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Sunday Sentiments


    Posted On May 8, 2022

    By Karan Thapar

    Adesh Gupta, the President of the Delhi Bhartiya Janata Party, has written to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal asking for the names of 40 Mughal-era villages to be changed but I trust his missive will not be received as an ‘adesh’ that must be obeyed. What Gupta wants is neither logical nor conscionable. It’s certainly not desirable. So the best response is not one that’s ‘gupt’. It ought to be loud, clear, firm and pretty dismissive.


    Gupta says “Delhi is no longer ‘Mughlon Ki Sarai’, it is the country’s capital. There should be no symbol of slavery in the city, especially when we are celebrating 75 years of independence”. The list of villages who’s names irk him include Jia Sarai, Zamroodpur, Tajpur, Najafgarh, Neb Sarai, Lado Sarai and Hauz Khas. But are they symbols of slavery?


    They’re not.The historian Narayani Gupta tells me ““settlements called pur indicates land given as grants by rulers and named for the recipient. (So) Babarpur, Timarpur and Humayunpur would have referred to some beneficiary, not to the emperors”. This means Gupta’s claim these names refer to the Mughals--or their predecessors, in some cases-- is incorrect.


    Swapna Liddle, who’s books on Delhi, like the one on Chandni Chowk, are highly regarded, asks what problem does Gupta have with sarais? Or is it that it’s an urdu word? As for Najafgarh, it’s named after a Mughal general who commanded Mir Qasim’s army against the East India Company. Najafgarh is where Najaf Khan built a fort to protect Delhi against the British. In BJP terminology that makes him  a freedom fighter!


    Let me, however, make a wider, albeit rhetorical, point. If Gupta objects to places named after Mughal rulers, because he alleges they ill-treated or killed hindus, then, by that logic, shouldn’t the name Ashok, which adorns roads and hotels, be removed because, by his own admission, he killed over 100,000 people at Kalinga? At the time it was tyranny. Today it might be called genocide.


    There’s something else Gupta doesn’t realize. You can’t undo or re-write history by changing the name of a city or a road. Let me cite an example from London. One of the best known parts of the British capital is Hanover Square. It’s named after the German dynasty that ruled from 1714 to 1901. But even after fighting two world wars with Germany, when thousands died at German hands, this name has not been changed. That’s because the Hanoverians are an ineradicable part of British history just as the Mughals-- or the Sultanate—is an inseparable part of ours.


    Now Gupta wants these 40 villages named after people like Rafi, Lata, Milkha Singh, Yashpal Sharma and Valmiki. But what connection do they have with Delhi? If something should be named after them shouldn’t it be where they were born or lived?


    This leads me to a further point. Places are not just identified by, but also emotionally associated with, their names. It’s as much a part of a place’s character as any other feature. When you abruptly change a name you also forcibly alter its character.


    Names are associations people have grown familiar with. It’s how they think of their cities or places of residence. This is why Connaught Place may be affectionately called CP but never Rajiv Chowk. Indeed, I doubt if Gupta uses the official name!


    Let me give you a telling example. It’s not as far fetched as first it may seem. Tens of thousands of Indian men must be called Nathuram. Now, in 1948, when Nathuram Godse killed Gandhi, if parents had decided to change the names of sons called Nathuram it would have been heart-wrenching. Why is it any different when a centuries old name of a city is changed? Remember a city is a living entity. Not a ghost town or an excavated ruin.


    Let me end by quoting Narayani Gupta. She says “we are descending into collective cretinism”. I’m afraid a large part of the blame lies with Adesh Gupta.

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