On August 28, the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) passed a resolution to rename Aurangzeb Road in Lutyens’s Delhi as Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road in honour of the much loved and universally admired former President of India. The Council took the decision unanimously at a meeting chaired by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, on the basis of requests by BJP MPs Meenakshi Lekhi and Maheish Girri, and AAP’s trade wing secretary Vipin Rohilla. Following the decision, many have asked whether it was necessary to tamper with history, and whether there were no better ways to honour Kalam’s memory than merely naming a road after him.
What is the controversy?
Supporters of the decision point to the popular perception of Aurangzeb as “a cruel, dictatorial and despotic ruler”, and to “the need for correcting mistakes of our past”. Lekhi also raised “law and order” concerns, as Aurangzeb Road signages were defaced in May this year. However, a right wing group, Shiv Sena Hindustan, also vandalised signages bearing names of Muslim rulers such as Akbar and Firozshah (Tughlaq), who do not have Aurangzeb’s dark reputation.
The CPI (M) perceives the decision as a “first step in a campaign to rename historical places and roads on communal grounds”. JD (U) chief Sharad Yadav has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to revoke the decision — he has argued that the move is an attempt “to deviate from history”, and “amounted to opening a Pandora’s box”.
What is the procedure for renaming roads in Delhi?
According to NDMC officials, proposals to rename roads can be considered and acted upon at the discretion of the Council. However, Minister of State for Home Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary had told the Lok Sabha on April 21 that such decisions are governed by a set of Ministry of Home Affairs guidelines from 1975. As per the guidelines, changes in names of streets create confusion for post offices and the public, and deprive people of a sense of history. Chaudhary said, “Therefore, it was decided that the name of existing streets/road etc., should not be changed. Only new streets/roads etc., and such old streets/roads etc., as are in existence without specific names may be named after eminent personalities local, national or international, to honour them.”
When was the demand for renaming Aurangzeb Road first raised?
Lekhi, who is also an NDMC member, pointed out that the demand for renaming Aurangzeb Road was first raised by her in December last year following requests from various sections. On the basis of a request by the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee, it was suggested that the road be named after Guru Teg Bahadur. There was also a suggestion to rename the road after Dara Shikoh, Aurangzeb’s liberal elder brother, who is considered an anti-thesis of the Mughal Emperor.
But when asked in Parliament whether there was a proposal to rename roads in the NCT of Delhi bearing names of foreign invaders after revolutionaries, freedom fighters and “martyrs”, Chaudhary had said, “At present, there is no such proposal under consideration of the government.”
After Kalam’s death, Girri wrote to the PM, Delhi CM, BJP president Amit Shah and NDMC chairperson Naresh Kumar with the request. Having raised the matter in Parliament earlier, Girri said “history has no place for cruelty”. He said that his demand had received support from fellow MPs and on social media, and that “instead of having a road which is named after an emperor who is recorded in history for his cruelty, we should rename Aurangzeb Road as Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road on Independence Day”.
Was the decision politically motivated?
Political rivals AAP and BJP agreed on the change of name, and both claimed credit for it. Girri lauded the BJP-led NDA government for the decision, while AAP officials pointed out that Kejriwal had chaired the Council meeting.
Again, while several politicians and academics have raised concens about the alleged creeping influence of the RSS over governance, controversies over the renaming of a public space or property are not unheard of in India or abroad. Several roads in Delhi and other cities have been renamed after personalities idolised by regimes then in power. The renaming of Delhi’s central landmark Connaught Place as Rajiv Chowk and Connaught Circus as Indira Chowk had led to protests in Parliament and on the streets.