As the BJP government’s renaming spree continues, the latest places to be hit are three islands in Andaman and Nicobar, including the popular tourist destination Havelock Island. According to a source in the Home Ministry, the name change is a tribute to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.
The largest island in the archipelago to be christened in the colonial era, Havelock will soon be referred to as Swaraj Dweep, while Neil Island will be renamed Shaheed Dweep. Ross Island will now be named after Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose who had helped recapture parts of the island from the British, with help from the Japanese. All three islands are situated in the Andamans.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to officially announce the names during his visit to Port Blair on December 30, along with other plans for the islands. Home Minister Rajanth Singh who will accompany him will hoist a 150-metre-high tricolour to mark the 75th anniversary of Bose’s formation of the Azad Hind government.
It was Netaji who first hoisted the flag here on December 30, 1943, after the Japanese had captured the area during the Second World War. Bose had then announced that the islands were the first Indian territory to be freed from British rule, following which he reportedly renamed Andaman and Nicobar Islands as Shahid and Swaraj Dweep. He had appointed INA general A.D. Loganathan as its governor thereafter.
The Japanese occupation of the islands, however, was reportedly brutal which earned their allies in INA, the wrath of the locals. Bose
How did this come about?
The home ministry on Wednesday notified that it had completed all formalities required for renaming the three islands. The Modi government’s decision comes over a month after West Bengal BJP vice-president Chandra Kumar Bose, who is related to the freedom fighter, wrote to the PM urging him to rename the islands. In his letter dated November 11, he had referred to Netaji as the “the first Prime Minister of United Free India”, and acknowledged Modi’s gesture of unfurling the national flag at Gymkhana Grounds where the INA chief too founded the Azad Hind government.
The demand for renaming Havelock had been tabled by BJP MP LA Ganesan in 2017 who said, naming an Indian territory after someone who was against Indian autonomy and had actively worked toward repressing Indian patriots in 1857 was shameful.
Christened after British general Sir Henry Havelock who had served the British in India, Havelock Island is the largest island in the union territory.
BJP’s renaming spree
While recognising the colonisers’ impact on Indian culture and administration as significant, efforts to rewrite it and promote self-glory must be arrested before the entire the country is swathed in BJP’s Hindu (and Hindi) names for historically significant places.
The Uttar Pradesh government, led by Yogi Adityanath, renamed several places across the state earlier this year, including Allahabad, Faizabad and Mughal Sarai as Prayagraj, Ayodhya and Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhayay Nagar respectively. The state government justified the name changes across Uttar Pradesh saying they are merely restoring older names and correcting historical distortions.
His call to action seems to have hit the sweet spot for several other regional leaders, including Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani and Telangana BJP MLA Raja Singh who have taken after Adityanath and expressed their wishes to rechristen capital cities Ahmedabad and Hyderabad with the respective names of Karnavati and Bhagyanagar. Rupani had claimed that Ahmedabad symbolises slavery, in a woefully distorted view of history.
Maharashtra’s Shiva Sena has also chimed in, reiterating their old demands to rename Aurangabad and Osmanabad as Sambhaji Nagar and Dharashiv, respectively. Himachal Pradesh government in October was already contemplating changing Shimla to Shyamala. Several BJP leaders also proposed to change the name of Agra to Agrawal. Controversial legislator from Sardhana, Sangeet Som, wanted the name of Muzaffarnagar to be changed to Laxmi Nagar.
The timing, as well, is ripe for the picking of hardline Hindu majority sentiment ahead of the 2019 polls. Appeasement further doubles as diversionary tactics, given the centre’s failure in tackling far more important issues on which they had gone to polls.
Honouring Netaji’s wishes could also improve their approval rating in Bengal, where they have been politically unsuccessful so far.
Most importantly, however, by changing historically significant names, the government demonstrates a way of delegitimising a phase of subcontinental history without which there would be no subcontinent or India today. Restoring the “glory of Indian past”, i.e., saffronisation, is the only agenda, even if it arrives at the cost of selective public memory.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius
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