Elections come marinated with hope. And promises. Sometimes, rather irrationally, they also come with a renaming spree. During a Parliament discussion in December on the National Capital Territory of Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Second (Amendment) Bill, Venkaiah Naidu, our urban development minister said, "I feel, instead of Delhi, it should have been either Indraprastha or Hastinapur. Some such historical name should have been more appropriate for this city." We do not know if this idea is a consequence of voter wooing prior to Delhi elections, or a part of some arcane agenda, but what we do know is that renaming cities is unlikely to yield positive political dividends. Who else but Mayawati can tell, albeit privately, that cosmetic changes do little to sway the voters. Regardless, our leaders continue to look at cities through an electoral prism. This despite the fact that playing politics with culture and heritage is a dangerous game.
If Shanghai is a girl, and London a man puffing his pipe, Delhi is a feisty woman who goes to work despite being harassed, leered, molested or attacked with acid. A symbol of pluralistic society, she needs safety and avenues for growth to fulfill her global aspirations. Cosmetic changes without any rhyme or reason mean nothing for a city that by any other name shall continue to appear culturally resplendent and contemporary at the same time.
According to the book Ancient Delhi, the earliest reference to 'Dhillika' as a location comes from a 12th-century inscription from Bijolia, Rajasthan. In the epic poem Prithviraj Raso, 'Dhilli' is associated with a Rajput king and an iron pillar in Mehrauli. This 12th-century legend suggests that modern Delhi was named after the loose base of this pillar. There are other unverified legends relating to rulers of Delhi and its surrounding regions. Given that different parts of Delhi were raised by different rulers, Delhi could well have been called Tughlaquabad, Ferozabad, Dinpanah, Shahjahanabad, or Georgabad by the British after King George V. And yet, Delhi remained Delhi - a pulsating conglomeration, ready to embrace everyone.
We may have moved from Bombay to Mumbai, from Madras to Chennai, from Puna to Pune or from Calcutta to Kolkata, but all the while the problems facing our cities remain the same. At a time when Delhi cries for women's safety and is grappling with a messy transport system, polluted air, migrant issues and affordable housing, among other things, a name change should have been the last thing on the mind of our urban development minister. Agreed, as of now, a name change is merely a suggestion, but once a cabinet minister has planted a seed, the fringe elements could ensure that the seed is watered enough to sprout. It is likely that after renaming festivals and cities, the renaming of other prominent landmarks will follow.
Since we are moving towards absurdity at such an amazing speed, I wouldn't be surprised if Delhi were eventually called Hastinapur during the BJP rule, Indirapur or Nehrunagar if the Congress comes back to power and Chhatrapati Shahuji Nagar if the BSP ever took over the reins. And if the Yadav troika comes to power, they can happily call the capital city Yadavpur or Yadavprashtha. After all, what is in a name if not symbolism?
I have no political axe to grind but here is the question that begs to be asked: Is this what Delhi needs right now, a name change?
(This post originally appeared on the blog Freebird)