Lucknow, Dec 10 (IANS): With barely a few months left for the general elections, the demand for changing names of cities in Uttar Pradesh is gathering ground.
Some districts in Uttar Pradesh that have “Muslim sounding names” like Aligarh, Azamgarh, Shahjahanpur, Ghaziabad, Firozabad, Farrukhabad and Moradabad could be given new names, but that may happen next year.
A formal demand for renaming Firozabad as Chandra Nagar has already been placed before the Yogi Adityanath government.
However, does changing names of government buildings and schemes prove to be a game-changer? In the past one decade, every political party in Uttar Pradesh seems to have believed that it does.
The name-changing trend began in Uttar Pradesh in 2007 when the BSP came to power.
Mayawati renamed eight districts -- most of them after Dalit icons. She named Shamli as Prabudh Nagar, Sambhal as Bhim Nagar, Hapur as Panchsheel Nagar, Kanpur Dehat as Rama Bai Nagar, Kasganj as Kanshi Ram Nagar, Amethi as Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Nagar, Amroha as Jyotiba Phule Nagar and Hathras as Mahamaya Nagar.
The changes in names not only incurred huge financial losses due to repainting of signage and reprinting of official stationery, but also led to widespread confusion. There were instances of people boarding wrong buses and sending postal goods to wrong addresses.
Almost everyone felt that places that have been known traditionally by one name -- howsoever irrelevant they may be -- remain etched in people’s mind while new names are not remembered easily.
Mayawati had also renamed the prestigious King George’s Medical University (KGMU) as Chhatrapati Shahuji Medical University.
This had the alumni of the KGMU, popularly known as Georgians worldwide, up in arms. “Will we be known as Shahujians now?” asked the USA Georgians Association. The game of changing names, however, did not help the BSP which lost the 2012.
Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav, who formed the next government, lost no time in restoring the original names of many public institutions. He was also cautious not to rename places.
Instead, he built new parks and buildings that he named after the Samajwadi icons. These included Janeshwar Mishra Park and JP International Centre.
Mayawati expectedly slammed the SP for “insulting the Dalit icons and leaders” and tried hard to mobilise her Dalit voters on the issue. She did not succeed and drew a blank in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. A proof of the fact that name changing is not always a game-changer.
The Yogi Adityanath government, meanwhile, went on a name changing spree after the demise of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. He renamed roads, parks, crossings, buildings and everything after the late leader.
At a given point of time in Lucknow, one could travel through the Atal Behari Vajpayee road, pass through the Atal Chauraha, turn right and reach the Atal Behari Vajpayee convention centre or simply move straight, pass over the Atal Setu and get to the Atal Behari Kalyan Mandap.
The Yogi government then renamed the iconic Mughalsarai railway station (which is the fourth busiest railway junction in the country) as Deendayal Upadhyaya Junction. The move was a mark of respect toward BJP’s co-founder.
The state government then changed the name of Allahabad to Prayag Raj just before the 2019 Kumbh Mela. Saints claim that the original name of this historic city was Prayag Raj and the Mughals had changed it to 'Allahbad' which later became Allahabad.
Last month, the municipal bodies of Aligarh passed a resolution seeking renaming of the city to Harigarh while Firozabad was proposed to be renamed as Chandra Nagar.
A similar proposal was also floated in Mainpuri that wanted the district to be renamed Mayanpuri.
If Uttar Pradesh’s ministers and MLAs are to be believed, in the coming months, about a dozen districts and towns will get new names.
Minister of State for Secondary Education Gulab Devi has demanded that the name of her home district Sambhal be changed to Prithviraj Nagar or Kalki Nagar.
Gulab Devi says, “There is a demand to change the name of Sambhal in different areas of the district. A large number of people came to meet me and I have assured them of trying to get the name changed.”
Former BJP MLA Devmani Dwivedi has been demanding that Sultanpur district be renamed Kushbhavanpur.
Dwivedi, who represented Sultanpur’s Lambhua constituency, says, “I have already raised the demand for renaming Sultanpur as Kushabhavanpur in the state Assembly. This city was founded by Lord Rama’s son Kush.”
Dwiwedi was denied the ticket by the BJP in the 2022 Assembly polls.
BJP MLA Brijesh Singh from the Deoband Assembly seat of Saharanpur has also demanded to change the name of Deoband to Devvrand. Deoband is known for Islamic Madrasa Darul Uloom.
Brajesh Singh says, “In ancient Hindu scriptures, this place is called Devavrand. I will try to give Deoband a pristine name.”
Manvendra Singh, BJP MLA from Shahjahanpur’s Dadraul Assembly constituency, says that the people of his area want Shahjahanpur to be renamed Shajipur, which is another name for Bhamashah, a close aide of Maharana Pratap.
Former BJP MLA from the Mohammadabad constituency in Ghazipur, Alka Rai, has demanded to change the name of Ghazipur to Gadhipuri.
According to Alka Rai, this city was the capital of Raja Garhi, father of Maharishi Vishwamitra in ancient India and later named after an associate of Mohammad bin Tughlaq. Alka Rai says, “We will also insist on renaming the Muhammadabad Assembly constituency as Dhara Nagar as the area is mentioned in ancient texts.”
Political analysts are linking Hindutva to the sudden demand for changing the names of districts before the 2024 general elections.
“Most districts where name changes are being demanded, have names that are related to the Muslim community. By changing them in the name of Hindu saints or ancestors, the agenda of Hindutva is being carried forward,” said a retired historian Shivakant Bhatt.
The Yogi Adityanath government has already renamed Allahabad as Prayagraj and Faizabad as Ayodhya, while Mughalsarai has been renamed as Deen Dayal Upadhyay Nagar. The state government has also changed the name of Jhansi railway station after Rani Laxmi Bai.
According to an official working in the finance department, “Whenever the process of changing names of districts starts, there is a huge burden on the exchequer. All the banks, railway stations, trains, police stations, buses and bus stands, schools-colleges located in the district or state have to change the name of the district on their stationery and the addresses written in the board and many of these institutions have to change the name of their website. In place of old stationery and stamps, new material has to be ordered."
According to a government estimate, more than Rs 300 crore were spent in the process of changing the name of Allahabad to Prayagraj.
However, the office of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is collecting all the proposals to change the names. A decision on these proposals could be taken by early next year.