Mumbai: New names for old places in Uttar Pradesh has sparked similar demands in Maharashtra, with the Shiv Sena demanding renaming of three cities in the state, even as its president Uddhav Thackeray prepares for a visit to Ayodhya.

The Uttar Pradesh government led by chief minister Yogi Adityanath recently renamed Allahabad as Prayagraj and Faizabad district as Ayodhya. More places in UP are likely to be renamed as its ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government presses ahead with its Hindutva agenda in the heartland state that holds key to the BJP’s fortunes in the 2019 general elections. Gujarat, another BJP-ruled state, has shown inclination to rename Ahmedabad as Karnavati.

Now, the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra has demanded that Aurangabad, Osmanabad and Khultabad in Marathwada be renamed as Sambhaji Nagar, Dharashiv, and Ratnaprabha, respectively. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP has not yet responded to the demand, made in a letter by Sena MP Sanjay Raut last week.

To be sure, the Shiv Sena has for long demanded renaming Aurangabad, the biggest city in Marathwada, as Sambhaji Nagar (Sambhaji was the son of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj), and the Sena mouthpiece Saamana, in fact, consistently refers to Aurangabad as Sambhaji Nagar.

Sena’s challenge to Fadnavis to follow his UP counterpart’s example fuels the Hindutva fire being stoked by both parties on the Ram mandir issue. Recently, Fadnavis said Shiv Sena had to ally with BJP alone if it was committed to Hindutva, after Sena president Uddhav Thackeray said he would visit Ayodhya on 24 and 25 November. Thackeray announced his Ayodhya visit before the Supreme Court last month said it would decide in January next year when to start the hearing in the Ram Janmabhoomi land title case. The Sena president has reiterated his Ayodhya plan even after the SC order. In Ayodhya, Thackeray plans to pray at the makeshift Ramlala temple and attend a public aarti on the banks of the Sarayu river.

For years, the Sena’s renaming politics has followed two trajectories of Hindutva and the Marathi manoos (son-of-the-soil). The Sena-BJP government of 1995-1999 renamed Bombay as Mumbai as part of the Sena’s nativist politics. Recently, the Elphinstone station on the western line of the suburban railway in Mumbai was renamed as Prabhadevi, again as part of a nativist agenda.

“There is no Hindutva in these names. Mumbai was Mumbai before the British changed its name. But why should Sambhaji Nagar be known after the fanatic Aurangzeb? Why should parts of Marathwada carry the names given during the Mughal rule or the Nizam’s rule?" wondered a Sena functionary, requesting anonymity. He admitted that the demand to rename Aurangabad, Osmanabad, and Khultabad, was aimed at consolidating the Hindutva vote bank of the Shiv Sena, as was Thackeray’s proposed visit to Ayodhya. “It is Marathwada which first endorsed our brand of aggressive Hindutva in the 1980s," he recalled, pointing out that the Sena has for long won the Aurangabad Lok Sabha seat.

A state BJP functionary, however, said Fadnavis may not easily accept the Sena demand. “We don’t need to demonstrate our commitment to Hindutva. The political and social dynamics in Uttar Pradesh are different from those in Maharashtra. Even if Devendra ji decides to rename these places, he will see to it that the BJP gets the maximum benefit," the BJP functionary said, requesting anonymity.

Close