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The Name Game- A Genuine Cultural Need, or a Political Chorus of Trends?

If you are a 90’s kid, you must know of R.K. Narayan’s Doordarshan special Malgudi Days and you might also know of the latest news of the Arasalu railway station in Karnataka being changed to Malgudi railway station and we couldn’t be happier. Now one can actually book tickets to Malgudi. This name change comes with a positive acceptance because there is no propaganda, no political agendas hidden under and a solidary welcome to this name change, unlike the trends that evaporated from the news soon after other political stunts deviated us from the sudden uproar that was seen by Indian politics.

It may seem the trend has subsided like the rising foam on an overheated chai pateela immediately after the heat is dimmed- It subsides. Although, it doesn’t mean that the chai is ready does it? Similarly, media houses might have turned blind eye to this issue but we do need to still keep this issue in mind considering the cross marks on your calendar reaching closer to the election dates.

Erstwhile ruler of the city doesn’t fit the moral frame of how rulers should have been in history- and since we can’t change a dead ruler’s code of ethics, we shall change the name of the city that they established. Interesting?

Another reason claims that the area was originally called Karnavati before Ahmed Shah renamed it. Ruled by the Solanki dynasty, Karnavati has its own share of stories. And there is no documentation of this city apart from one inscription which remains questionable. The Adivasi Bhil community also steps in to claim Ashaval or Ashapalli to be the original name that precedes the history of Karnavati and they demand, if the name change is happening based on historical terms, it should actually be renamed to Ashwal.

What we are questioning is, why historical reclamation is the core intent of name change attempts that have been going on since more than a decade, and very much so, in vain.

Since mainstream media has given you a look from just the political, historical and citizen perspective, I took the opportunity to fill this gap by giving all probable perspective that any issue needs. I took it a bit more personally than I should have. Albeit, my analysis remains neutral. After reading this, it is for you to judge what is right and what is not.

Name Change in India

Name Change has been an essential part of the post-colonial Indian history, due to exonyms that had been given to local names of the cities and states. And they were changed by the British during their Raj Eg. Calcutta to Kolkata, Jubbleproe to Jabalpur. The name change can be a natural process which we will talk about later in this piece, or it could be legal, the case of India where the name change started right after British Imperial rule ended in 1947. Several amendments proposed during this time were controversial, and some were not implemented. The States Reorganisation Act, 1956, is a significant legal association – something that is a political trend today. The crux of this information being, the changes were accepted on the basis of levels of language at which they had been applied and welcomed by the public.

The name change is already making quick headlines in media giving them twice the benefit of getting the footage and the credit and pushing a political agenda and getting a platform for free advertisement. As far as the history of the name change of Ahmedabad is concerned, this has been a priority of the BJP government for a while now, but this plea had been rejected by the Union Home Ministry in the past.
Even after Bombay became Mumbai, people still reside in Ville Parle, Santacruz, and Lower Parel. Similarly, in ‘Karnavati’, people will still live in Jamalpur, Juhapura, and Mirzapur.

Historical Perspective

‘जब  कुत्ते  पे सस्सा आया तब बादशाह ने शहर बसाया’ is a saying that all Amdavadis grew up with. This proves that Ahmedabad is not known for the deeds of the former sultan but for the reason why he chose this place to build his kingdom, proving bravery would run in the blood of people living here, just like the hare that chased a dog. On 26th February 1411, approximately 600 years ago, a foundation was laid for the walled city of Ahmedabad. If we go even further in history, one theory says that the area around Ahmedabad has a population living in it since the 11th century, when it was known as Ashaval. Later, Karna, the Chalukya dynasty ruler waged war against the Bhil King of Ashaval and after winning the war, established a city called Karnavati on the banks of Sabarmati. King Karna’s Solanki rule lasted until the 13th century. After multiple authorities ruled the region- like the Vaghela dynasty and later the Delhi Sultanate, in the early 15th century, the local governor Zafar Khan Muzaffar established independence from the Delhi Sultanate and crowned himself as Sultan. He established the Muzaffarid dynasty, which finally got in the hands of his grandson, Ahmed Shah who laid the foundation of the walled city near Karnavati.

