There was at least an ideological logic — however twisted and against the spirit that animates the Constitution of India — to changing the names of Allahabad to Prayagraj, Faizabad district to Ayodhya and Mughal Sarai station to Deen Dayal Upadhyaya station. Such is the zeal of the Uttar Pradesh government in its endeavour to put a saffron stamp on proper nouns for public spaces that no amount of reasoning, pleading and even outright ridicule has dampened it: Memes replacing the word Mughal — Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Garden, Upadhyayai restraunts — were common for a while. The latest target in the name-and-claim project appears to be Agra.
The problem with renaming the home of the Taj Mahal is that no one is quite sure of its “ancient” (read “Hindu”) nomenclature. So, the district administration has asked the history department of Bhim Rao Ambedkar University to “examine” what, if any, were the other names of the district. Thus far, the frontrunner appears to be “Agravan”, allegedly how Agra has been referred to in the Mahabharata. Question 1: Is Agra an easily-pronounceable abbreviation, and, if so, why change it? Question 2: Given that arguments stemming from India’s pluralism have made no dent in the past, what can convince the government of UP not to prolong this exercise?
Money and politics, perhaps, can talk convincingly. In 2017, when the Yogi Adityanath government left out the Taj Mahal from the state’s tourism brochure, traders from the city were up in arms. Their logic: Agra earns about Rs 2,500 crore from tourism. A change in name will only hurt the trading classes, a core constituency of the BJP. Agra is a stop on most tourists’ itineraries, and changing its name hurts a brand built over decades, if not centuries.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines