Allahabad becomes Prayagraj: Before claiming saffronisation, historical and cultural imperative must be examined

On Tuesday, the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh made a declaration triggering mixed emotions among the people. The state cabinet decided to rename the historic city of Allahabad to Prayagraj. As the contentious debate that revolved around the topic of saffronisation has since been sparked off, let's analyse the narrative which is to run after this monumental change.

The age-old name of the city was Prayag which in literal translation means "a place of sacrifice". Prayag finds its mention in the Rig Veda and is recognised as the place where Brahma (the creator of the universe in Hindu mythology) attended a ritual sacrifice. Allahabad is more famously known as Triveni Sangam or Sangam Nagari as it is in this city that the confluence of three most pious rivers, the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati occurs. It is also believed that during the Kumbh Mela, all the gods descend from their holy abode to the Earth, to take a dip at the holy confluence or the sangam.

So what exactly is the Yogi government trying to establish with such a change? There is an equal divide in the opinions of people who either term it as Hindu Radicalism or term it as a step to reinstate the name that existed before the Mughals, who changed it to Ilahabas and then subsequently to Allahabad.

File image of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. PTI

File image of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. PTI

The cities that have been renamed thus far still feature traces of the old name in their culture. This can be easily seen in Chennai, where the high court is still referred to as the Madras High Court and even the IIT is known as IIT-Madras. The same can be seen being a prevalent practice in the financial capital of the country, Mumbai.

After making the decision to change the name of the city to Prayag, the UP government has further accepted the conventional name that is used interchangeably with the present one. The fact that the city resonates the name of Prayag despite being renamed for more than four centuries goes on to show the will of the people to guide such a change.

It is an established principle of rule-making that rules should be more descriptive than prescriptive. A descriptive rule is a mere recognition of an existing reality in the society, in the form of its codification. On the other hand, prescriptive rules are thrusted as prescriptions by the rule-makers on the people. It needs to be stressed that the name change of Allahabad in this sense is very different from other cities. The name Prayag or Prayagraj has remained in the common psyche of the people, even when it was erased legally, a few centuries ago.

This is evident in the fact that Allahabad had a railway station named 'Prayag'. The very famous and iconic train connecting the city to the National Capital is named 'Prayagraj Express'. This wasn't the case when other cities were given different names, where these decisions had been driven more by the politics and questions of regional identities. The name Prayag or Prayagaraj, however, is and has always been used in common parlance.

The essential point that emanates from the aforementioned arguments is that we cannot totally regard the action of the Uttar Pradesh government as being driven by Hindutva or anything else. It is merely a formal acknowledgement of an existing reality.

Yes, if there is an inexplicable alteration to the name, which could not have been fathomed by the localities, like changing the name of Alipur to Hanumanpur, without rhyme or reason, then eyebrows can definitely be raised on the policy decision. But reinstating a name, that is already recognised and accepted by the people of the state should be given the benefit of doubt with regard of it not being coloured merely by politics.

However, this fateful debate of saffronisation of the country is skewing us away from the issue that should be discussed after this change. With such a policy decision, our focus should be directed at the change that would take place in the administration of the city and the economic consequences of the same. The question of speculating on it being a move to garner votes is one that cannot be fully substantiated but what can be looked into, is analysing this policy decision on grounds of what it entails and how it would affect the state of Uttar Pradesh.

In a global economy, change of names often create a lot of confusion. Geographical indicators attached to the place, in the international market, often end up losing their significance due to such a change. It is because of such a reason that most places exhibit the dual identity. They have a global name and a local name. Names like Rome, Germany are referred to by locals as Roma or Deutschland but in the international sphere, they remain to be known as Rome and Germany only. Therefore, a product will always be found to be 'Made in China' and not 'Made in Zhongguo'.

Apart from the international business considerations, such an administrative decision can also have impact on the local scale. Outsiders have to be introduced with the new name of the place, traffic signs and milestones have to be reinstalled and significant changes have to be made to all the paperwork and documents of the government. However, if such a change in the name can reap more benefits than losses, then why shouldn’t the state welcome it with open arms? If the Uttar Pradesh government is able to prove that after the changing the city name, religious tourism has seen a rise or their business products have increased in sale without affecting the social fabric of the state, then Yogi should not be held in bad light.

This is all too speculative, but again, if the government could end up proving that the administration of the state and the economies attached to it has increased, then why should we not give them the leeway of doing good to their state without any form of uninformed criticism?

Raghav Pandey is an Assistant Professor of Law at Maharashtra National Law University, Mumbai and Neelabh Bist is a Fourth-Year student of Law at Maharashtra National Law University, Mumbai


Updated Date: Oct 17, 2018 10:12 AM

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