The renaming of the historic Rajpath to Kartavya Path was “pure politics” as ‘Rajpath’ itself is a Hindi word, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said.
Interacting on the sidelines of a panel discussion on the book, ‘British Takeover of India: Modus Operandi,’ held at the India International Centre in Delhi on Tuesday evening, Tharoor also said that he was in favour of renaming of places named after “obscure Brits” and name them after Indians, even as he wondered what rechristening of Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras, really accomplished.
“It’s a complicated issue because some places have acquired a certain resonance in the memories of Indians who have grown up with them,” he told PTI when asked about his views on the renaming of streets, cities, and institutions.
A large number of roads, parks, schools, hospitals and other institutions, besides prominent cities, have been renamed in the last 75 years in the name of shedding “colonial baggage.”
Many historians and heritage experts have decried the rechristening of old cities and landmarks over the years, saying it “breaks the continuity of history” and the practice was tantamount to the “erasure of public memories.”
“I am all in favour of renaming of places carrying names of obscure Brits, and instead honouring Indians. But, at some point, I think you have to… For example, renaming of cities like Bombay, Madras and Calcutta, I am not sure what it really accomplished,” Tharoor said.
Bombay and Madras were renamed Mumbai and Chennai in the late 1990s and soon Calcutta was rechristened Kolkata. Later, Poona was renamed Pune, Mysore Mysuru, Bangalore Bengaluru, and the state of Orissa Odisha. Many citizens still refer to these places by their old nomenclatures.
In the capital city of New Delhi, a string of British-era streets, parks, and railway bridges were named after Indian freedom fighters and various other noted personalities soon after August 15, 1947, when India became a free nation.
Prominent streets like Kingsway and Queensway, which run perpendicular to each other in the heart of the capital designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker, were renamed ‘Rajpath’ and ‘Janpath’ respectively.
‘Rajpath’ — the ceremonial boulevard of the national capital that connects the Raisina Hill complex to India Gate, was renamed ‘Kartavya Path’ in September last year and was inaugurated as part of the revamped Central Vista Avenue by Prime Minister Narendra Modi soon after.
“That’s pure politics, I am afraid. There’s nothing more than that. Because Rajpath itself is a Hindi word,” said Tharoor, when asked about the rechristening of Rajpath to Kartavya Path, adding such matters should be discussed widely.
Rajpath began its journey as Kingsway, a central axis built as part of the New Delhi, after the imperial seat of the administration was shifted here from Calcutta having been announced by British monarch King George V at 1911 Delhi Durbar.
From witnessing the dawn of Independence to playing host to annual Republic Day celebrations over the last seven decades, Rajpath has been privy to colonial rule and basked in the glory of a free, democratic nation.
Last year, as he inaugurated the revamped Central Vista with Rajpath and the lawns flanking the boulevard, Prime Minister Modi called the stretch of road a symbol of India’s “slavery.” He had also unveiled a statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose at India Gate.
The renaming triggered a sharp reaction from members of many opposition parties, including Congress and TMC.
“If Raj Path is to be renamed Kartavya Path, shouldn’t all Raj Bhavans become Kartavya Bhavans,” Tharoor wrote on Twitter soon after the renaming last year. “Why stop there? Rename Rajasthan as Kartavyasthan?”
TMC MP Mahua Moitra tweeted, “Will all Raj Bhavans be now known as Kartavya Bhavans?” adding later, “Meanwhile new BJP in charge for WB can ride on the Kartavyadhani Express to Sealdah enjoying his Kartavya kachoris followed by a nice sweet Kartavya bhog. Yummy.”
Historians have argued that ‘Raj’ in ‘Rajpath’ refers to the idea of state, and not ‘Raja’ or King.
Historian S Irfan Habib too joined the band of detractors saying that the renaming of roads and buildings will not lead to any change in governance.
Congress, in its turn, is no stranger to the renaming controversy. It had its fair share of criticism when Connaught Place, and subsequently, Connaught Circus on its periphery, were renamed as Rajiv Chowk and Indira Chowk under its rule.
Connaught Place, the central business district of New Delhi, was designed by architect Robert Torr Russell. It was originally named after Britain’s Duke of Connaught and is famed for its colonnade architecture.
A metro station located underneath it was named Rajiv Chowk Metro Station.
‘British Takeover of India: Modus Operandi,’ originally published in 1979, was recently issued in print again.