Napoleon articulated an important reality of the human psyche about how people place a high value on symbols and symbolic gestures when he instituted the Légion d’honneur. “Men are led by baubles,” he said. Our leaders have internalized Napoleon’s insight pretty well.
The Tamil Nadu Edappadi K. Palaniswami government is set to alter the name of 1,018 places to match their Tamil pronunciation. Directions are issued to the district collectors to take necessary steps for changing the name of these places through the help pf concerned authorities or bodies
The state government has issued a 37-page fresh notification as per the recommendation of the expert committee sought to change the name of 1,018 places including some of the places of great historical and cultural importance.
This is not the first time, previous various governments across the country use this tactic of changing the name. The West Bengal assembly had also passed a resolution on 26 July 2018, unanimously to change the name of the state to ‘Bangla’ in the three most-spoken languages — Bengali, Hindi, and English and had sent the proposal to the home ministry. Speaking on the issue, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that she does not like her state to figure at the bottom just because alphabetically it is placed way down the line, and changing the name to Bangla would solve the problem.
However, The Central Government refuses to change West Bengal’s name to Bangla, says Constitutional amendment is needed to make such changes.
The BJP government is often accused of changing names. The Uttar Pradesh Yogi government has taken the lead. Earlier, The UP Government led by CM Yogi Adityanath made three big changes in the state since after forming his government back in 2017. While Allahabad became Prayagraj, Farah Town station near Mathura and Mughalsarai junction were earlier renamed after Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologue Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya.
However, it is the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party that has the dubious honor of making the most number of name changes. During her tenure, Noida became Gautam Buddha Nagar, Sambhal became Bhim Nagar, Kasganj was renamed Kanshiram Nagar, and so on. Our leaders have discovered the perfect formula for practicing politics with minimum efforts and maximum results just by changing the name of state, city, or street. After all, even countries have changed their names – Ceylon became Sri Lanka, Burma is now Myanmar. Renaming places has become an easy political gesture to win political support from people.
The past is always in the repertoire of identity politics, and legends and leaders consigned to the past tend to find a place in the contested terrain of statues and symbols. Rulers and ruling classes are keen to turn their legacies into monuments and memory. This is true not only of pre-democratic rulers; in democracies too, the bid to create enduring legacies and leave imprints on public memory form an essential part of the politics of culture. So, rulers and political figures are memorialized, often posthumously, in currency notes, in statues at busy public squares, on signboards and road names.
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If anything, in the time of selfie-love, the narcissistic impulse to make themselves a part of history is greater for our current democratic rulers. Just as rulers of pre-Independence India, British or Mughals or homegrown, and of various religious persuasions ensured they live for posterity through memory,
So, the rulers today want to create new memories. What is happening in our midst may be understood as the politics of memory, the politics of symbols, at multiple levels, as an easy way to hold sway in the politics of culture.