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Wednesday, Oct 05, 2022

A flying start

Chandigarh could set an example, call its airport by its own name

John F. Kennedy, Idlewild, International Airports, New York International Airport, AIADMK, Mohali, ieeditorial

A little over a half-century ago, when the mayor of New York decided to rename Idlewild, or New York International Airport, after John F. Kennedy two months after his assassination, he declared that “Our purpose in gathering here today is to honour our international airport and our city and not the man whose name we take for this place and occasion. The name is already assured of remembrance in the chronicles of these times and of all time. Thus, we do not pretend to add to the name’s lustre by adopting it even for this great crossroads of the world’s skyways.” In the 52 years since, the naming of airports, especially in this country, has become imbued with the opposite spirit. Tamil Nadu CM J. Jayalalithaa skipped the 2013 inauguration of the new terminal at Chennai, slighted by the rejection of her proposal it be named after her mentor and AIADMK founder M.G. Ramachandran. When actor-director Girish Karnad suggested that the Bangalore airport be renamed after Tipu Sultan, he was caught in a double jeopardy — Hindutva forces attacked him for promoting a Muslim ruler, while the Gowda community took it as an insult to Kempe Gowda, the 16th century chieftain widely accepted as the founder of the city after whom its airport is presently named.

In Chandigarh, too, controversy has been brewing on the naming of the new airport terminal at Mohali, shared between Punjab and Haryana. There has long been a demand to name it after Bhagat Singh, the revolutionary freedom fighter. The Punjab Assembly passed a resolution to this effect in 2009. The present Haryana chief minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, said in September that he had no objection to the proposal. Most other political parties in the two states also agree on naming it after Bhagat Singh. Yet, more recently, Khattar has sent off a proposal to the Centre asking that it be named after the late Mangal Sen, deputy chief minister of Haryana between 1977-79, and an RSS leader.

Those accusing Khattar of insulting Bhagat Singh’s memory are doing the martyr a disservice. Not having his name adorn an airport does not diminish Bhagat Singh. What would be best, though, is for Chandigarh International Airport to be left with its present secular appellation, a precedent-setter in breaking away from the increasingly fraught exercise of naming public assets, caught between competing claims of political parties, religions, castes and linguistic communities. In any case, those who want airports named after their heroes (or heroines) would do well to remember that no one, except the flight attendant making the landing and take-off announcements, refers to the airport in Delhi or Chennai or Mumbai by its given name.

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First published on: 19-12-2015 at 12:20:05 am
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