There is another theory, that the city of Karnavati is mythical and there is no proof of its existence- they claim that it is an Imaginary story that was told by an Acharya from Bharuch in the name of ‘Mard Madan’ from the 12th century. The Karnamukteshwar Mahadev temple situated in Sarangpur, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad is the only “assumed” proof of the existence of city Karnavati. These are few of the many theories that prevail, none to have historical records, apart from the documented proof of the walled city and an Ahmedabad thereafter.

Therefore the concept of the relative importance of history comes into consideration which let us question which one of the aforementioned were townships, small establishments, kingdoms, villages or just fictitious names created for gathering more audiences? This remains a mystery till date.

The case of Ahmed Shah’s morality (or other sultanates)

Ahmed Shah is considered as the most intolerant rulers that have ruled in Gujarat. In fact, he was the first crowned sultan to have distinguished between the citizens on the basis of religion. He implemented unfair policies and levied ‘Jizigya tax’ (tax on visiting a Hindu pilgrimage) on non-Muslims and is known to have persecuted non-conformist Shia Bohras. During the Mughal Empire, Akbar ended the Jizigya Tax and also toured through Sufi Dargahs to promote music and arts. It is said that Aurangzeb introduced the concept of Jizigya Tax in Gujarat.

The Marathas, led by much-revered Chhatrapati Shivaji began looting the wealthy kingdom of Gujarat to finance theirs. Secularism came to Gujarat along with the British in 1818. Their motive was to instate the feeling of anti-nationalism, but the secular approach did work in favour of the city’s development.

‘Mahajan’- the structures that facilitated the popular business culture, something that is said to have been ingrained in Gujarati blood was not only supported but also promoted by Ahmed Shah due to which he shifted the capital of his sultanate from Patan to Ahmedabad. The Gurjari’s Association named after Ahmed Shah pays respect and tribute to him for his the logic of mercantile capitalism – something that has played fundamental role in the economic development of the city and the state of Gujarat.

But, as they say – Every coin has two sides.

Gandhi’s Ahmedabad

Mahatma established the Sabarmati ashram in Ahmedabad in 1917 not because of his roots and belongingness to Gujarat but also because he considered this city as an epicentre of communal unity with many cultures and religions living in harmony. He felt it would be easier for him to spread his message of communal harmony from a city where the values of locals coincided with the religious values.


Religious Perspective

The name change task taken upon by BJP has received  tremendous support from RSS, Shiv Sena, VHP, Bajrang Dal and right-wing Hindutva groups. Name of Bombay city was changed to Mumbai based on the Goddess Mumba of Maharashtra. Whereas, there are no trails of Goddess Karnavati to be seen in Ahmedabad. The ‘Nagar devi’ or the deity of the city is actually Bhadra Kaali, with a temple dedicated to her in the walled city, made by Ahmed Shah. For a country that resolves to constitute India into a secular state as per the preamble, these kinds of political agendas divert us from the actual issues.

The trendsetting decision of renaming Faizabad abandons the fact that even after centuries of Muslim rule and other dynasties taking over the region, neither Prayag nor Ayodhya cease to exist. They co-existed. Allahabad kept Prayag alive in it. Whereas, only a few years of imposing Hindutva ideology is ensuring deletion of history in a matter of months or even days.

Political Perspective

The government denies, but the intention is apparent. Political analysts, experts, and opposition all seem to agree on one fact that the purpose is actually opposite of what the BJP has been propagating. The intent is assumed to be promoting Hindutva ideologies to get the maximum votes by feeding the ego of majority Hindu population. During his days as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Prime Minister Modi has seldom referred to and addressed Ahmedabad as Karnavati in many gatherings aligning with his image as ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat.’ The fact that the current Chief Minister Vijay Rupani declared that they have been trying for legalizing the name change and that they might do it before the 2019 polls and the fact that this declaration was made mere hours after UP’s Minister Yogi Adityanath celebratedly declared the success of name change of Faizabad to Ayodhya says a lot about this type of politics and makes it an apparent vote token for a religious majority. The political term for such propaganda is Religious Tokenism, in this case, Hindutva.

It becomes clear through stunts of extreme right-wing groups like VHP like them erecting banners in various localities welcoming people to “Karnavati city of Hindu Rashtra.”

In 1993, an article in the RSS mouthpiece ‘Organiser’ said they would want to even rename the country to Hindu Desh.

