If BJP MP Yogi Adityanath has his way, the incumbent and aspirant Uttar Pradesh chief minister will go the Voldemort (“he who must not be named”) way. “Due to his misdeeds,” according to Adityanath, “parents will cease naming their sons Akhilesh”. The Gorakhpur MP also compared Akhilesh Yadav to the historical Aurangzeb and the mythical Kans (Lord Krishna’s evil uncle) toward the fag-end of the vitriolic campaign for the UP assembly elections. The Yogi, however, may be over-estimating the abhorrence among Indians for what some consider the villains of history and myth. After all, while there are few Hitlers in India, there is a prominent Stalin in Tamil Nadu, and many a Churchill, Lenin and Trotsky peppered across the subcontinent.
Recently, though, certain names, their historical distance notwithstanding, have become problematic. The controversial Aurangzeb, often compared unfavourably to his more secular and liberal great-grandfather, found himself replaced on Lutyens’ Delhi street signs by the more universally palatable A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Even Akbar is under attack: He has lost his pride of place in the capital to Maharana Pratap and “Akbar ka Qila” in Ajmer is now known only by its location at the behest of Rajasthan’s education minister. Cities and states have been renamed too, for reasons as mundane as rising up the alphabetical ladder (West Bengal to Bengal) or to rid themselves of the anglicised twang that is the legacy of the British.
The re-naming and name-shaming strategy, though, has never been a guarantee when it comes to diminishing political opponents. Names do indeed have significance, whether as exemplars or warnings. In the Harry Potter books, Albus Dumbledore tells Harry not to fear his nemesis’s name, “because fear of the name increases fear of the thing itself”. Casting Akhilesh in a villainous light, in mythic proportions no less, could give him more than just free publicity.