The Himanta Biswa Sarma government in Assam on Wednesday announced that the Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park — the oldest game reserve in the state, located on the north bank of the Brahmaputra — will be known as the Orang National Park.
The development comes weeks after the Centre dropped former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s name from the Khel Ratna award.
Wednesday’s decision was taken by the state Cabinet after “taking cognizance of the Adivasi and Tea Tribe Community’s demands”, a release from the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) said.
“The Chief Minister had recently met the representatives of the Tea Tribe and Adivasi community and they had requested that we restore the original name of the park,” said Assam government spokesperson and I&PR Minister, Pijush Hazarika, addressing the press after the meeting.
Reacting to the development, Congress MP from Assam Gaurav Gogoi tweeted: “When the next Congress Government is formed in the state of Assam, on the first day we will cancel the decision of the BJP government to remove the name of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi from the Orang National Park. Indian culture teaches us to respect martyrs unlike RSS.”
Located 140 km from Guwahati, the park, named after the eponymous ethnic group, is known for the one-horned rhino, tigers, elephants, wild boars, pygmy hogs, and a variety of fish, among a host of other flora and fauna species. It is often called ‘Mini Kaziranga’ owing to the similarities in topography, and a rich population of the one-horned rhino.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Assam Forest Minister Parimal Suklabaidya said that the change in name was a “longstanding demand” of local communities living around the park. “It was always the Orang National Park — until the Congress inserted former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s name in it. So we have just respected local sentiments by restoring the original name.”
Orang was notified as a game reserve by the British in 1915, making it the oldest such reserve in the state. Dr Budhin Hazarika, researcher and former honorary wildlife warden of the Mangaldai Wildlife Division, under which Orang falls, said that a multitude of tribes (Hajong, Orang, Koch, etc.) lived in Orang in the 1900s but abandoned the area after an outbreak of Black Fever. “In 1915, the British notified it as a game reserve, after which it was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1985,” he said. In 1999 it was upgraded to National Park, and in 2016, recognised as a Tiger Reserve.
According to Dr Hazarika, the controversy in the name dates back to 1992, when the Hiteshwar Saikia-led Congress government changed the name from Orang Wildlife Sanctuary to Rajiv Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary. “There was considerable protest from the local community, as well as civil society organisations. It was a historical area, with a historical name tied to the local sentiments, so there was resistance. The opposition was so strong that the then Congress government let it go and the name change never materialised,” he said.
Later, however, when it was upgraded to a National Park in 1999, to placate the locals, the Congress said it would retain the name ‘Orang’ but add ‘Rajiv Gandhi’ to it, said Dr Hazarika. “So it became the Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park — and that is how it remained.”
Assam currently has seven national parks: Kaziranga, Manas, Orang, Nameri, Dibru-Saikhowa and more recently, Raimona and Dehing Patkai.