Kashmir May Be the Latest Target of Centre's Name-Changing Spree

While the opposition has criticised proposals to rename roads and government departments, the BJP has argued that Kashmir does not belong to the 'Abdullahs and Muftis'.

Srinagar: Kashmir’s water supply department will now be called the Jal Shakti department. The Chenani-Nashri Tunnel has been named after Hindutva ideologue Syama Prasad Mookerjee. The Shere-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium will also get a new name: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium.

Numerous other such proposals are in the offing, according to news reports.

These developments, after the Centre revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and divided it into two union territories, has led to fears that the Bharatiya Janata Party has finally brought its name-changing spree to Kashmir.

The first rechristening

The nine-km-long tunnel was renamed on October 24 – almost two months after J&K was stripped of its special status.

The tunnel connecting Kashmir with the rest of India is the country’s longest highway tunnel and Asia’s longest bi-directional highway tunnel. It is located in the lower Himalayan mountain range, between Udhampur and Ramban districts in Jammu.

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Mookerjee was the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. He was a known critic of the Congress and a vehement opponent of Article 370. BJP leaders would often quote his slogan – “Ek desh mein do vidhan, do pradhan aur do nishan nahi chalenge (There cannot be two constitutions, two prime ministers and two flags in one nation) – to oppose J&K’s special status.

When the Centre read down Article 370, several BJP leaders said the party has finally realised Mookerjee’s unfulfilled dream.

Places named after Sheikh on the list?

According to a report published in The Wire earlier this month, state authorities have cleared decks to rechristen Sher-i-Kashmir Cricket Stadium, located in heart of Srinagar, as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium.

A number of facilities in Kashmir including two hospitals, the cricket stadium, an indoor stadium, a park and a convocation centre are named after National Conference founder Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, who was known among his supporters as Sher-e-Kashmir (Lion of Kashmir).

Abdullah is one of the most prominent politicians in J&K’s history. In 1946, he raised voice against Dogra ruler Maharaja Hari Singh and led the ‘Quit Kashmir’ agitation against him.

He was jailed for three years. In 1953, Abdullah, the second prime minister of J&K, was accused of conspiring against the state and was arrested in the “Kashmir conspiracy case”. This time, he was jailed for 11 years. He returned as chief minister of J&K in 1975, after the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh accord.

A local news agency reported last week that the state administration is planning to rename all facilities and landmarks named after Sheikh Abdullah.

The rest of India is no stranger to the BJP’s obsession with changing the names of roads, buildings and cities to support its agenda. Now, Srinagar-based historian Ashiq Hussain said, this politically motivated campaign has made its way to Kashmir. “The purpose is to polarise and give a sense of victory to the majority population across India.”

From PHE department to Jal Shakti

A senior official told The Wire that on the directions of the Centre, the J&K administration has cleared a proposal to rename the Kashmir Public Health Engineering (PHE) Department as the Jal Shakti Department.

This will be the first department in Kashmir to have a Hindi name. The official said this proposal was moved some months ago.

The name change is happening at a time when the government is yet to take a call on whether Urdu, which was the official language of the state of J&K, will remain the official language of the union territory of J&K.

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Section 47 of the J&K Reorganisation Act, under which J&K was bifurcated, empowers the new legislative assembly to adopt “any one or more of the languages in use in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir or Hindi as the official language or languages to be used for all or any of the official purposes”.

As of now, names of all government departments in J&K are written in English or Urdu. At the civil secretariat, the names of officials and their designations are written in both English and Urdu on the nameplates on their office doors.

‘It validates peoples’ worries’

The National Conference has hit out at the Centre, saying the measure validates people’s worries. “Rechristening places won’t help improve the situation,” said the party in a statement. “The move was yet another attempt aimed to hoodwink people and divert them from real issues confronting people.”

The party said the Centre has come out in its “true colours in J&K”. “We condemn the move to change the name of the stadium in unequivocal terms. The name of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah is inscribed on the hearts of people. He struggled to change the character of his people, the fact that no one can deny,” said the party.

The Congress, too, slammed the Centre. The party’s state president, G.A. Mir, said the government of India cannot change the history of J&K by renaming places.

“Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah is part of J&K’s history. Our ideologies could be different, but he and (then) prime minister of India, Jawahar Lal Nehru, contributed to J&K joining the Union of India,” said Mir.

‘J&K not anybody’s Sultanate’

The BJP defended the reported moves to change names by saying, “Kashmir is not anybody’s Sultanate and everything doesn’t belong to Abdullahs and Muftis here.”

“This is a new Kashmir now, a part of a democratic India where every leader who has contributed to the nation-building will get his due,” said Khalid Jehangir. “If the facilities in Kashmir can’t be named after national leaders (Mookerjee and Patel), then who else deserve it?”

Jehangir said Kashmir “isn’t a fiefdom of the Abdullahs and Mufti”, so everything doesn’t have to be named after them.

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“Even I have requested the lieutenant governor of J&K to change the name of Police Training Centre at Ganderbal in Central Kashmir,” he said. “The dawn of a new era in Kashmir may be shocking to the dynasties but they must realise that times have changed now.”

BJP spokesperson Altaf Thakur said renaming Nashri tunnel after Mookerjee had been a longtime demand for his party.

‘Dogra legacy to continue’

Jehangir, who fought and lost the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Srinagar, ruled out changing names of institutions named after Dogra rulers in Kashmir.

The Valley’s main trauma hospital, SMHS hospital, and one of the busiest markets in Srinagar, Hari Singh High Street, is named after Maharaja Hari Singh, the last Dogra ruler.

One of the main colleges in the city, commonly known as the SP College, and a museum called SPS Museum, are named after Maharaja Pratap Singh, who was the king of the state and Hari Singh’s uncle. Srinagar’s Amar Singh College is named after Pratap Singh’s brother, Amar Singh.

“They were great leaders who have contributed to nation-building,” said Jehangir. “Their legacy will continue for the times to come.”