The BJP government’s decision to change the name Gurgaon to Gurugram in Haryana seems to had its impact on Shimla. The move has inspired the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to ask for renaming Shimla to Shyamla.
The demand has been rejected by the Congress government in the state and Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh but that hasn’t stopped the Hindu outfit from justifying its demand. The argument by the VHP in favour of changing the name is more mythological than historical.
Manoj Singh, general secretary of the VHP’s state unit says the name ‘Shimla’ is derived from the Hindu Goddess Shyamala Devi who is an incarnation of Kali. He says the continuation of ‘Shimla’ as a name is a sign of abeyance to British rule in sovereign and independent India.
Simla, as it was known originally, was selected by the Britishers as a hill station surrounded by dense forests and untouched by human habitation. It came under the British Raj in 1817 to become the summer capital of the British Raj in India and thereafter it has borne witness to several historical events, most famously the Simla Agreement of 1972 between Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her Pakistan counterpart Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Earlier, there there was the Simla Accord of 1914 and the Simla Conference of 1945 in pre-independence days.
“The Britishers were very wise in their choice for places and Shimla perhaps aptly suited their needs being an isolated green hill top. The climatic conditions attracted the British to establish the city in the dense forests of Himalayas. It was free from human inhabitation and whatever habitations existed then were in the peripheral foothills, not at the top of the hill. If we allow the demand to change its name, that will be complete negation of the history, and could also be an unending process,” says Dr Chetan Singh, Director Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS) and a noted historian.
It was only in 1974 that Simla became Shimla –mainly to pronounce it correctly just as Kulu became Kullu. There was no demand to name Shimla as Shyamla even during the BJP state governments in Himachal Pradesh. During Shanta Kumar’s chief ministerial term in 1990-92, a decision was taken to rename Dalhousie as Subhash Nagar after Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose but nothing has been done in this regard.
Virbhadra Singh is in favour of Shimla remaining as Shimla because of its internationally acclaimed status, history and brand as a popular tourist destination. “If we keep changing names just for the heck of it there will be no end to it,’’ he said.
Dinesh Malhotra, a former Deputy Commissioner of Shimla who recently brought out a voluminous book on ‘DCs of Shimla’ based on the 200 years of the town, says he did find a mention of Shyamla during his research but whether any such village existed by that name cannot be ascertained.
So Shimla it is, for now.