Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government is continuing its practice of renaming public places carrying names from the era of Mughal rule over India – which lasted for 230 years until the mid-18th century.
The latest instance was the renaming last weekend of the showpiece 15-acre Mughal gardens in New Delhi’s Presidential Palace. It now carries the Hindu name of Amrit Udyan or Garden of Nectar.
Modelled on the 16th century symmetrical Mughal design, encompassing cascades and fountains, these gardens were planted by the colonial administration in 1928 as part of the 340-roomed Viceroy’s House, which became Rashtrapati Bhawan or Presidential Palace after India’s independence in 1947.
With more than 150 varieties of roses, tulips, lilies, daffodils and other assorted flowers, the Mughal Gardens were opened to the public, free of cost, each year in February, and visited by tens of thousands of people.
But their renaming after 95 years has invited adverse reaction from opposition parties, who deemed it an “arbitrary and unfortunate move” by the BJP to “rewrite history and to redefine nationhood”.
In a letter to president Droupdi Murmu, Communist Party of India MP Binoy Visvam said an “essential component of Delhi’s history” had been lost by renaming the Mughal Gardens.
“The names of places such as these are historical details that illuminate a particular period of our history,” he said, adding that the Mughal-era was an “un-erasable part” part of it. The Mughals ruled from 1526 to 1761, but their overall control dissipated significantly 1707 onwards.
Historians such as Naryani Gupta agree with Visvam. Writing in the Indian Express on Tuesday, the former Delhi University history professor said names of many public places in India were the “stuff of history” and comprised the colourful mosaic of India’s past; changing them was simply a form of denial.
After coming to power in 2014, and being re-elected five years later, the BJP has gone about renaming numerous cities, towns, roads and buildings carrying Mughal, Muslim and British colonial-era names.
Last September it changed the name of Delhi’s main promenade in the city centre – called King’s Way by the British and Raj Path or Rulers Road after independence – to the Sanskrit Kartivya Path or Duty Road.
In 2018 it renamed Allahabad, a large town 670km north of Delhi – originally named by the Mughals in the 17th century – as Prayagraj, which has close associations with Hindu mythology.
The nearby Mughalserai (Mughal hostelry) Junction, one of north India’s busiest railway stations, was renamed Deendyan Upadhya Junction after a member of the right-wing Hindu Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) or National Volunteer Corps, which provides spiritual guidance to the BJP.
India’s military, inherited entirely from the British, has recently been “advised” by the government to “divest” itself of all colonial traditions and “nativise” itself.
This applies particularly to the Indian army, which has origins in the East India Company in the 17th and 18th centuries, and is consequently rife with British regimental customs, overall functioning and dress regulations.