The Paucity of Names

It could not possibly be a lack of imagination, could it? Why is everything in India named after Nehru, Indira, Sanjay, and Rajiv? I have pondered that matter here before. In October 2005 I asked:

Why is everything in India named after the Gandhis? The huge national park in Borivali in north Mumbai is called the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Did not know that Sanjay was a great nationally renowned nature lover. If I had not known better, I would have figured that he must have been the John Muir of India.

Pretty much half the things around India are named after the Nehru-Gandhi family. What astonishes me most is when educational institutions are named after the family which does not have a single graduate degree among the whole lot of them. Not that they could not afford to go to college. No, they all attended colleges and attempted to get degrees but failed to get one.

On second thoughts, given the moribund state of the Indian educational system, perhaps naming educational institutions after the luminaries of the Nehru-Gandhi family has a certain aptness to it.

Update: (March 29th) — As pointed out by harjeet.undefined in the comments below, I am wrong that no one in the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has a single degree to their name. Nehru did have a degree. Mea maxima culpa. And thanks for the correction.

I pondered the naming of things once more in Feb 2008 and concluded that it was political advertising:

Naming things is easy in India. “Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal, Indira, Rajiv, and Sanjay” are the choices for the first bit, as in “Jawaharlal Nehru University,” or “Indira Gandhi International.” It won’t be too long before we have “Sonia, Priyanka, Rahul, Spotty” added to the list. (Spotty is just a place holder as I am not sure what the name of the Gandhi family dog actually is.)

I know that other nations also identify their important landmarks with the names of their historical political leaders. The US honors Lincoln, Washington, Kennedy, and so on. However, there is a great deal of diversity in their naming of things that they value. They name their scientific projects after scientists, for instance. Remember Hubble, Fermi, etc. Indeed, the Americans even named one of their space telescopes after an Indian: Chandra. I somehow doubt that would happen in India.

But no where other than in India have I noticed only one family monopolizing the naming of things. It is as if India never had any heroes until the birth of Jawaharlal Nehru and after that all the seats were taken by his progeny for eternity. I think there is a simple reason. The naming of things is a way of political advertising. An “Indira Gandhi Seva Yojna” publicly funded though it may be will ultimately drive home the message that the Gandhi family is the giver of gifts and ensure that the thumb impression of the voter lands on the Congress candidate come election time.

It is a sort of a vicious circle. First, name every institution and program with the Nehru-Gandhi name. Brand name recognition ensures that as long as the Congress has someone leading it with that brand name, it will get the millions of thumb impressions. Then if you can promote the name even more by labeling even more things with the name, you get to share some of the goodies political power provides.

It seems that one Mr Surya Prakash has also noticed this rather obscure trend and has petitioned the Election Commission and “requested him to immediately issue directions to the Union government and to all the governments in the states and direct them to remove the names of individuals, who are seen by the people as icons of specific political parties, from all government programmes and schemes funded by the exchequer and to immediately give these programmes politically neutral names.”

Here is an extended quote from an article in the Indian Express of 25th March written by Surya Prakash titled, “Why Nehru, Indira, Rajiv Everywhere” (Hat tip: Rajeev Mantri for the link.)

In a systematic effort to gain an unfair advantage over others, the Congress party has named all major government programmes, projects and institutions in the country after three members of the Nehru-Gandhi family “Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru” who are its icons, and disturbed the level playing field in the electoral arena.

Over the last 18 years, on a rough estimate about 450 central and state government programmes, projects and national and state level institutions involving public expenditure of hundreds of thousands of crores of rupees have been named after these three individuals.

. . .

Among the big ticket programmes named after members of this family by the Union government to extract unjust electoral mileage is the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (rural electrification programme), which involves an outgo of Rs 28,000 crore during the Eleventh Plan period (Rs 5,500 crore in fiscal 2008-09). The drinking water mission, with an allocation of Rs 21,000 crore over three years (Rs 7,300 crore in 2008-09 and Rs 7,400 crore in 2009-10) is called the Rajiv Gandhi Drinking Water Mission. Other schemes that bear his name are the Rajiv Gandhi National Crèche Scheme for Children of Working Mothers; Rajiv Gandhi Shramik Kalyan Yojana and the Rajiv Gandhi Shilpi Swasthya Bima Yojana (both insurance schemes).

