By Anindya Banerjee
New Delhi, Feb 20 (IANS) An RTI query in 2012 revealed that 12 central and 52 state schemes, 28 sports tournaments and trophies, 19 stadiums, five airports and ports, 98 educational institutions, 51 awards, 15 fellowships, 15 national sanctuaries and parks, 39 hospitals and medical institutions, 37 institutions, chairs and festivals and 74 roads, buildings and places are named after the first family of the Congress – the Nehru-Gandhi family.
The BJP has been extremely vocal against this monopoly. But slowly, BJP too seem to tread the same path by naming institutions or places after personalities that can either be associated with BJP or its predecessor – the Jan Sangh.
Parrikar — the RSS ‘pracharak’ & IDSA:
This month, the Modi government renamed the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) as Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The decision, the government insists, has been taken to honour the commitment and legacy of late Defence Minister Parrikar.
Parrikar was not just Defence Minister, he was also a trusted man of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. So much so, he was brought from Goa to New Delhi. Parrikar, who started as an RSS pracharak, changed the politics in the coastal state as Chief Minister.
An autonomous body under Ministry of Defence, IDSA was established as a registered society in New Delhi in 1965, dedicated to objective research and policy relevant studies on all aspects of defence and security. Since its inception, IDSA has served as a forum to debate important aspects of national and international security. By associating Parrikar’s name with IDSA, the government left a saffron stamp on the think tank.
Sushma Swaraj who objected to Sonia:
But it was not a one-off instance. Pravasi Bharatiya Kendra too was rechristened as Sushma Swaraj Bhawan, as a mark of respect to one of India’s most successful Foreign Ministers, on her birthday. It is a cultural centre reflecting India’s connect with its diaspora. The Foreign Service Institute that trains budding diplomats too was named after Swaraj.
The decision to name both the institutes after Swaraj, who died last year, came a day before her 68th birth anniversary. “We all fondly remember Smt Sushma Swaraj, who would have turned 68 tomorrow. The MEA family misses her in particular,” External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said on Twitter.
Sure, Swaraj was one minister in South Block who brought a sense of assertiveness in India’s diplomacy, but on a macro level association of her name with two prominent institutes serves the same purpose as it does associating Parrikar’s name with IDSA.
Born into a family that followed RSS (Her father, Hardev Sharma, was a prominent RSS face), Swaraj cut her teeth in politics during anti-Indira Gandhi agitation. Considered a protege of Lal Krishna Advani, Swaraj served in various capacities in multiple BJP governments. Back in 2004, she threatened to shave her head if Sonia Gandhi became Prime Minister. Associating her name with any institution serves the purpose of associating a saffron value, for the BJP government.
Jaitley – the anti-emergency product of BJP:
Another product of the anti-emergency fight — Arun Jaitley too was “recognised” during the name changing spree. The National Institute of Financial Management (NIFM) has been rechristened as Arun Jaitley National Institute of Financial Management (AJNIFM).
The Faridabad-based body was set up in 1993 as a registered society under the aegis of the Department of Expenditure in the Ministry of Finance. Like the Foreign Service Institute trains budding diplomats, the NIFM trains officers of various finance and accounts services who are recruited by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).
Jaitley too passed away last year.
In August, the once Jaitley-ruled DDCA renamed Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium as Arun Jaitley Stadium in a ceremony at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
While arguments can be made that Jaitley has overseen crucial rollout of the GST regime and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, one cannot ignore how serious a face he has been for the ruling BJP. So much so, when he lost from Amritsar in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Modi called him up to join the Cabinet, regardless of his electoral performance.
He too started his career during the anti-emergency stir against then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. His association with the RSS was through its student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), during his college days in Delhi. He also steered the Loktantrik Yuva Morcha, an organisation that campaigned for Janata Party candidates in the aftermath of the Emergency. His politics has always been that of anti-Congress.
Not the first time:
Save the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium, all the three renamings took place in less than a month’s time. But that’s not all. Leaving a saffron stamp as a counter to the dominance of the Nehru-Gandhi family goes far beyond.
In 2018, the Uttar Pradesh government under Yogi Adityanath renamed Mughalsarai Junction as Deen Dayal Upadhyay Junction. The BJP’s mentor was born in Nagla Chandrabhan in Mathura district. So, the nearest railway station — Farah Town Station too was renamed Deen Dayal Dham Station, the same day in 2018.
A year before, in 2017, Gujarat’s Kandla Port was also renamed Deendayal Port. Earlier, Wheeler Island, which comes under the administration of the Central government, near Odisha, too, was renamed Abdul Kalam Island. Though former President Kalam did not belong to any political party, his legacy has been appropriated by the BJP.
More demands pour in:
As time goes by and the BJP government appears to be adhering to its core ideology, more demands for such saffron renaming are pouring in.
BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy demanded that Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) should be renamed as Subhash Chandra Bose University. While Bose was technically a part of RSP — a Left-leaning organisation, but his nationalistic ideals have been completely appropriated by the BJP. Modi went ahead with declassification of Netaji files and even celebrated the 75th anniversary of Azad Hind government by hoisting the Tricolour. So when a BJP MP makes such demand, it seemingly fits into the larger scheme of things.
Another saffron outfit — the Hindu Mahasabha demanded last year that Delhi University be renamed as ‘Veer Savarkar Vishwavidyalaya’, after the Hindutva icon.
In 2018, the Yogi Adityanath government renamed Faizabad as Ayodhya and Allahabad division as Prayagraj. Though none of them are names of any personalities, but are seen as “de-Islamisation” as far as the names of places are concerned.
During the 2014 election campaign, Modi’s charge against the then 129-year-old Congress party was that it had become a family-run enterprise where the First Family determines everything. One of its supporting manifestations were the array of institutions, schemes, stations, and airports named after the Nehru-Gandhis.
Surely, the BJP-led Central government has not been appropriated by one family. But with each passing year, the government is leaving its ideological stamp through renaming places, institutions and schemes it earlier criticised the Congress for.
(Anindya Banerjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)