The Maharashtra government officially announced the renaming of Aurangabad to Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar. The practice of renaming cities is not a new phenomenon, and it has been observed across various regions and periods in history. The reasons behind such renaming vary, from political and ideological shifts to cultural and linguistic changes. While some see renaming as a way of honoring a city’s heritage or correcting past injustices, others view it as an unnecessary and costly exercise that erases a city’s history and identity. In this opinion piece, I will explore the pros and cons of renaming cities, drawing on examples from history and other countries.
One of the most common reasons for renaming cities is to assert national or ideological dominance. This was the case in many countries during the colonial era when European powers renamed cities in their colonies to reflect their own cultures and identities. For instance, Bombay was renamed Mumbai in 1995 to reflect its Marathi origins, rejecting its colonial legacy under British rule. Similarly, the city of Calcutta was renamed Kolkata in 2001 to reflect its Bengali heritage.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a Hindu nationalist political party in India that has been in power at the national level since 2014. The party’s politics behind changing the name of Muslim cities is rooted in its broader project of promoting Hindu nationalism and the marginalization of minority communities, particularly Muslims.
The BJP’s ideology and political agenda are based on the idea of Hindutva, which is the belief that India is a Hindu nation and that all Indians should adhere to Hindu cultural and religious values. As part of this agenda, the BJP has been accused of engaging in a larger project of “saffronizing” (promoting Hinduism) India’s public institutions, including education and cultural institutions.
The renaming of Muslim cities is seen by some as part of this broader project, as it reflects a desire to assert Hindu dominance over Muslim culture and heritage. The BJP has argued that the original names of these cities were changed during the Mughal era as part of a larger project of Islamic domination and colonization, and that the new names reflect a return to India’s true historical and cultural roots.
However, critics argue that the renaming of Muslim cities is a deliberate attempt to erase the Muslim heritage and identity of these cities, and that it reflects a larger project of Hindu nationalist cultural hegemony. The issue remains controversial and politically charged, with strong opinions on both sides.
In some cases, renaming cities can be seen as a way of rectifying past injustices. This was the case in South Africa after the end of apartheid, where many cities and streets were renamed to replace colonial and apartheid-era names with names that reflected the country’s diverse cultural heritage. For example, Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa, was renamed Tshwane, which means “we are the same” in Sesotho, one of South Africa’s 11 official languages. The renaming was part of a larger effort to promote social cohesion and to recognize the contributions of different communities to South African society.
Renaming cities can also be a way of honoring individuals who have made significant contributions to a city’s history or culture. For example, the city of Leningrad in Russia was renamed St. Petersburg in 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The renaming was done to honor the city’s founder, Peter the Great, who established the city in 1703 as the capital of the Russian Empire. Similarly, the city of Saigon in Vietnam was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1976, after the country’s revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh.
However, renaming cities can also be a controversial and divisive practice. Some argue that it erases a city’s history and identity and can lead to confusion and even resentment among residents. For example, the renaming of the Indian city of Bangalore to Bengaluru in 2014 was criticized by some as being unnecessary and a waste of resources. Others argued that the name change was a way of erasing the city’s British colonial legacy and promoting the local Kannada language and culture.
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Similarly, the renaming of the city of St. Petersburg to Leningrad in 1924, following the death of Vladimir Lenin, was seen by many as a way of erasing the city’s imperial past and promoting Communist ideology. The renaming was reversed in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but it remains a contentious issue among some Russians who view it as an erasure of the city’s Communist history.
Renaming cities in India has been a contentious issue, with some seeing it as a way of rectifying past injustices and promoting local culture and identity, while others view it as a costly and unnecessary exercise that erases a city’s history and identity.
Proponents of renaming argue that it can be a way of honoring a city’s heritage or correcting past injustices. For example, the renaming of Bombay to Mumbai in 1995 was seen as a way of rejecting the city’s colonial legacy under British rule and promoting the local Marathi culture and language. Similarly, the renaming of the Indian city of Allahabad to Prayagraj in 2018 was seen as a way of honoring the city’s ancient name and Hindu heritage.
However, opponents of renaming argue that it can be a divisive and confusing practice, especially if the new name is not widely accepted or recognized. For example, the renaming of the Indian city of Bangalore to Bengaluru in 2014 was criticized by some for causing confusion among tourists and businesses who were not familiar with the new name.
Renaming cities can also have practical implications, such as the cost of changing street signs, maps, and official documents. In addition, renaming a city can lead to confusion and inconvenience for residents, especially if the new name is not widely accepted or recognized. For example, the renaming of the city of Bombay to Mumbai was criticized by some for causing confusion among tourists and businesses who were not familiar with the new name.