New Delhi: Last month, the Narendra Modi government officially renamed Delhi’s iconic Rajpath to Kartavya Path. The renaming, which was widely called a decolonisation bid, was another addition to an already considerable list of name changes.
And it’s not only roads and cities that have been rechristened in the last eight years. At least three state universities have been renamed after some lesser-known people and local heroes in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh.
Consider this: North Maharashtra University is now known as Kavayitri Bahinabai Chaudhari North Maharashtra University; Chhindwara University is Raja Shankar Shah University; and Allahabad State University is Prof. Rajendra Singh (Rajju Bhaiya) University.
Academics see this as an attempt by the BJP governments to not only move away from the tradition of naming everything after personalities such as Gandhi and Nehru but also as an attempt to connect with the local populace.
“Modi government’s spree of renaming is in a way a reaction to naming everything after Gandhi and Nehru. It’s a political move,” Seshadri Chari, a former editor of RSS’s English mouthpiece Organiser, told ThePrint. “But, even they can’t rename everything after Deen Dayal Upadhyaya and [former PM] Atal Bihari Vajpayee, which is why it makes more sense to rename institutions after local heroes.”
Former University Grants Commission (UGC) chairman Sukhadeo Thorat, however, says renaming should be done after careful consideration and only after those personalities who have contributed to society.
“When you are renaming an institution, you should think of the value attached to it. And, hence, the personality after whom an institution is being renamed should be chosen very carefully. Students should be inspired by the name. But sadly that does not happen in most cases,” Thorat said, adding that it’s a political move that usually has nothing to do with academics.
What’s in a name?
In January, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government renamed Chhindwara University as Raja Shankar Shah University. Shah, the erstwhile ruler of the Gondwana region that comprises present-day Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, had fought the British in 1857. He is remembered as a hero among the Adivasis of the region.
What’s significant is that the university was established under the Kamal Nath government in 2019. Chhindwara is the stronghold of veteran Congress leader and former MP chief minister Kamal Nath.
In March 2019, the Uttar Pradesh government officially renamed Allahabad State University as Prof. Rajendra Singh (Rajju Bhaiya) University. According to the university’s official website, Rajju Bhaiya was a physicist and a professor at Allahabad University who was also made the Sangh sarsanghchalak (chief) in 1994.
In August 2018, North Maharashtra University in Jalgaon was renamed Kavayitri Bahinabai Chaudhari North Maharashtra University. Bahinabai composed poems in a mixture of two dialects — Khandesi and Varhadi. The 19th century Marathi poetess drew inspiration from agriculture and agrarian life.
Other examples include changing the name of Chhattisgarh’s Bilaspur Vishwavidyalaya to Atal Bihari Vajpayee Vishwavidyalaya in September 2018 and Sikkim University in Gangtok to Khangchendzonga State University in December 2021.
At the time of renaming, Chhattisgarh had a BJP government under Raman Singh. Sikkim has a coalition government of the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha and the Bharatiya Janata Party since 2019.
But name changes are neither a new phenomenon for educational institutions, nor are they limited only to the BJP governments. The Meerut University was renamed Chaudhary Charan Singh University, after India’s fifth prime minister in the 90s.
In 2014, the Maharashtra government under Prithviraj Chavan changed the name of Pune University to Savitribai Phule Pune University in honour of social reformist Savitribai Phule.
Among other significant examples are Andhra Pradesh University of Health Sciences in Vijayawada, which was renamed Dr. N.T.R. University of Health Sciences (after former Andhra Chief Minister and Telugu superstar N.T. Rama Rao); Purba Medinipur University in West Bengal which was renamed Mahatma Gandhi University; and Himalayan Garhwal University in Uttarakhand’s Pauri Garhwal, which was renamed Maharaja Agrasen Himalayan Garhwal University.
In 2014, the Shekhawati University in Sikar, Rajasthan, was renamed Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya Shekhawati University. In 2015, Lucknow’s Uttar Pradesh Technical University was renamed Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Technical University, and Punjab Technical University was renamed I.K. Gujral Punjab Technical University.
The difference, however, is that previous name changes were made after well-known personalities.
Chari says that naming an institution after lesser-known personalities would bring focus on their contribution. “Name change when it comes to a university is not a bad idea. Most universities around the world and in India have come to be known by the name of the cities they are located in and it brings a certain reputation to the city. More so to the lesser-known cities,” he said. “Similarly, if an institution is named after a personality who is lesser known, it will bring recognition for that personality.”
This copy has been updated to correct the spelling of Kavayitri Bahinabai Chaudhari North Maharashtra University
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)