Though not unique in that respect, India does appear to suffer from a severely debilitating case of personality cult disorder. It is not a minor affliction because, as I will argue later in a separate post, it leads to serious social, economic, and political dysfunction. The condition is chronic but thankfully it is not incorrigible. A little bit of critical thinking among the public at large can eradicate the disease and with it the harmful consequences. Among the many symptoms of this disorder, particularly evident ones are the naming of roads and a variety of institutions after rulers and politicians (which amounts to the same thing.) It can escape no one’s attention that names of the Nehru-Gandhi clan adorn thousands of roads, institutions, and public schemes in India. I conjecture that a list of institutions and schemes not bearing one of those clan member names would be shorter than a list with their names.
The primary motivation for this piece is the recent decision by the Indian government to rename Aurangzeb Road as “Dr APJ Kalam Road.” I am delighted that finally, after decades of tone-deaf idiocy of honoring a well-recognized historical tyrant by naming a major thoroughfare in New Delhi, the government has woken up. It’s bloody high time. But I am not so enthusiastic about the proposed new name. I explain why but first let me restate from previous posts the case against Aurangzeb.
Remember the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan? Though mutilated, they survived Genghis Khan’s conquest of Afghanistan in 1221 CE. Aurangzeb also tried to destroy them.
“When Mahmud of Ghazni conquered Afghanistan and part of west India in the 12th century, the Buddhas and frescoes were spared from destruction though Buddhist monasteries and other artifacts were looted or destroyed. Aurangzeb, the last Mughal emperor distinguished for his religious zeal, employed heavy artillery in an attempt to destroy the statues. Nadir Shah, too, had cannon fire directed at the statues. But over the centuries the statues had largely been left untouched.” (From the blog post “Do the Taliban have Buddha Nature?” 2001. Reposted 2007.)
Another bit from a previous post (“Adding Humiliation to Plunder”, 2008) Quote:
India has suffered down the centuries much more than the pulling down of a statue or two. Its holy places have been descecrated innumberable times. [The] great historian Sir Arnold Toynbee, on Aurangzeb’s destruction of temples and building mosques on them.
Aurangzeb’s purpose in building those three mosques (Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura) was the same intentionally offensive political purpose that moved the Russians to build their Orthodox cathedral in the city centre at Warsaw. Those mosques were intended to signify that an Islamic government was reigning supreme, even over Hinduism’s holiest of holy places. I must say that Aurangzeb had a veritable genius for picking out provocative sites. Aurangzeb and Philip II of Spain are a pair. They are incarnations of the gloomily fanatical vein in the Christian-Muslim-Jewish family of religions. Aurangzeb — poor wretched misguided bad man — spent a lifetime of hard labour in raising massive monuments to his own discredit. Perhaps the Poles were really kinder in destroying the Russians’ self-discrediting monument in Warsaw than you have been in sparing Aurangzeb’s mosques. [emphasis added]
India has suffered incalculably the harm of religious vandalism perpetrated by intolerant ignorant monotheistic hordes. Why have Indians forgotten that? Is it denial? A fact too shameful to admit to? Is that what motivated Cha-cha Nehru to whitewash the sordid history of India — because he was aware of his ancestry perhaps? Is that why the capital of India has Aurangzeb Road, a major street where many of the political leaders of India have their mansions? Are Indians so utterly defeated and humiliated that now the vanquished hold up their tormentors as heroes? Is that why Pakistan names its most sophisticated weapons after those who raped their ancestors?
Certainly many people, including non-Indians, have wondered why a road was named after Aurangzeb. Here’s a foreigner Hugh Fitzgerald over at Jihad Watch in an article titled “Aurangzeb Road” (2007).:
“The Danish Embassy in India is located on Aurangzeb Road in New Delhi. So there is still a road in India that is named after the most ruthless and cruel of the many ruthless and cruel Muslim rulers, oppressor and mass-murderer of Hindus. Why is there a road by that name? Change it, for god’s sake.”
And to conclude this part of the piece, I quote from a 2007 piece written in XLRI, Bhubaneswar.
. . . have you ever wondered why virtually all Indian institutions and major landmarks are named after rulers? They don’t use the names of, say, scientists, writers, thinkers, philosophers, musicians, artists, technologists, sages, gods and goddesses (India has tons of very beautifully named ones). They only use the names of rulers — present day the rulers are called politicians. I arrived at the Biju Patnaik (politician) Airport at Bhubaneswar. I have a theory about this naming of parts.
We Indians are an illiterate lot and have a long history of feudalism and quite a history of being ruled by invaders and then by the British. So Indians know the names of the ones they are ruled by and not much else. If we were collectively scientifically literate, we would hold great scientists in high regard and name things after them, for instance. What we call our cities, towns, roads, schools, universities, stations, airports–-the whole lot–-speaks to who we are. “Aurangzeb Road” in New Delhi, for instance. A major road in the capital of India named after a tyrant who killed a fair number of Indians. This really puzzles me. Why do they continue to glorify the names of invaders and tyrants? Is it just plain ignorance of history or is it something even worse, such as inferiority complex that makes the collective afraid of acknowledging that sordid past when they were slaves.
In the next part, I will address specifically why I am not thrilled about naming the road “Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road.” Not that my opinion amounts to anything against an avalanche of enthusiastic support from millions of fans of Mr APJ Abdul Kalam but it’s an opinion that is unfortunately unique. Of course, my argument should be judged on merit and not on its uniqueness.
Post Script: Here’s the followup post, “Naming “Dr” APJ Abdul Kalam Road: The Administrator.”