Is BJP’s Decision To Change Jhansi Railway Station’s Name Backfiring?

The station is now called Virangana Laxmibai. But locals – cutting across social classes – say Jhansi's name should have been included in it.

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Sinhasan hil uthe rajvanshon ne bhrukuti taani thi
Boorhe Bharat meim bhi aayi phir se nayi javaani thi
Bundele harbolon ke mooh hum ne suni kahaani thi
Khoob lari mardaani voh to Jhansi vali rani thi

When thrones were shaken and royal heirs rose up in arms
A wave of youthful fervour swept across the ageing Bharat
Every tongue in Bundelkhand tells the story
of the courageous Queen of Jhansi who, like a warrior, fought

Jhansi: Recently, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath announced the state government’s decision to rename Jhansi railway station – in the largest city of the Bundelkhand region and one of the busiest railway stations in the country – as Virangana Laxmibai railway station.

When asked about it, Raj Yadav, a Jhansi resident and an auto-driver, recites the verses cited above from a famous poem by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan. While reciting the verses, Yadav seems to exude a sense of pride adding, “We have been taught since our school days that she who fought like a warrior was the queen of Jhansi. To take apart the name of the city is absolutely wrong.” 

Meanwhile, an elderly auto driver, who is confident that the BJP is set to return for a second term in UP, says, “I also feel that the decision to change the name was wrong. It has been known as the Jhansi junction for generations. But now they have changed it to Virangana Laxmibai. Ideally, Jhansi should have been there in the name.”

“Though the BJP may win again, we oppose this decision,” he adds. “What they are doing is absolutely wrong. Changing names of places like Allahabad to Prayagraj and now, Jhansi.”

Notorious for renaming places, the Yogi government earlier made headlines for renaming Faizabad as Ayodhya, Allahabad as Prayagraj and the Mughalsarai station as Deen Dayal Upadhyay station.

However, this time the target is a railway station that was named neither by the British nor by the Mughals – which are the favourite excuses that the BJP and the right-wing use to change names of places.

The timing of announcement was also suspect, as the state was set to go for assembly elections soon. But instead of gain, the decision seems to have backfired as the Yogi government is facing public resentment over the issue. 

The government’s move is being criticised by locals across party lines or ideological beliefs, all of whom are and describing it as an “attack on the identity of Jhansi”.

“He (Yogi) may feel that the people appreciate the decision, but not even 1% of the people are happy,” says a railway employee on the condition of anonymity.

“Jhansi was the identity of Rani Laxmibai,” he continues. “She had vowed to never give up Jhansi until her last breath. The government is going against her very statement and snatching Jhansi from her. People are bound to get hurt by such decisions. Had the name been changed to Rani Laxmibai Railway Station Jhansi, it would still be acceptable. Jhansi should be added to the name again.”

Another local resident, Rashid Khan, also agrees that Jhansi should be part of the name. “If at all it had to be changed, they could have changed it to Virangana Lakshmibai Jhansi,” he says. “She was known as the Rani of Jhansi. Today, if we travel to any distant part of the country and introduce ourselves, people immediately identify Jhansi with the Rani of Jhansi.”

A statue of Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi. Photo: juggadery/Flickr CC BY SA 2.0

Vaibhav Yadav, a college student and BJP supporter, felt that changing the name will not erase the city’s association with the warrior queen. “Aligarh is famous for locks. Just as changing the name of Aligarh will not stop locks from being made there, the importance of Jhansi can also not be undermined. She will continue to be known as the Rani of Jhansi. Whether it is Jhansi or Virangana Laxmibai, it doesn’t matter,” he said. However, he agreed that Jhansi should have been added to the station’s name alongside Rani Laxmibai’s.

Tackle inflation, not names

Saurabh, who runs a road side stall at one of the city’s busiest intersections, suggests that it would have been better if the government had paid attention to inflation and price rise rather than changing the names of cities. 

“What will you gain by changing the name? Jhansi will remain Jhansi. Here, the name of Chitra Chauraha was changed to Sham Palace, but people still call it Chitra. Whoever is in power only wants to impose their decisions. It would be better if they paid attention to rising prices,” he adds.

People across castes, classes, communities and occupations living in different parts of Jhansi have opposed the state government’s decision. The list includes people who call themselves supporters of the BJP, and the Narendra Modi and Yogi governments. 

“The pride of the station has been lost,” says a local resident Bhagwat Sharan.

“When you look at the station now, it seems very odd,” says another resident Rinku Prajapati.

A local poet, Vinod Sahu, who belongs to a family of BJP supporters for generations and has been all-praise for the party, also turns furious at the mention of the Jhansi railway station. “It is absolutely wrong. Are they (the government) the only devotees of Jhansi, not us? Jhansi is synonymous with Rani Laxmibai. The very mention of the word Jhansi evokes the image of Rani of Jhansi. There is no stronger association than that between Jhansi and Rani Laxmibai.”

“The Yogi government changed names in the past too,” says another railway employee, and a former journalist from Jhansi. “Well, those places were named by the Mughals and the British. But, Jhansi was not. Jhansi is an aberration of a Bundeli language word that means ‘shadow’. The name was chosen by one of the kings of the Bundelkhand region. That’s why we are all opposing the decision.”

Senior journalist Vanshidhar Mishra, former editor of Amar Ujala in Jhansi, equates this decision to insanity. “I want to ask who is superior – Ram or Ayodhya?” he says. “Naturally, Ayodhya is superior because Ram is quoted in Ramcharitmanas as expressing the desire to be born in Ayodhya again and again. It is mentioned in Ramayana that the place of birth is even superior to heaven. Therefore, the place is always above the person.”

“Should then Ayodhya be named after Ram as Ramchandra Nagar or Dasharatha Nagar?” he further asks. “No attempts were made to alter Ayodhya’s name because even today, Ayodhya has a higher status. Just as Ayodhya had Raja Ram and Raja Dasharatha, Jhansi had Rani Lakshmibai.”

However, Vanshidhar adds that the government’s decision will have little impact on the poll outcome.

Jhansi railway station. Photo: pupilinblow/Flickr CC BY ND 2.0

“In a way, the government has turned Rani Lakshmibai’s name into a farce,” another local journalist, Laxmi Narayan Sharma, observes. “Jhansi is synonymous with her name and, therefore, the whole of Jhansi is against it.”

“Local BJP MPs and MLAs also sensed the public outrage,” he adds, “and wrote a letter to the Union government demanding the inclusion of Jhansi in the name.”

Meanwhile, a local youth Amar Singh brings another point to the fore. “It is a matter of concern for us Dalits, because while paying respect to Rani Laxmibai, they have forgotten Jhalkaribai of Jhansi. Why does the BJP want to upset an order that has been in place for centuries?”

“It was not only Rani Laxmibai who fought for independence, but Azizan Bai, a nautch (dancer) girl from Kanpur, also participated in the struggle by uniting women,” says Mahendra Singh, a tea-seller. “Changing names seems fair when all forgotten historical figures are shown due respect.”