Likewise, many mega programmes are named after Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.. The budgetary allocation for the Indira Awas Yojana to house the poor is Rs 7,919 crore in 2008-09 and Rs 7,914.70 crore in 2009-10. Also named after her is the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (Rs 3,443 cr in 2008- 09). Programmes named after Jawaharlal Nehru over the last two decades are the Jahawarlal Nehru Rojgar Yojana and the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission.

The Union government proposes to spend Rs 50,000 crore over seven years on the latter mission.

This trend is even more apparent in the states, which have vied with each other to name programmes after these three members of the family whenever the Congress was in power. Here is a sample: Rajiv Gandhi Breakfast Scheme, Puducherry; Rajiv Ratna Awas Yojana, Delhi; Rajiv Arogyasri Health Insurance scheme, Andhra Pradesh; Rajiv Gandhi Computer Literacy Mission, Assam; Rajiv Gandhi Bridges and Roads Infrastructure Development Programme, Haryana; Rajiv Gandhi Vidyarthi Suraksha Yojana, Maharastra; Rajiv Gandhi Tourism Development Mission, Rajasthan; Indira Gandhi Niradhar Yojana and Indira Gandhi Landless Agriculture Labour Scheme, Maharashtra; Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini Vivah Shagun Yojana, Haryana; Indira Gandhi Calf-Rearing Scheme, Andhra Pradesh.

Obviously, the plan is to ensure maximum recall of Brand Congress among voters at every stage in life. Indira Gandhi comes in when the poor want a house subsidised and you think of Nehru when urban renewal comes into play. The Congress has taken its obsession with this family to such an extent that even calf-rearing schemes are named after them.

The list of 450 government programmes, schemes, institutions, etc, named after these three members of the family broadly fall into the following categories: Central government (12), state government (52), universities and educational institutions (98), ports and airports (6), awards, scholarships and fellowships (66), sports tournaments, trophies and stadia (47), national parks and sanctuaries (15), hospitals and medical institutions (39), national scientific and research institutions, chairs and festivals (37), roads, buildings and places (74).

Apart from violating the electoral law, the naming spree has crossed all limits of decency. Every major sports tournament has been named after the Nehru-Gandhis, as if nobody else matters, not even the greats in Indian sports. Such is the obsession of Congress governments with this family that they name India’s biggest open university after Indira Gandhi and name fellowships granted there after Rajiv Gandhi. For long years we have been familiar with the Fullbright scholarships. Now it is known as the Fullbright-Jawaharl al Nehru Scholarship.

We are unlikely to see anything so gross even in dictatorships such as North Korea.

This blatant attempt to package and market government programmes run on public money as munificent offerings from a single family to the people has made a mockery of the Model Code of Conduct drawn up by the Election Commission for observance by all political parties.

If you have to futz around naming everything after three people in a blatantly corrupt attempt at winning elections then you might be a third world country.

Author: Atanu Dey

Economist.

12 thoughts on “The Paucity of Names”

  1. On a state level in TN, everything is the dravidian party luminaries..Periyar, Anna, M.G.R; As if no significant Tamilian existed before that. Jayalalitha had transportation (JJ Transportation), college and parks named after her. We even had a lesson about her in the Tamil syllabus between 1994-1996. Karunanidhi changed all that after he came to power. But I’m sure he’ll have a dozen named after him when he’s gone.

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  2. the below mentioned quote i the blog is nothing but total falsehood
    “What astonishes me most is when educational institutions are named after the family which does not have a single graduate degree among the whole lot of them. Not that they could not afford to go to college. No, they all attended colleges and attempted to get degrees but failed to get one.”

    Pt Nehru got his graduate degree in Law from Trinity college, Cambridge. Below fiven is the link to their website where Nehru is listed as an alumni having completed his Law degree there…

    http://www.trin.cam.ac.uk/index.php?pageid=23

    better to check facts before posting on ur blog…

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  3. now please dont come up with an argument that even trinity college is part of this world wide conspiracy to make Nehru ia respected world leader

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  4. @harjeet.undefined

    You can have your last name as Gandhi / Nehru instead of undefined. I, for one don’t want everything in my country named after Nehru / Gandhi. The bigger point of this post is that we should not name everything after Nehru / Gandhi – its sick, embarrassing and cultish – typical 3rd world characteristics. F*ck Nehru – Gandhi nonsense.

