his political clout to state that Hindu symbols and signs are of overriding importance. Hence, the concept of a huge statue of Rama on the banks of the Saryu, the wholehearted support to the Ram temple movement and the erasure of Muslim names of towns.
Starting with the renaming of the Mughal Sarai railway junction, familiar to countless travellers, after a person who is little known outside the Hindutva camp — Deen Dayal Upadhyay — the Adityanath government has been energetically changing the names of other places as well. These include Allahabad, which has become Prayagraj, Faizabad is now Ayodhya, and Muzaffarnagar, which may soon be called Laxmi Nagar if the government accepts the suggestion by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of legislature Sangeet Som, who had called the Taj Mahal a “blot” on Indian culture.
Encouraged by Adityanath, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has suggested the name Karnavati for Ahmedabad. Not to be left behind, the BJP’s ally, Shiv Sena, has sought a time-frame for renaming Aurangabad and Osmanabad. Hyderabad too is under the Hindutva scanner: The BJP has said that if it wins the assembly elections in Telangana, it will rename the city Bhagyanagar.
Although cities have been renamed in the past — Chennai for Madras, Mumbai for Bombay, Kolkata for Calcutta — the idea was generally to revive an old name such as the association of Madras/Chennai with a 16th-century ruler, Chennappa Naicker. Or to pay homage to a local deity, Mumbadevi, as in the case of Bombay. Or to bring a name phonetically close to the way it is locally pronounced like Kolkata. But rarely has a city been renamed to highlight a Hindu name and snub Muslims.
True, the names of roads and localities (such as Clive Street or Connaught Place) associated with the British rulers were changed. But that was to sever a colonial connection although the names of “friendly” foreigners were retained, as in the case of the Corbett National Park. But the saffron brotherhood’s drive is solely motivated by a desire to erase all signs of Muslim heritage, presumably because of the belief that the community does not — or at least should not — have any place in the country. Hence, BJP MP Vinay Katiyar’s advice to Muslims living in India to go to Pakistan or Bangladesh.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP hold the view that the Mughals and the Muslim rulers before them, as well as their co-religionists today, are aliens, although the Mughals and the others made India their home unlike the British. Although RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat argued at a conclave in Delhi earlier this year that Hindutva is incomplete without Muslims — thereby acknowledging the country’s multi-religious identity — Adityanath’s acts show that the case for accommodation is not accepted by the Hindutva hawks.
To them, the replacement of the signs of Muslim presence is an expression of Hindu pride just as the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 and the Gujarat riots of 2002 were cited as instances of Hindu “awakening”. Multicultural tenets are anathema to the Hindutva brigade as they militate against the “one nation, one people, one culture” ideals of a Hindu Rashtra, where the minorities will be second class citizens. The Hindus-only tunnel-vision of the hardliners ignores the fact that India is the birthplace of four religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism — and the home of the followers of three other faiths — Islam, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, not to mention the animism of the tribals.
The urgency to erase Muslim signs in the twilight years of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government may be due to the apprehension that the inadequacies of the government have left it with no option but to play the Hindu card with greater fervour. The tactic has only brought to the fore the long-standing anti-minority outlook of the Sangh Parivar (family). It is also evident that the occasional homilies of the RSS bigwigs in favour of accommodating Muslims and the lectures favouring pluralism have had little effect.
The humiliating wiping out of little bits of India’s past with their Muslim associations can only widen the gulf between the Hindus and the country’s largest minority community, even if Muslims understand the crass political intent of the provocative acts, which have the support of only saffron outfits and not of Hindus in general.
For the political saffronites, it has been a step-by-step process of rewriting history. When Murli Manohar Joshi was the Union human resources development minister, the Middle Ages were presented as a time of constant conflict between Hindus and the “invaders”. The latest attempt is to obliterate the concept of a composite culture or the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (culture), as it is known in Uttar Pradesh.
Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst in India.