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How Bhopal's history was targeted in a planned manner, distorted and changed

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Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

BHOPAL: The state government’s decision to name the metro railway project in Bhopal after Raja Bhoj has once again reignited the debate over naming institutions and changing names in Madhya Pradesh.

From Raja Bhoj Airport to Bhoj bridge, Bhoj-taal (Upper Lake) to Bhoj University and also giving name of Bhoj to streets, institutions and installing the king’s statue on the rampart of the Fatehgarh fort that was built by the founder of Bhopal dynasty—Dost Mohammad Khan, the narrative of ‘Raja Bhoj as founder and king of Bhopal’ is almost complete.

Though Dhar city in Malwa was the seat of the Raja Bhoj, the previous government went on a spree to name places and institutions after Raja Bhoj. Even there was an attempt to name Bhopal as Bhojpal. There were demands to also name Habibganj railway station after Raja Bhoj. And, the old logo of Bhopal civic body has been replaced with a new one that shows Raja Bhoj.

Interestingly, during the last three tenures of BJP in Madhya Pradesh, Raja Bhoj has been ‘brought and resurrected’ in Bhopal to replace the city’s history, and institution-structures have been named after him with immense zeal and passion.

Questions are being raised as to why there can’t be other names apart from Bhoj? This region has given birth to major personalities who played important role in shaping destiny of the nation. Chief minister Kamal Nath made the announcement and despite some protests, state government has now officially stated that the project will be named after Bhoj.

Incidentally, there have been other rulers by the same name (Bhoj) in history. As far as history of Bhopal is concerned, it was a small village in 1710-1715 AD when Nawab Dost Mohammad Khan got the fort constructed and settled in the region.

Ahilya Bai Holkar symbol of woman power in Indore but Begums of Bhopal ignored in own city

Subsequently, the city grew and there were palaces, structures, houses built during the reign of later rulers. Not just the early rulers of the dynasty, even the famous Begums of  Bhopal—Nawab Qudisa Begum and then Nawab Sikandar Jahan, Nawab Sultan Jahan and Nawab Shahjehan Begam, are no longer recalled in Bhopal.

In sharp contrast, the Airport in Indore has been named after Ahilya Bahi Holkar whose name has been linked with Indore’s pride and is taken at official events as an example of ‘mahila shakti’ (women power).

Strangely, a mural of women that was carved out in Bhopal a few years ago had women rulers from other regions, but not the Begums of Bhopal, even in the city they built and which is the lone place to have such strong women ruling a state consistently for over a century.

In the last two decades, an effort to change names of places has been going on. It is to be seen how long the politics of changing name would continue but the fact remains that history despite attempts at distortions, can’t be changed.

History of Bhopal: Gond ruler, Upper Lake and Nawabs

Author Shyam Munshi writes that a Gond chieftain Bhupal Shah was a ruler in the region around 650 AD, and it was after him that Bhopal got its present name. Munshi says that the Upper Lake was a gift of Gonds to Bhopal.

“The Upper Lake has nothing to do with Raja Bhoj who ruled from Dhar and had commissioned a lake faraway at Bhojpur near Mandideep and that was flattened by Hoshang Shah”, writes Munshi is his famous book on Bhopal.

“The Upper Lake came into existence as water from two rivers that flew from Sehore viz. Uljhawan and Kolaans was stopped by constructing a small dam. This was the task of one Kaaliya, a Gond”.

Munshi further writes that, “it was around 1720 AD when Bhopal was a small village and just Gonds lived here”. “When Sardar Dost Mohammad Khan arrived, people came to Bhopal, cut the ‘barru’ (reed) to clear the land and build their houses—hence the term ‘Barrukaat Bhopali’ that signifies a true Bhopali”. “After 1720, this region saw development until the reign of last Nawab Hamidullah Khan”. Post- independence, Bhopal became capital of Madhya Pradesh in 1956.

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.