The changing of names for historical purposes sometimes sound fake, especially when we look back into the history of these protectors of Hinduism. Yogi Adityanath’s propensity for changing names, especially the Islamic ones dates back to when he represented Gorakhpur in the Lok Sabha to such an extent that in 1998 he went on a renaming spree-
Urdu Bazaar’ to ‘Hindi Bazaar’, ‘Ali Nagar’ to ‘Arya Nagar
Along with him, the former leader of Gorakhnath temple renamed ‘Islampur’ to ‘Ishwarpur’, ‘Lahaladpur’ to ‘Alahaladpur’, and, ‘Humayun Nagar’ to ‘Hanuman Nagar’.
Here, the History aspect is not even acknowledged while renaming. The priorities were Hindu alliterative substitutes, to solidify the Hindutva intent, we can quote him when he said before he was elected as CM in 2017, “अभी तोह और नाम बदलने है

Cultural Perspective

These ‘originalists’ who want to rename based on originality are the ones who intentionally alienate a whole community as invaders, because of historical “anti-social elements”
This Cultural denial reaches heights when you become aware of the case of Babri Masjid and even alleged rumors of the Taj Mahal being built on the ruins of a Hindu temple. Thank god, it is one of the seven wonders otherwise it’s fate would be similar to the fate of Babri Masjid.

Heritage Perspective

In an interview, Danseuse and founder of the cultural and performing arts hub of Ahmedabad- Natrani Mallika Sarabhai says that the name change is unfair to the vision of builders of the modern city of Ahmedabad. From Ranchhodlal Chhotalal to Sardar Patel to Kasturbhai Lalbhai and Vikram Sarabhai, all envisioned a city where the great minds of the world like Charles and Ray Eames to Le Corbusier to Buckminster Fuller to Lois Khan, would come for an inclusive syncretic international town.
Archeological Survey of India (ASI) who currently takes care of most heritage sites of the nation has also shown disapproval towards the plea of the name change due to the cultural significance of the city and its heritage.

Most of the monuments that Ahmedabad takes credit to be deemed as a Heritage city are Islamic pieces of architecture. Experts also say that architects hired by Ahmed Shah to build mosques and monuments were Hindus and a lot of Hindu architectures have Islamic carvings and inscriptions making the heritage in Gujarat a cocktail of cultures.

Economic/Financial Perspective

Renaming of the city will result in the increase of government expenses in large amounts to officiate the name change- New stationery in government offices and institutions will result in a financial as well as environmental loss. All private businesses also will have to reinvest in stationery, invoices, etc., primarily every physical branded touchpoint with the address printed on it. The expense, again, is at the cost of people’s money. These expenses come with re-installation of signages and KM marks on the highways in and around the city. Hopefully, there will be a smoother process for updating legal and personal documents like Aadhar, Passport, Ration card, etc. We also hope it does not harm the daily bank operations which could quickly and directly affect the less privileged- A situation that the government could neither predict nor resolve during the infamous demonetization. According to a Hindustan Danik article, there are government sources that claim that the expenses may be worth approximately 100 crores for this name change process.

Linguistic Perspective

Endonyms and Exonyms mean the name that locals use and the outsiders use respectively. Initially, the name change was included as part of our constitution in the post-independence to un-colonise the names of places across India which existed for the convenience of the British language and accent. In this process, while getting rid of the British exonyms, the local endonyms were taken into consideration, eg. Calcutta was called Kolkata by the locals anyway. In case of Ahmedabad, Amdavad can be considered as an endonym which can be officially adopted since it is religion-neutral, doesn’t glorify deeds of Ahmed Shah and is widely used by the citizens. But considering Ahmedabad as an exonym and using it to push political agenda is delinquent.

The historical weight that the  language and literature carries around the name Ahmedabad will disappear, if the change is approved. The description of Tarak Mehta’s Ahmedabad in his numerous blogs, books and now, the television show will be compromised. 600 years of folklore that gave us songs like ‘Ame Amdavadi… Ame Amdavadi’

‘Eke laal darvaaje tambu toniya re lol… hun Amdavadi nagri, eni frte kone kagri’
‘Hun Amdavad no rikshawalo…’
Can not be remade or refurbished to fit the new name, Karnavati.


Psychological and Emotional Perspective

Imagine a case where you have to pay for the deeds of your ancestors. By thinking not from the environmental perspective, but by the religion of the rulers and the harm they have done. By alienating a culture and its people, and above all, celebrating victory over religious dominance is intoxicating the nation on this drug called Hindutva, under the influence of which comes a sense of religious dominion and entitlement. This might develop an inferiority complex within a religious community.
In some villages of Haryana, Muslims live disguised under Hindu sounding names- something they do willingly to assimilate into “Indian culture.” This creates complexity with one’s religious identity. This could possibly be a preview if this name change game targeting one religion continues to be played around the nation.

