by Aabha J
A huge uproar sprang over social media after the new station between Jogeshwari and Goregaon, two suburban stations of Mumbai, was named Ram Mandir, popularly known as Oshiwara. The progressive and liberal forces smashed the reactionary decision of the BPJ led Maharashtra Government for its decision to name the platform as Ram Mandir as it was a representation of not just the fundamentalist Hindutva politics but was also a representation of the communal polarisation and the subsequent violence in 1992 after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.Mumbai, a metropolitan city, is inhabited by diverse socio-cultural, political, economic groups which have been claiming and reclaiming these spaces to establish a relationship with the city and to also find a space to assert it. The question which arose through this debate mainly centred around the imposition of the right wing politics on reshaping the identity of a physical space.
Through this article, an attempt is being made to trace the political assertion of HIndutva politics by its representations in physical spaces.
The construction of the notorious Akshardham temple in Delhi in 2000 is a standing example of the assertion of the Hindutva politics. The construction of the temple saw a lot of resistance from activists from across the state, as it would completely violate the environmental norms. The construction of this temple received support from the then elected NDA government, which occupied the centre. NDA has been infamous or quite the opposite for its far right, Hindutva politics. Despite the efforts of the activists the temple stands tall today in the heart of the city. The construction of the Akshardham temple was strategically built to promote its religious ideology and political agenda.
Such architectural sites are constructed to tactically push religious revivalism along with a nationalistic ideology. Campaigns in relation to the construction of the temple had instrumentally been engineered to demonise any architectural heritage of the Mughals and the British. This hegemonic and singular identity propagation of a physical space replaces the heterogenous nature of a space which is home to diverse cultures.
This process of hegemonization and appropriation has been a tool to propagate the political agenda of the politically dominant classes. The process of reimagining, transforming and then representing a narrative of a space is categorically planned and implemented with a larger political vision which is viewed and observed as a worldview of those who believe in that particular rhetoric.
This phenomenon has been closely observed by Madhuri Desai, in her paper ‘Mosques, Temples and Orientalists. Hegemonic Imaginations in Banaras’ published in 2003 by the ‘Traditional Dwellings and Settle Reviews’. The paper historically traces the transformed secular character of the city as a largely, ‘Hindu City’ with its relation to the Shaivite Hindu tradition. She narrates this through the archaeological accounts of city’s secular history, for instance her description of the construction of adjacent temples and mosques which would hold great religious significance, reiterate the secular nature of the city of Banaras.
Twisted historical narratives which were presented as factuality, created an image of Banaras as a Hindu City. These narratives, mostly driven by the fear of Islamisation, had become the representations of the urban space. In her paper, Madhuri mentions pictorial and textual representations of the city reiterating the Hindu character of the city.
The fear of “Islamisation” has been a well known conjecture for the right-wing politics, not just in India but also across the globe which can been observed with the growing fascist trends. With Trump signing executive orders banning Muslims Visas from seven countries can be seen as just one isolated incident of many in the nascent times.
The politics of fear and hatred has very well been manifesting itself in India too. These manifestations have found subdued ways to creep into the larger communal rhetoric. The recent of them being the changing of the name of a very famous street, Akbar road to Maharana Pratap Marg in Delhi. 9 months after renaming the Aurangzeb road to APJ Abdul Kalam road, New Delhi Municipal Corporation decided to rename the street in May last year as the NDMC Commissioner believed that the ‘rajput king’ wasn’t given his due. This decision saw some disagreement from members of the AAP and Congress but then ultimately the road was renamed. The act of changing the name of the street deprives its people a sense of history. But these exactly are the categorical efforts practiced to reclaim the spaces to push their communal and political agenda. It is to be noted that the activity of changing the name has got more to do with cleansing and over-writing history than it is about given, ‘rajput kings’ their well deserved credit. Similarly names have been changed to de-Anglicise the colonial heritage of the country.
In Mumbai much efforts have been made to sway the local sentiment by renaming the streets, museums and even the name of the city. The only structure that remained untouched is the gateway of India which marks the first entry of the British colonisers in the country. Now known as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus was renamed from Victoria Terminus. The obsession of the politicians of Maharashtra to rename spaces in Mumbai to its glorified king Shivaji, reflects the renaming of the museum Prince of Wales to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. Not just the far right politicians, in the context of Mumbai, the politicians who align with the local party popularly known as the Shiv Sena, but also the efforts made by Congress led Corporation to reclaim the spaces by Indianising them. Identified as toponymic populism by Smruti Koppikar in her article published by the popular media house called scroll, expressed a staunch critique of the current Chief Minister, Devendra Fadnavis for his political gimmick to change the names of six stations in Mumbai.
After observing the few isolated incidents above a few trends have emerged. The first being the efforts of hegemonization of the identity of the city, which disturbs the heterogenous character of an urban space. Not just that but also the over written histories and transformation of the secular ethics of the cities have been successfully invisibilized and cleansed off any Islamic and Colonial history. This process of cleansing is used as an instrument to propel a larger political vision. This is reinforced by infusing and breeding on the politics of fear and xenophobia. This sentiment creates a sense of insecurity amongst the masses making them susceptible to these transformed rhetorics. This sentiment is also manipulated to sway a chunk of votes for retaining or occupying a political stronghold.
With the emerging debates on nationalism and the assertion of the patriotic identity, it becomes even more pressing to closely engage with the nuances of the assertion of the identity of the spaces where these rhetorics finds its profound manifestations.
Aabha J. is a pursuing her Master’s degree in Tata Institute of Social Sciences in the School of Social Work in Dalit and Tribal Studies