Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath loves to play with history and is evidently obsessed with the change of names. Surely, he does not believe in Shakespeare’s much talked about remark, “What’s in a name” .
As far as Adityanath is concerned, it is all about name only. More so, if the name has the remotest Islamic tinge. No wonder, on Tuesday (October 16) he convened a meeting of his cabinet to change the name of the historic city of Allahabad to Prayagraj.
Well, that was clearly on his agenda from the time he assumed the hot seat in India’s most populous state 19 months ago. Apparently, what seems to have prompted him to take the call so hastily now were the approaching general elections early next year. Perhaps he is hoping to gain some brownie points from those who were keeping a watch on his Hindutva profile that got him the coveted job at a time when far more experienced BJP leaders were in the queue.
As Member of Parliament from Gorakhpur for five successive terms, he displayed his fad for renaming places. The local Humayunpur was renamed Hanumanpur. He was also behind changing the name of Mian Bazar to Maya Bazar . He is understood to have inherited this trait from his guru Mahant Awaidyanath’s guru Digvijaynath, who was responsible for changing the name of Gorakhpur’s Urdu Bazar to Hindi Bazar a few decades ago.
Ideally, change of name of a place should not cause any rumblings even though it may affect local logistics and create minor inconveniences. But when this is done with the intent to spite someone so that it could serve a larger political objective, then it is bound to be seen with much skepticism and suspicion.
Since religious polarisation has been their most sought after handle to manouvre their way to power, BJP finds Hindu symbolism as the most convenient tool to achieve their goal.
But having seen Prime Minister Narendra Modi distorting history – wittingly or unwittingly – on several occasions, one ought to give concessions to his protégé Yogi Adityanath too when he did so while changing the name of Allahabad to Prayagraj.
According to Prof Neelam Saran Gaur who is known to have done extensive research on the culture and history of Allahabad, “Prayag was never the name of what was known as the city of Allabahad.” In her book, Allahabad – Where The Rivers Meet , Prayag (which means confluence) was limited to the area along the holy ‘Sangam’ (confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati rivers). Hindu mythology gave it the status of the ‘king’ of pilgrimages, which was why it got the name of ‘Prayagraj’.
When Akbar built a fort on the banks of the Ganga in the late 16th century, he named the area as ‘Illahabas’ (abode of the divine) Later, when the British came into the scene, this got anglacised to be christened as ‘Allahabad’. Evidently, the British name had no connotation to “Allah”, which some rabid Hindu groups seek to label it as.
Neelam Saran Gaur points out, “the name, ‘Illahabas’ was very discreetly coined by Akbar as the word had the element of ‘divinity’ – whether it be read as Hindi or as Arabic. Interestingly, while ‘Ila’ is another word for divinity in Hindi, ‘Ilahi’ is divine in Arabic.
History further has it that while ‘Prayagraj’ was the name given to the flood-plains of the Ganga, the Jhusi area on the other side of Sangam was originally known as ‘Pratishthanpur’. And that was where the original inhabitants lived. “Thus, if the name of Allahabad were to be changed in accordance with history, it could have been named Pratishthanpur”, argues Dr Ashok Prasad, a renowned scholar, listed as among the ten most qualified persons in the world.
But history is far beyond those who are obsessed with the idea of renaming anything and everything to suit their political whims. So don’t be surprised if tomorrow the whole of Faizabad becomes Ayodhya or if even Lucknow is rechristened Lakshmanpuri – a campaign already launched by the saffron brigade. If not anything else, it may take the people’s focus away from the failures on various governance issues in the country’s most populous state, at least for sometime.