November 1, 2006Public Policy

Bangalore and Babri

Tolerate one outrage and you tolerate them all

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

They just knocked down another edifice erected by a foreigner and restored it back to its previous (original, the demolition crew would contend) state. Yet while the demolition of the Babri Masjid carries with it the stigma of embarassment and shame, nothing of that nature accompanies the renaming (actually, changing the English spelling) of Bangalore to Bengaluru. And Mysore to Mysuru. And Mangalore to Mangaluru. And Shimoga to Shivamogga. And Belgaum to Belagavi. And so on. This was not an isolated act of etymological terrorism by the H D Kumaraswamy government in Karnataka. It was a full-fledged blitzkrieg.

Those seeking to explain the reasons for the change have not strayed far from the reasons offered by its proponents—that it setts right the wrongs of colonialism. But anti-colonialism just does not click in a city as cosmopolitan, as globalised and as forward-looking as Bangalore. A few chauvinists-looking-for-self-aggrandisement apart, most residents of Bangalore care little about the English spelling of their city. Kannadigas and local residents used to call it Bengaluru anyway. Some political observers are likely to see this as the latest in a trend that caused Calcutta, Bombay and Madras (remember them?) re-spell their names in English. But the truth is that the let’s rename our city” agenda only crops up with governments suffering from policy-bankruptcy looking to do something that grabs the headlines. [Indeed, once they are done with reverting to pre-colonial’ names, the new wave might even be—a la Bollywood—numerology : Benggalooroo?]

Renaming cities does nothing for any of its residents, and certainly not for its poorest ones. It just involves a waste of resources repainting signboards and reprinting stationery.

The principal argument against the demolition of the Babri Masjid was that the sentiments of the minority ought to be respected, even protected, from the tyranny of the majority—regardless of the validity of historical claims or indeed the actual views of the majority. That is an eminently sensible argument. And it is as applicable to the re-spelling of Bangalore as it is to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. So where’s the outrage then? Or do the self-professed advocates of rights and freedoms raise their placards and climb on to their podiums only when there is a religious or communal angle to it? Will an attempt to rename Ahmedabad or Hyderabad be greeted with the same resignation and silence?

Here’s the rub: it is precisely because Indians take such bloodless outrages lying down that other bloody outrages are allowed to happen.

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