Elections come marinated with hope. And promises. Sometimes, rather irrationally, they also come with a renaming spree. During a discussion in Parliament on the National Capital of Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Second (Amendment) Bill, Venkiah Naidu, our urban development minister said, “Sometimes 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 the voter obsession phase prior to Delhi elections or a part of some arcane agenda, but what we 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. Moreover playing politics with culture and heritage is a dangerous game. And yet, it seems to be a favorite game being played around.
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 a book, ‘Ancient Delhi’, the earliest reference of ‘Dhillika’ as a location comes from a 12th century inscription from Bijolia, Rajasthan. In 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 cities 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 moved from Bombay to Mumbai, from Madras to Chennai, from Puna to Pune or from Calcutta to Kolkatta, but all the while the problems facing our cities remain the same. At a time when Delhi cries for women’s safety with a rape every four hours and a molestation every two hours, at a time when Delhi is grappling with a transport mess, 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 saffron shoots. 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 won’t be surprised if Delhi is called Hastinapur during the BJP rule, Indirapur or Nehrunagar during the Congress rule and Chhatrapati Shahuji Nagar during the BSP rule. And if the Yadav troika comes to power, they can happily call the capital city - Yadavpur or Yadavprashtha.
In spirit, Delhi by any other name will remain Delhi. I have no political axe to grind but the question that begs to be asked is: Is this what Delhi needs right now, a name change?