From getting rid of some Muslim names of places to promising a 'grand' statue of the Hindu god Ram, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is making passionate appeals to its hard-core Hindu nationalist base in the most politically important state ahead of a national election next year.
A near clean-sweep in Uttar Pradesh, the state of 220 million people that sends the highest number of lawmakers to the lower house of parliament, helped Narendra Modi win his party's biggest mandate in three decades in 2014. Political strategists say keeping its mainly Hindu base intact in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere would be crucial to repeat such a performance, but there are also concerns that the BJP has been turning up the heat on divisive religious issues.
Yogi Adityanath, a robe-wearing Hindu priest who is the BJP chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, on Tuesday changed the name of Faizabad district to Ayodhya, the place where Hindus believe Lord Ram was born thousands of years ago. Before the change, Ayodhya was the name of a town in Faizabad.
Last month, he changed the name of Allahabad, where three rivers considered holy by Hindus meet, to the Hindu name Prayagraj.
Both Faizabad and Allahabad were Islamic names given to places hundreds of years ago by India’s then Muslim rulers. "Ayodhya is our honour, prestige and pride," Adityanath said at an event in the town, declaring the name change amid loud cheers from the audience. “Ayodhya is identified with Lord Ram.”
He said the state would decide on a location for a statue of Ram that could become an Ayodhya landmark. He also promised to open an airport in the district that would be named after Ram.
Many leaders of the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), BJP's ideologue, are demanding the government issue an executive order that would bypass the Supreme Court so that they can build a Ram temple at a highly controversial religious site in Ayodhya. The destruction of a mosque on that site by a frenzied Hindu mob in 1992 sparked deadly riots across the country.
At the moment the site is under court control. There are fears that communal tensions between the majority Hindu population and Muslims, the biggest minority group in India with more than 170 million people, could flare again if the status quo is disturbed.
The moves aren’t limited to Uttar Pradesh. In Gujarat, the BJP government there is also considering changing the name of the state’s commercial centre, Ahmedabad, a name given to it by a former Muslim ruler.
On the heels of Adityanath's announcement, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut made a jibe at Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, asking when he would rename Aurangabad and Osmanabad."Yogi Adityanath has renamed Allahabad and Faizabad to Pragyaraj and Ayodhya. When will CM Devendra Fadnavis rename Aurangabad as Sambhaji Nagar and Osmanabad as Dharashiv?" Raut tweeted.
His tweet came soon after Gujarat deputy chief minister Nitin Patel said the BJP government in the state would be ready to rename Ahmedabad as Karnavati if it got the required support from people. On Thursday morning, Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani said the state government will take "concrete steps" to rechristen Ahmedabad as "Karnavati" after assessing "legal and all other angles".
Another BJP MLA from Telangana, Raja Singh triggered a fresh row after he said that he would work towards renaming the city of Hyderabad as ‘Bhagyanagar’ if the BJP was voted to power in the state in the upcoming Telangana elections. Speaking to ANI, Singh said, "Earlier, Hyderabad was Bhagyanagar and in 1590 Quli Qutub Shah came to Hyderabad, he changed Bhagyanagar to Hyderabad. At that time many Hindus were attacked and many temples destroyed. We are planning to rename Hyderabad. In Telangana, BJP will win in majority and then our first aim will be developing the state and second objective will be renaming Hyderabad as Bhagyanagar. We will also change the names of Secunderabad and Karimnagar."
And only last week, Gujarat unveiled the world’s tallest statue, a $400 million effigy of independence hero Vallabhbhai Patel that is nearly twice the height of New York’s Statue of Liberty as part of a BJP campaign to re-brand what it terms “forgotten” leaders.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Nov 09, 2018 19:39:58 IST