Michael Safi -
AN Indian city in a state led by a hardline Hindu nationalist preacher accused of instigating violence against Muslims has had its Muslim name changed to one with Hindu associations.
The state cabinet in Uttar Pradesh announced on Tuesday that it had approved the renaming of Allahabad as Prayagraj, which harks back to the city’s ancient appellation, Prayag, before it was changed by Mughal-era rulers in the late 16th century.
Prayag in Sanskrit means place for sacrifice, in reference to the Hindu belief that the creator of the universe, Brahma, made his first offering at the area in the city where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet.
The Uttar Pradesh health minister, Siddharth Nath Singh, told local media: “The city used to be known as Prayagraj since the beginning. To those who are opposing the decision, how would you feel if the name your parents gave you was to be changed?”
The city, about 400 miles (650km) south-east of the Indian capital, Delhi, is the ancestral home of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which has produced three Indian prime ministers, including the country’s first, Jawarharlal Nehru.
It is also the site of one of India’s Kumbh melas – mass Hindu pilgrimages that are considered to be among the world’s largest religious festivals. The most recent was held in the city in 2013 and attended by an estimated 100 million worshippers.
Changing Allahabad’s name has been a longstanding demand of Hindu nationalist groups in India which regard the three centuries in which huge areas of the subcontinent were ruled by Mughal dynasties as a period of foreign occupation.
The traditional view of Indian leaders has been that the Mughals integrated with the largely Hindu society around them, forging a unique blended culture over time.
In the decades since independence in 1947, the country has gradually thrown off British imperial-era names such as Bombay (now Mumbai), Pondicherry (now Puducherry) and Madras (now Chennai).
Under Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, the state has also started replacing Mughal-era names.
Last year, Mughalsarai Junction railway station in the state was renamed Deen Dayal Upadhyay Junction railway station, after a Hindu nationalist thinker and politician.
The Uttar Pradesh energy minister, Shrikant Sharma, said more names were likely to be changed. “It is the right of the government to rename any city,” he said. “If needed, we will rename more cities and roads. The mistakes done earlier will be rectified.”