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De-politicizing our public spaces

Why must every public structure or initiative be bequeathed to the legacy of political icons?

Nikhil Inamdar 

Nikhil Inamdar

Vociferous protests erupted in the Rajya Sabha last week over the rechristening of Hyderabad domestic airport. The Congress party disrupted the house to oppose a section of the airport being renamed as N.T. Rama Rao Domestic Terminal, accusing the ruling party in Andhra Pradesh of seeking political mileage with the name change. It is comical that the Congress, which has over the decades, baptized every important public building in this country after the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, should have a problem with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) seeking to do the same.

The grand old party, by thrusting the names of Nehru, Indira and Rajiv ubiquitously, has carefully and concertedly appropriated every sphere of India’s public life in the last 30 odd years. It has named a sum total of 450 different infrastructure projects, social welfare programs, educational institutions, trophies, sports stadiums, national sanctuaries, hospitals and boulevards after 3-4 members of the Nehru-Gandhi clan. The blatant obsequiousness in the party has translated to even Himalayan peaks, minor roller skating competitions and boat races being hijacked by the Gandhi surname according to this report.

With the BJP’s emphatic victory in the 2014 general elections, an endeavor to alter the political iconography of the country is palpable, whether in renaming social schemes after Hindutva icons, averring legacies of freedom fighters like Sardar Patel or Deen Dayal Upadhyaya or seeking to have railway stations and airports named after Sangh leaders like Dr S P Mookerjee. This course correction is only expected to gather steam going forward as the government of the day seeks to legitimize its own symbolisms and religious-historic narratives through public representation of their ilk. And to many, it may seem justified too given how one sided the exercise have been till date.

But can our government not be more munificent to achievers from other spheres?

Leave aside the need for multiple non-partisan, politico-religious narratives to find room in a diverse, modern democracy such as India, why must every public structure or space be bequeathed to the legacy of either a politician or a freedom fighter? Don’t artists, musicians, scientists, sportspersons, actors and philosophers deserve equal symbolic representation in our public spaces? Has India’s glorious history and culture been wrought solely by nationalist leaders? Shouldn’t the legacies of poets, writers and mathematicians be commemorated and celebrated as emphatically?

Public veneration of political martyrs and popular past leaders is not only an exercise in nation building, but also a tool used by political parties to shove their agendas and ideologies deep into the consciousness of the voter. While it is the prerogative entirely of the party in power to decide who public structures and schemes should be named after, ‘if the nomenclature…is not politically neutral, the sanctity of the democratic system would be in jeopardy’ notes Author and Columnist Dr. A. Surya Prakash in one of his old columns, asking the Election Commission to keep a vigil on such practices.

This trend alas, is not restricted to India. Military and political leaders across the globe indulge in usurping public spaces to peddle their own figureheads. India must take inspiration from the few aberrations around. Airports in Liverpool and Rome for instance are named after John Lennon and Leonardo Da Vinci respectively. Norway’s new currency notes and passports adorn a slick, elegant look showcasing not political icons, but the country’s exquisite natural beauty.

About time we too de-politicize our public spaces! There is much more that defines the fabric and splendor of this country than the mugs and forenames of its political leaders.

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First Published: Mon, December 01 2014. 12:22 IST