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Bhopal: The politics of changing names, distorting history and propagating lies

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Bhopal  History  Shivraj Singh Chouhan




Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

BHOPAL: Habibganj railway station is now Rani Kamlapati station.

Yet another name has been changed and with it, another step has been taken to erase a part of history of the region.

It didn't start with Allahabad or Hoshangabad and it won't end with Habibganj. Politics of renaming cities and places has come to centre stage, even if it serves no purpose and is hardly in public interest.

However, it has come to the aid of the ruling class. The politicians have found a new way--change the names, keep people discussing it for days and remaining engaged in non-issues, rather than focusing on issues. In case of Bhopal, it had started long ago. For years, the project to rewrite history is also on. Places linked to Muslim rulers or personalities are the soft targets.

So even if there is no demand, it was suddenly decided to name the Habibganj railway station after Rani Kamlapati, a Gond queen. It also helps the BJP as it aims at getting the tribal vote back in its pocket. In the last election, tribals had overwhelmingly voted for Congress and this was one of the reasons for party's defeat. Hence, an attempt is being made to keep tribals in good humour. Which better way than naming the prominent railway station in capital after a tribal queen!

As far as Bhopal residents are concerned, they are used to it. Places and buildings were named after King Bhoja, who ruled from Dhar. The last three centuries of Bhopal's history keeps getting faded, even though it was this period that saw the development and expansion of Bhopal, which was a village before Dost Mohammad Khan arrived and established the Fatehgarh fort.

After him, his successors made Bhopal the capital of the erstwhile princely state and ruled from here. Kamlapati and Dost Mohammad Khan shared a unique bond. History tells us that she had sought his help and he honoured the promise. However, even this relationship is now being sullied. Historical records clearly tell how Rani Kamlapati had given the part of territory to Dost Mohammad Khan, because of his help.

But for the right-wing in the region, any link to a past linked to the rulers of the princely state is no longer palatable. There is an opportunity and attempt is on to change as much as could be done. Every time, a name change is affected, there is an intense debate. All the real issues are forgotten. The mishap at the Kamla Nehru Hospital didn't get due attention, as a name change is always something that brings out the passion from people, who get divided on communal lines.

For the resurgent right-wing, it's a signal of victory. For the Muslim residents of Bhopal, it is seen as another attempt to corner them. In Gwalior, Indore and other cities, the rulers of the erstwhile princely state are remembered. The Indore Airport is named after Ahilya Bai Holkar. However, it is almost impossible to even name a structure after the great women rulers of Bhopal--Qudsia Begam, Sikandar Jahan, Shahjehan Begum and Sultan Jehan Begum now.

No one could have imagined it that the situation would take such a drastic turn. Till two decades ago, there were sporadic demands but no real action. However, the BJP's victory in election after election, three consecutive terms, and now the fourth term, has given the party leaders a confidence that they can get away with any thing. Besides, this strategy bears rich dividend. No one bothers to ask tough questions about failure on other fronts, rather, the majority is made to feel 'victorious' after every name change.

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

Journalist for more than 20 years. Had started his career with National Mail in the nineties. Worked as Special Correspondent with Hindustan Times, as an Assistant Editor with DB Post, later Contributing Editor with The Huffington Post, writes for First Post, The Wire, Newsd & several other major publications.