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  5. @Sid

    I did not argue about the bigger point of this article

    But now that u raise it….what credibility does that bigger point have …if the person making that uses blatant lies and falsehoods to show a person or family in poor light

    would u like to believe the “bigger points” of such a person

    sure please do debate whether, it correct to name things after national leaders, but what is the need to indulge in cheap/false accusations without an iota of truth in them

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  6. @harjeet:

    Yes. Nehru was a graduate from Trinity college. Anyone with basic familiarity with Indian history knows that he practiced law as a barrister before entering into politics. You need a law degree to enter the profession.

    Even Rahul Gandhi is a graduate. He did not complete his studies at Harvard. But he managed to get a B.A. degree from Rollins College in Florida.

    Nehru-Gandhi family has a lot to answer for India’s ills. But Atanu’s hatred for the family borders on paranoia. So much so that he is not averse to using concocted facts to attack the family.

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  7. Garib and harjeet nitpicking about degrees miss the larger point here. Why is the congress misusing public money to profit the “dynasties”? garib_ram himself stated that both families have a lot to answer for india’s ills. And since they have misruled the country, many people share Atanu’s hatred for these family. garib_ram needs to distinguish between paranoia and the harsh truth.

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  8. T: I never disputed the larger point. My point is that objectivity should not be sacrificed even while attacking the opponents.

    As far as nitpicking about degrees is concerned, it was started by the blogger, not me. I do not care for what degrees they hold. Even if Rahul had graduated from Harvard, it would not add any sheen to his stature. Similarly, even if his great grand father were not a graduate of Trinity College, he would still be counted among scholars (notwithstanding his many spectacular failures in real life).

    Only those people care for degrees who have nothing else to show for their accomplishments. Only Atanu can tell why he decided to make degrees of Nehru-Gandhi-s an issue.

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  9. “Facts are facts and will not disappear on account of your likes”

    “you dont change the course of history by turning the faces of portraits to the wall”

    PT. JAWAHAR LAL NEHRU

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  10. @atanu

    thanks for acknowledging the factual errors (though u did acknowledge them only partially…but then I wont get into nitpicking now)

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  11. Atanu has nailed it perfectly. Nehru was a leftie who permanently scarred the Indian political scene by creating an inefficient economic system. The role of the state should have been far smaller. Nehru’s hobnobbed with communist countries which did not have much to offer India except wrong models to base our economy upon.

    Nehru might have had some redeeming features but Indira Gandhi, a cynical person, had none. Her policies took hope away from people like me who could not stand bank nationalization and empty slogans like ‘Garibi Hatao’.

    This family’s policies have been responsible for hurting a couple of generations of the poor in India. Read India Unbound by Gurcharan Das for a idea about how Indira Gandhi felt about profit/business. I wish Nehru had learned in England what Lee Kuan Yew actually did.

    I recently visited Shimla – where I had spent my childhood – after a gap of decades. We Indians have ruined what the British left us. The Ridge had a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in those days. One each of Indira Gandhi and another Himachal politician have been added. I was almost nauseous. A short walk took me past the Indira Gandhi Medical College. Is there no end?

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  12. Identity crisis in Juntaa sometimes runs do deep that there is no plausible explantion to this. The recent Bandra Worli sea link i again named after Rajiv Gandhi. Why didnt RSS or Shiv Sainiks revolt against this. In fact who proposes these names at the first place. Jawahar Rojgar Rojana, JNNURM, JNU, JIPMER, RGIT, IGI..This bridge could have been titled simply as Bandra sealink..with apologies to the people of Mumbai who slogged all these decades sans the bridge.

    Pandit or Bandit.. This story can be believed. Pls. spread the links. Looks like Nehru was in some way hand in glove with Jinnah to.

    http://www.partitionofindia.com/_disk1/00000317.htm

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