Raphael Lemkin, who is known to coin the word ‘genocide’ says, A community feels diminished if it is made to think that it has made no genuine, original contribution to the existence of a nation, of which it is a part, playing with the emotions of a whole community.

Legal Perspective

Nitinbhai Patel, Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister, said on record, “ Name change will happen for sure, as soon as the legal hurdles clear” made us question what actually is the legal process of name change in India. Turns out there shouldn’t be any legal hurdle unless the request seems baseless to the Union Home Ministry.
During Chidambaram’s time in the Home ministry, he passed an amendment that requires that the name change must not trigger communal disharmony.
Otherwise, the municipal corporation has to submit a plea to the Chief Minister who then forwards the request to Delhi Home Ministry and after their approval, a notice is sent to the officials of Ahmedabad. After passing an official notification, Ahmedabad can be officially called Karnavati. It is clear that there are no legal hurdles that are stopping the name change.


Democratic Perspective

Democracy is a way of governance but is it flawed? Like everything else in this world, yes. But relatively, it is the least faulty systems considering the rest. The loophole: mandate of voters only matters at the time of choosing the government, i.e., elections.
The name changes in the pre-independence and even pre-colonial eras were out of autocratic rulings and monarchy. The fact that till date, in the largest democracy of the world, public opinion is disregarded, for decisions ranging from a name change to building humongous statues at the cost of the taxpayer’s money.

Ahmedabad as a Brand Perspective

Last year, After a 500-page report was submitted to UNESCO, to get the heritage city tag for Ahmedabad, which also includes the history of Ahmed Shah since that past is very clearly recorded. When we talk about the cost of renaming, experts say that the most significant cost will come to regaining the name in the world outside Gujarat, especially internationally, since the heritage city tag does bring us a whole lot of visitors and tourists from outside India. The expense of name change of an invaluable brand value remains incalculable.

Divide and Rule: दुबारा?

The infamous divide and rule policy of the British still affect our nation and its relationships with our neighbours and even the disharmony in many regions within. Are these tactics of gathering majority votes basically eating from the carcasses of this comprehensive but harming policy? Political analysts say that these actions create a sense of victory in the people belonging to the favoured community against an inexistent, unknown enemy, in this case, the minority.
These also divert the nation’s attention from real problems of education, employment, and Infrastructure to faux activism with cultural and heritage claims because the potholes stay even when the name of the city changes.


Current Status

When all media houses have conveniently dropped the issue, politicians continue addressing Ahmedabad as Karnavati in a lot of speeches hoping one day, it will happen when the media focus will be on some other stunt. As long as the citizens are concerned, there were a lot of cycle rallies that were organized, A Change dot org petition also was signed by a huge amount of petitioners for signatures to prove we, the citizens disapprove of this name change, people also wrote letters to the CM of Gujarat as a plea to not support the change taking into consideration the feelings of the people of Ahmedabad. Social media hashtag #IamAhmedabad also went viral on Twitter.

Questions You Must be Asking

If this issue doesn’t trigger the political bone in you, you must ask these questions because there are no answers if you do not ask the questions

  • Is this the development (if at all) that the city currently expects; rather needs?
  • Will the renaming of the city following the original name of the ‘Swarna Yug’ take us back to the prosperity, harmony that existed back then?
  • Shouldn’t the government work on actual issues that currently hinder development since that will ensure not only the majority votes based on religion but actually an equal vote from all communities?
  • Do we want to be the world’s biggest democracy or theocracy?
  • Is the tag of the world’s most diverse country only for textbooks and fake nationalism?
  • If renaming brings back the values of those times, is Islam wrong values?
  • Why when the world wants to move forward, we want to go back in history, not for inspiration or the rooted values, but for names that have no developmental value.

Just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics doesn’t take an interest in you – Pericles (430 BC)

Shakespeare once said, “What’s in a name?” his emphasis on the unimportance of a name is evident through one of his other quotes that say “A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” The past cannot be changed, history cannot be changed. It can either be deleted or repeated. In this case, both, if the name change is approved.

Let’s just let history be.

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