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Explained: Why has the Maharashtra government renamed Aurangabad city as Sambhajinagar?

The Shiv Sena-led Maharashtra government, in a last decision, cleared a proposal to rename Aurangabad as Sambhajinagar and Osmanabad as Dharashiv. Why have these cities been renamed?

Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray at Mantrayala to attend the state cabinet meeting. (Express photo by Narendra Vaskar)

In what could turn out to be its last major decision, the Uddhav Thackeray Cabinet on Wednesday (June 29) evening approved the renaming of Aurangabad city as Sambhajinagar, and Osmanabad city — which is named after the last ruler of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan — as Dharashiv.

Why have these cities been renamed?

The renaming is an effort by the Shiv Sena to burnish its Hindutva credentials ahead of the likely collapse of the 31-month-old Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government following the floor test scheduled for June 29.

The opposition BJP has repeatedly mocked the Sena for not sticking to its promise to rename Aurangabad in particular, under pressure from its secular allies NCP and Congress.

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The Sena rebels led by Eknath Shinde have over the past week openly questioned the Uddhav Thackeray led Shiv Sena’s commitment to Hindutva, and alleged that the party of Balasaheb Thackeray is gradually surrendering its core ideology at the behest of the NCP and Congress.

But why Aurangabad specifically?

Aurangabad was founded in 1610 by Malik Ambar, the Siddi general of the Nizamshahi dynasty of Ahmadnagar. The city was named Khirki or Khadki at the time, and its name was changed to Fatehpur by Malik Ambar’s son Fateh Khan following Malik Ambar’s death in 1626.

In 1653, the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb invaded the Deccan and set up his capital in the city, which he renamed Aurangabad. The city has borne the association of its name with Aurangzeb ever since.

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Chhattrapati Sambhaji Maharaj, the son and successor of Chhattrapati Shivaji Maharaj, was tortured and killed in brutal fashion on Aurangzeb’s orders in 1689.

What is the Sena’s connection with Aurangabad?

In the late 1980s, Aurangabad became one of the first major cities outside the Mumbai-Thane belt that the Shiv Sena set its eyes on. The city’s 30% Muslim population made it fertile ground for polarisation. Following communal riots that led to the killing of over 25 people, in 1988, the Sena won elections to the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation.

On May 8, 1988, Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray announced the renaming of the city to Sambhajinagar after Sambhaji Maharaj. In 1995, the Aurangabad Corporation passed a resolution to do so, and the then Sena-led government in the state issued a notification seeking suggestions and objections from people on this.

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What happened after that?

The notification was challenged in the High Court by then AMC corporator Mushtaq Ahmed, who belonged to the Congress. While the plea was dismissed by the court stating that no decision had been taken, the renaming remained a contentious issue that resurfaced periodically.

With the Shiv Sena in power, both the BJP and Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) have over the past two years criticising the party for failing to follow through on Balasaheb’s promise. The Sena’s MVA allies, Congress and the NCP, have not been keen on the renaming.

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In March 2020, as a placatory gesture, the MVA government had cleared a proposal to rename Aurangabad airport as Chhattrapati Sambhaji Maharaj Airport. However, this has not yet got the go-ahead from the Centre.

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The Sena has been using Sambhajinagar instead of Aurangabad in its political rhetoric and in the party newspaper Saamna, but the actual changing of the city’s name could never be done.

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First published on: 29-06-2022 at 08:26:29 pm
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