Mumbai: The clash between allies Shiv Sena and the Congress, over the renaming of Maharashtra’s Aurangabad as Sambhajinagar, has now led to leaders from the Sena, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) as well as Maratha outfits using this debate as a launchpad for more renaming requests.
So far, these leaders have made demands to rename Ahmednagar as Ambikanagar, Osmanabad as Dharashiv and Pune as Jijapur.
The Shiv Sena’s three-decade-old demand to rename Aurangabad, which has resurfaced ahead of a civic poll in the city, has drawn a wedge between the party and the Congress. Aurangabad is named after the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
Looking to protect its Muslim voter base in the city, especially with the Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) gaining ground, the Congress is opposing the move saying renaming cities is not part of the MVA’s common minimum programme.
Shiv Sena President and Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray Friday hit back saying the common minimum programme is based on secularism and Aurangzeb was not secular. “Aurangzeb was not a secular person. While our agenda has the word secular in it, a person like Aurangzeb does not fit into it,” he told reporters.
The Shiv Sena has campaigned for the official renaming of Aurangabad as Sambhajinagar, ever since its founder Bal Thackeray announced in 1988 that the city would henceforth be known by the name of Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Sambhaji. CM Thackeray’s office has also been using the name Sambhajinagar for Aurangabad while tweeting about the state government’s decisions through his official twitter handle, further needling the Congress.
A growing clamour of more such demands to rename cities might widen the rift in the delicate MVA, an alliance of ideological rivals — the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress.
“We have constantly maintained that the politics of renaming is inappropriate. The common minimum programme of the MVA does not mention this,” Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant told ThePrint.
“It has nothing to do with development. In fact, politics of renaming is resorted to when one wants to divert people’s attention from the development agenda. In today’s day, this kind of politics and renaming only creates a divide between Hindus and Muslims.
“It was expected that all these demands will come up along with Aurangabad, but our stand on this has been very clear,” he added. “We will have a discussion with the Shiv Sena on the basis of our common minimum programme.”
‘Sambhajinagar should happen, so should Ambikanagar’
Shiv Sena MP Sadashiv Lokhande, who represents Ahmednagar’s Shirdi constituency, demanded that the MVA government should also rename Ahmednagar district to Ambikanagar along with Aurangabad.
“In Sambhajinagar, the general population has this expectation that the renaming should be done. People are demanding this and as an MP it is my demand too,” Lokhande told reporters on 2 January.
“In this regard, our party leader, the Maharashtra CM, will take the appropriate decision. But the nagar district (Ahmednagar district) should also be known as Ambikanagar. This is our demand. We will follow up on our demand and the Maharashtra CM will take the right decision.”
Ahmednagar derives its name from Malik Ahmed Nizam Shah of the Nizam Shahi dynasty. He founded the city, set it as his capital and named it after himself.
The demand to rename Ahmednagar as Ambikanagar was also made in 2018 by Hindutva leader Manohar Bhide, known as Sambhaji Bhide, who the Pune (rural) police had booked for the 1 January 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence. He was later given a clean chit by the then Devendra Fadnavis-led government.
‘Dharashiv was the original name, Nizam changed it’
In Osmanabad, leaders of the Raj Thackeray-led MNS met the district collector and submitted a written request to rename Osmanabad district as Dharashiv.
“It was Hindu Hriday Samrat Balasaheb Thackeray’s dream that the Aurangabad district should be renamed as Sambhajinagar and Osmanabad district should be renamed as Dharashiv,” the letter dated 4 January and signed by local MNS leaders reads.
“The process to rename the district had started when the Shiv Sena-BJP government came to power in Maharashtra in 1995, but afterwards the process stopped,” the letter adds. “The demand to rename the district as Dharashiv has been made since the past 30 years but it has still not happened. This has hurt Hindu sentiments.”
The MNS letter further accused Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra government of only raking up the Aurangabad issue due to civic elections in the city.
“If Aurangabad can become Sambhajinagar, why can’t Osmanabad become Dharashiv? Dharashiv is the ancient name. It was changed to Osmanabad in 1905 by the Nizam government after King Usman Ali,” the MNS has said.
In the letter, a copy of which is with ThePrint, the party warned the government of severe agitations along with Hindutva organisations if the state government fails to take note of its demand.
The Shiv Sena has also demanded the renaming of Osmanabad to Dharashiv in the past. The last such demand was made in 2018 after Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath changed the name of Faizabad to Ayodhya.
‘Pune should be Jijapur’
Maratha organisation Sambhaji Brigade too has jumped into the renaming controversy, reiterating one of its old demands of renaming Pune to Jijapur, after Jijabai, the mother of Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji.
The Maratha outfit argues that it was Jijabai who built the Pune city and transformed it. The organisation had in 2018 submitted a letter voicing its demand to the then Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government a few days after the Shiv Sena raised the issue of renaming Aurangabad and Osmanabad.
“Ever since the Sambhajinagar issue came up, we have voiced our demand about Jijapur via social and traditional media,” Pradeep Kanse, a functionary of the Sambhaji Brigade, told ThePrint. “We will have a programme on Jijamata’s birth anniversary on 12 January when we will make our demand from the dais.”
“We will decide how to formally take the issue forward after we have our executive committee meeting,” he added.