Indian politicians talk a very loudly talk about India being a democracy, meaning Indians have some say in what happens in India. But when it comes to reality, they are understandably reluctant to put their money where their mouth is. Indian democracy should not be limited to Indians merely having the vote for choosing who is going to be their mai-baap, to dictate to them. To be meaningful, democracy should be extended to the relatively unimportant matter of people deciding who are worthy of being honored by having major roads, schemes and institutions named after them.
So far, most of the major roads, institutions and public schemes have been named after members of the Nehru-Gandhi clan. It’s high time to change that high-handed, dictatorial method and go with a more “democratic” process. The means exist. A significant proportion of the population has the means to vote for all proposed name changes — and there’s a crying need to change all those names. Here’s my proposal.
The proposal is that every significant name change involve a vote. First, decide on the theme. Are we going to name or re-name a road to honor a politician or a scientist, etc. Once that is decided, the next order of business is to have a short list of candidates. Second, put up a website where all the short-listed candidates have their achievements and qualifications listed so that people can learn about them and make an informed choice. Finally, have a public vote. Let the people choose.
In this specific instance, the proposal is to change “Aurangzeb Road” to “Shri or Shrimati XYZ Road” where XYZ is a scientist. Among the candidates, you would have “Mr APJ Abdul Kalam” and others such as “Dr Satyandra Nath Bose” (whom I mentioned in passing in my recent piece, “Naming “Dr” APJ Kalam Road: The Administrator“.)
This is not just an empty exercise in popular opinion polling. This process has the benefit of not just provoking a public debate or public engagement, but also public education. If I am serious about choosing among a set of alternatives, I will have the incentive to learn something about the various candidates. This will increase public understanding.
Among the rules of the game, should be included such terms as that no person’s name should be over-represented in the naming game. If one has a few schemes, roads and institutions already named for them, they are out of the game. That rule will insulate India from yet another scheme being named after Nehru, his daughter Indira, his grandsons Sanjay and Rajiv, his grand-daughter-in-law Antonia Maino, his great-grand-kids Raul Vinci and Priyanka Vadra, and his great-grand-son-in-law Robert Vadra.
There should also be an absolute moratorium on naming anything — even a public toilet — after Gandhi. In fact, there should be a law that renames 100 items every year that are currently named after Gandhi.
Second, no particular group should be over-represented. Thus, if there are already 5000 roads, schemes and institutions named after politicians, then politician names must not be considered other than when a politician’s name is being replaced by another politician’s name. Therefore, if “Jawahar Urban Renewal Scheme” is being renamed, a politician’s name is OK but renaming it as “Robert Vadra Renewal Scheme” is disallowed.
This proposal is reasonable. Hence it’s guaranteed to be ignored by the politicians and the public. I harbor no illusions about Indians and India. But tilting against windmills is part of my nature. So be it.