Sunday, August 30, 2015

"What's in a name?" Try Denali and Aurangazeb!

"What's in a name?" wrote the Bard.  If he were around now, perhaps he will sue me for abusing it in this post about controversies over names--one in the old country and another here at home.

As always, the Indian story is complex.  Is anything ever simple back there? ;)  Therefore, the local story first:
President Obama will announce Monday that his administration is officially redesignating Alaska's Mt. McKinley as Denali, the original name for the 20,237-foot-high mountain given by the area's Alaskan native population.
As always, the feds are the last one to the party though.
The state of Alaska changed the mountain’s name to Denali, the native Koyukon Athabascan word for “The Great One” or “The High One,” in 1975. But the federal government retained McKinley’s moniker.
The mountain is in Alaska, and Alaskans had changed the name to Denali forty years ago.  So, did the word get to DC by Pony Express only yesterday?
Ohio's congressional delegation, among others, has opposed removing the name of McKinley, who had been an Ohio governor.
Excuse me, oh master storyteller, you ready to change your "what's in a name?" line? ;)

Giving a name for geographic feature, or renaming it, is always a political act.  Remember the controversy about the Persian Gulf/Arabian Gulf?  In this case, McKinley was the President from Ohio, which is why Ohioans protest the change:
Ohio Rep. Bob Gibbs, a fellow Republican who has introduced a House bill aimed at retaining McKinley’s name on the peak, could not immediately be reached for comment Sunday.
Gibbs’ measure would prevent the U.S. Board on Geographic Names from considering Alaska's attempts to change the mountain's name under a policy that says no landmark titles can be considered if related legislation is pending before Congress.
Ohio representatives file such a bill every two years to essentially stymie Alaska's efforts.
That is a simple story, compared to the one from India, where Aurangazeb Road in Delhi has been renamed after a former president, Abdul Kalam.


That is one heck of a political complication.  Why?  Was Aurangazeb any beloved guy?
Aurangzeb was a despot.
Can we have some examples, please?
He not only imprisoned his ailing father, the Fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, but had all three of his brothers—the heir-apparent Dara Shukoh, Shah Shuja and Murad, murdered. ‘Murdered’ is to put it mildly.
Both confident and insecure, Aurangzeb then went on to ensure his hegemony as the Sixth Emperor by having Dara’s son Sulaiman, imprisoned and poisoned in a slow and tortuous procedure that made the future Crown Prince mad before death claimed him.
He also set an example to all dissenters by having the free-thinking mystic Sarmad beheaded at the Jama Masjid, Delhi, for blasphemy, the Sikh Guru Teg Bahadur executed for objecting to conversions and the leader of the Maratha Confederacy, Sambhaji, caught and killed for just being what he was.
By now, I have perhaps lost the couple of American readers who were struggling through the names! ;)

So, if he was a despot, then changing the road name to that of the beloved former president is a good thing, right?
Re-naming roads is about the most immature and least convincing sign of authority. It is invariably the accoutrement of new power.
Denali was the original name that is now being restored. Was Aurangazeb Road, similarly, the original name?  Of course not; it was from the time when the British Raj opted for Delhi as its capital and designed buildings and roads that would be imperial enough.  Does it mean that the political act is to erase that British Raj's evil designs?  Nope. It is a political act by the ever scheming Hindu nationalist party that figured out a way to delete Aurangazeb, put Muslims in a corner by naming it after the popular former president, and make the Hindu fanatics happy.  A political trifecta:
The Muslims cannot object. How can they ? If they do they would be both un-faithful and un-patriotic. The Hindus will never object. And after a while all will be using A P J Abdul Kalam Marg as if the road has always been named after that honest son of Rameshwaram. How utterly clever!
One final question: what is the urgency to delete Aurangazeb anyway?  It goes back to the populist one-thousand-year slavery rhetoric that Modi and his Hindu nationalist party spew.  Perhaps you are shocked about 1,000 years as a slave nation, right?
The conventional view is that it lasted 200 years—those of British raj. So where did the remaining 1,000 years come from? Clearly, Modi was propounding what Mridula Mukherjee, former professor of modern Indian history at JNU, described as the “standard Hindu communal view of history”, which regards the period of Muslim rule also as a period of slavery.
 So, we will kick the ball back to Shakespeare.  "What's in a name?"  ;)

Aurangazeb's tomb
I was there more than three years ago

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