It will take at least two years for the completion of the first phase of the Navi Mumbai international airport but the controversy over naming it has already taken off. While the Shiv Sena’s choice is party founder Bal Thackeray, the BJP is backing villagers around the airport who want it to be named after Dinkar Balu Patil — a local politician who fought for just compensation for villagers whose land was acquired for Navi Mumbai 50 years ago.
Last Thursday, nearly 25,000 of them defied prohibitory orders and traffic curbs for a show of strength. Meanwhile, netizens are rooting for aviation pioneer J R D Tata, even as Raj Thackeray has proposed that it be named after perennial favourite Shivaji. Maharashtra has seen how emotive such issues can be in the agitation to rename Marathwada University in Aurangabad after Ambedkar.
The event has reopened an old debate. Should national projects be named after historical figures, freedom fighters, saints, politicians, pioneers…? Who takes the final call? Shouldn’t there be wider consultation? Do populism and politics prevail over propriety?
One can say what’s in a name, but these things can’t be left to the government of the day alone. Mumbai has a national park named after a man who went hunting in a helicopter. Recently, a cricket stadium was named after the current PM. Aurangzeb Road in Lutyens’ Delhi was renamed as Dr A P J Abdul Kalam Road. Questioning how Mughals can be our heroes, U P Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath decided to name the upcoming Mughal Museum in Agra after Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, reasoning that the Maratha ruler’s name “will invoke a feeling of nationalism and self-esteem”.
Coming back to airports, the one at Mumbai is named after the Maratha warrior king while the Bangalore airport is named after Kempe Gowda, a just and humane ruler, widely accepted as being the founder of Bengaluru. The Bhopal airport is named after Raja Bhoj, a righteous scholar-king, Indore after Ahilyabai Holkar, the founder of the city and a revered ruler, while the one at Srinagar is named after Sheikh ul-Alam, a mystic regarded as the patron saint of Kashmiris. Surprisingly, the Jaipur airport is not named after anyone.
Most of the other major airports are named after freedom fighters or national/regional leaders. Palam Airport is named after Indira Gandhi, Dum Dum after Netaji Subhash Bose, Chennai’s domestic and international terminals – formerly Meenambakkam airport -- are named after former chief ministers of Tamil Nadu K Kamaraj and C N Annadurai, respectively. Ahmedabad airport is named after Sardar Patel, Nagpur’s after Babasaheb Ambedkar, Hyderabad after Rajiv Gandhi, Lucknow after Chaudhary Charan Singh, Patna after Jayaprakash Narayan, Bhubaneswar after Biju Patnaik and Guwahati after Gopinath Bordoloi, a freedom fighter and the first CM of Assam.
Under the Congress regime, the Gandhis got inordinate importance in the name game. Now, the BJP wants to honour its own stalwarts. Mughalsarai railway junction is now Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya Junction after the Bharatiya Jana Sangh leader. The 9.28 km-Chenani-Nashri tunnel in J&K, the longest in India, is named after Syama Prasad Mookerjee, founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. The Atal tunnel connects Manali to Lahaul-Spiti valley. The Ferozshah Kotla stadium is named after Arun Jaitley. The institute where Indian Foreign Service officers are trained is named after Sushma Swaraj. Well, we also have a Ram Mandir railway station in Oshiwara!
In Mumbai, the museum and the Central Railway terminus are named after Shivaji, the zoo and the upcoming Ghatkopar-Mankhurd Link Road after his mother Jijabai. The Bandra-Worli Sea Link is named after Rajiv Gandhi, the Eastern freeway after Vilasrao Deshmukh, the Mumbai-Pune expressway after Y B Chavan, the Dadar flyover after Jagannanth alias Nana Shankarsheth, a 19th century spice and carpet merchant and philanthropist, the Film City after Dadasaheb Phalke, the JJ flyover after Makhdoom Ali Mahimi, a 13th century Sufi saint who lived in Mahim, the flyover that links Goregaon West directly to the Western Express highway after socialist leader Mrinal Gore.
By comparison, the first flyover in India, Mumbai’s Kemps Corner flyover, which completed 50 years in 2014, is named after a pharmacy at the junction. Today, you will draw a blank if you ask for Gopalrao Desmukh Marg, S K Barodawalla Marg, Naushad Ali Road and Ramdas Nayak Road. These are the new names for Pedder Road, Altamount Road, Carter Road and Hill Road respectively. The roads were named after British municipal commissioners. And people will scarcely believe that Ramdas Nayak, a BJP corporator from Bandra, opposed the renaming of Hill Road while he was alive.
Ballard Estate, Mumbai’s first corporate park, is named for Colonel J A Ballard, a founder of the Mumbai Port Trust. Connaught Place, now Rajiv Gandhi Chowk, was named after the Duke of Connaught, an uncle of King George V, who visited India in 1921.
Coming back to Dinkar Balu Patil, there is nothing except for a public garden in Kamothe named after the man who represented Panvel in the state assembly for five terms and the Kolaba parliamentary constituency for two terms.
The naming debate however must not distract us from issues such as the progress on the airport, honouring the deal given to the project-affected persons and connectivity to the airport.