Liberals often criticise our right-wing Narendra Modi government for constantly trying to modify our culture and history to make it appear more “Indian”. Well liberals, here’s another reason to keep whinging. Now, the government has changed the name of a street in New Delhi, rechristening Dalhousie Road to Dara Shikoh Marg. The move was carried out by New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC), one of several municipal bodies that are managed by the Centre.
Yes, the government hasn’t renamed the road after some Hindu figure, but a vague Mughal prince lost in pages of Indian history-books.
Why did our authorities make the street undergo a name change at all?
In recent years since Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power, attempts at modifying the historical narrative to suit the nationalist discourse have been dogged and vicious. Modifying the content of school history books and renaming streets have been part of a larger push towards reclaiming Hindu culture, as some BJP government allies like to call it. For instance, one of India’s poshest streets in New Delhi was in 2015 renamed from Aurangzeb Road to Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road. Aurangzeb was a powerful Mughal ruler often accused of mass murder and ordering large scale conversion of Hindus, and so is hated by right-wing supporters of India’s current ruling elite.
Renaming the street from Lord Dalhousie to Dara Shikoh recently may well have been motivated by a similar though process. Lord Dalhousie was a colonial administrator whose economic and social policies have been blamed for instigating the First War of Independence in 1857, a rebellion that was brutally crushed by the British authorities.
An elder brother of controversial Aurangzeb, Shikoh, on the other hand, was seen as a secular Muslim who was the favorite to succeed his father Shah Jahan as ruler of India but was defeated by his power-hungry younger sibling in a battle for succession.
The Indian Express, bringing the matter of street name change to light, quoted a historian who once commented on the battle between the two brothers, “India was at a crossroads in the mid-seventeenth century; it had the potential of moving forward with Dara Shikoh, or of turning back to medievalism with Aurangzeb.”
Yes, many Hindus hate Aurangzeb. He destroyed temples. He ruthless crushed less-powerful Hindu kingdoms. His army was accused of carrying out mass rapes of Hindu women. In a nutshell, he epitomised everything that’s wrong with Islam.
But, changing a street name that remained unchanged for the first six decades since Independence may be dubbed a well-thought out overreaction on part of the government. The government should have better things to do than messing with street names in power, more so during historic first term of Narendra Modi.
And why do Hindus love Dara Shikoh?
Dara Shikoh is like a sidekick actor in a movie who loses out on love but win audiences’ hearts. Though less powerful and clever than Aurangzeb, he was more secular-minded nevertheless. Some historians claim that Shikoh had deep interest in Hindu religious scriptures and even commissioned the translation of all the Upanishads from Sanskrit to Persian, as reported in the Indian Express. Most importantly, he saw many similarities between Islam and Hinduism. All his “qualities” make him a darling of the Hindutva brigade.
However, he was largely forgotten in history because he did nothing significant, except being born to Shah Jahan and a sibling to brutal Aurangzeb.
Should we be glorifying ordinary figures whom history has long forgotten and living in delusion? Or should we accept the past and refer to it as constant reminder of past mistakes?
Think we are a mature people, we can handle latter well. No more changing street names please.