Renaming cities not a big issue in Bihar

UP may call Faizabad district Ayodhya, but there are few takers for Patliputra over Patna

By Dipak Mishra in Patna
  • Published 13.11.18, 12:12 AM
  • Updated 13.11.18, 12:12 AM
  • 3 mins read
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The Nalanda ruins The Telegraph

What’s in a name? A lot in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, where the government is on a name-change spree; but Bihar is willing to live and let the names live.

Unlike in other states, changing names of cities, or of the state itself, has never been a major issue in Bihar.

A few years ago, chief minister Nitish Kumar had inadvertently set off a debate on whether Bihar is an etymological error that needs correction.

“Some people say that the word ‘Bihar’ has its origin in ‘Vihar’ and some say the state derives its name from ‘Bahaar’. Let me tell you that there is both ‘Vihar’ and ‘Bahaar’ in present day Bihar,” Nitish had said at a Bihar Divas function in March 2011.

Historians believe that the name Bihar originated from “Vihar”, or place of dwelling of Buddhist Vikhus, since the region was the epicentre of Buddhism.

But though the error is acknowledged by most, including politicians, no one is too keen to push for a name change — a campaign that has affected many other parts of the country.

Bombay became Mumbai, Madras was changed to Chennai, Bangalore to Bengaluru, Calcutta is now officially known as Kolkata and after the Yogi Adityanath government took charge in Uttar Pradesh, Allahabad has become Prayagraj, Faizabad will be known as Ayodhya and Mughal Sarai junction has been named after RSS ideologue Deendayal Upadhyaya. And there is a clamour to change Ahmedabad to Karnavati.

Even the names of states haven’t been spared: Orissa is now known as Odisha and West Bengal will be named Bangla once the due formalities are completed.

Leaders of the BJP — many of whose leaders are leading the name-change brigade — of Bihar would rather not get into a discussion on the issue. “You better ask this question to Giriraj Singh (the motor-mouth Union minister),” said a BJP minister in Bihar, stressing that he would not like to get into the matter.

It is not surprising that when Giriraj demanded that the name of Bakhtiyarpur be changed — alleging that the place was named after Bakhtiyar Khilji who had demolished the ancient Nalanda University — there were no takers. Even state BJP leaders were muted in their response.

The hesitation of politicians to stick out their neck is understandable.

RJD chief Lalu Prasad had once suggested re-christening Patna as Azimabad. The name has its roots in Prince Azim — the grandson of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and the governor of Bihar in 1702.

It was he who shifted the capital from Murshidabad in Bengal to Patna.

However, there was fierce opposition from a section of the people who insisted that Patna should be renamed Patliputra — the once mighty capital of ancient India.

Ironically, the late Speaker of the Bihar Assembly, Dev Narayan Yadav, had mooted a proposal that the name of Patna be changed to Patliputra. 

Lalu Prasad, as chief minister, had rejected the proposal.

“We strongly opposed it. Patliputra was the capital of the Magadh empire. But that is the past. Patna has a modern and wider ramification. It has the legacy of Europeans, Sikhs, Muslims and several other social factors,” said historian O.P. Jaiswal. He wondered what the famous guavas named after the city would be called after the name change of Allahabad to Prayagraj.

“Will we call it Prayagraj guava?” he asked.

The very suggestion of changing names of roads and towns evokes a yawn.

“It is a non-issue. It has no social or political implications,” said Shaibal Gupta, member-secretary, Asian Development Research Institute.

The RJD sniffs a communal angle in the BJP overdrive.

“The logic behind Bombay being changed to Mumbai or Calcutta being changed to Kolkata was that the British had changed the original names of these places. But what the BJP is doing now is communal politics. They are changing all the Muslim names in an attempt to divert public attention from their failures. Had they fulfilled even 25 per cent of the promises they had made for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, they would not have to change names of cities,” said RJD national vice-president Shivanand Tiwari.