Govt’s name-changing spree in Kashmir “too small an issue” for people

Auqib Javeed,

Srinagar: Backed by BJP at the Centre, the Union territory administration in Jammu and Kashmir is on name changing spree for the past few months.

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Names of some prominent institutions like radio stations, the first in Jammu, was changed to ‘All India Radio (AIR) Jammu’ immediately after the abrogation of Article 370. Along with Jammu, radio stations at Srinagar and Leh were respectively renamed as ‘All India Radio Srinagar’ and ‘All India Radio Leh’. AIR’s Kashmir stations, a part of the AIR since the 1950s at Srinagar and Jammu had until now been called ‘Radio Kashmir’.

The Sher-e-Kashmir cricket stadium in Srinagar, named after National Conference (NC) founder Sheikh Abdullah, was then renamed after first Deputy Prime Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Kashmir’s Water Supply Department is now called the  Jal Skakti Department while the Chenani-Nashri Tunnel is named after the Hindutva ideologue Shyama Prasad Mookerjee.

Adding to the list of renaming exercise are a number of facilities including hospitals, indoor stadiums, parks and a convention centres which were originally named after Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, popular as Sher-e-Kashmir (Lion of Kashmir). Abdullah, a top politician in Jammu and Kashmir was instrumental in the drafting of Article 370 in the Constituent Assembly when he signed the instrument of accession with India.

Last week Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC) located at the picturesque Dal Lake, was renamed as Kashmir International Convention Centre. The latest in line is medical institute Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) at Sher-e-Kashmir Park.

As the administration is engaged in the name changing spree, there was no reaction from people or any resentment regarding the decision except few pro-Indian politicians. It seems the move in Kashmir doesn’t impact the common Kashmiris at large. Some political experts in the Valley believe that people might be okay with dropping names of those who had actually “sold Kashmir” to India.

“It was Sheikh Sahab who in a way was the architect of Kashmir’s accession to India,” said Kashmir based political analyst Sheikh Showkat to He blamed Senior Abdullah’s political affiliations as being the reason responsible for the mess in Kashmir saying that now even his grave has become disturbing for Kashmiris as it is always guarded by security forces. He expressed the shared dislike of Kashmiris for Sheikh Abdullah saying “for people in Kashmir this is something India is doing to its own men.”

 He added that “It is the policy of BJP to keep busy with these issues instead of doing anything productive.” Showkat asserted that a sharp reaction in mainland India was witnessed regarding the name changing but in Kashmir, nothing such was noticed. He, however, remarked that “irrespective of differences, Sheikh Abdullah has been a towering personality of Kashmir politics.”

“When they don’t remain loyal to him, what can one expect with others who had never accepted them,” he says.

Showkat believes that there can be reactions from the people if BJP changes names of those places or institutions that were named after religious and Sufi poets in Kashmir.

“We can witness objections from the people if Govt changes the name of Sheikh-ul Alam International Airport in Srinagar,” he said. He noted that Sheikh ul Alam is different than Sheikh Abdullah and because “the latter’s notoriety doesn’t invoke any sort of response from people.

“Why should people give a damn? Why should they care? It’s a blow to pro-Indian politicians,” said Mohammad Muneer, a student of Political Science at the University of Kashmir, echoing the same.

Noor Mohammad Baba, professor of Political Science at the University of Kashmir thinks “the issue is too small for Kashmiris right now,” explaining that in terms of priority, these things don’t matter for people and that is why the common people didn’t actively react on it. Baba further says that people are taking notice of it in a way the BJP government is trying to undermine the history of Kashmir as it has evolved in recent years but it doesn’t have a democratic sanction. He opines that as the Valley still lacks a democratically elected government, BJP should have ideally left these decisions to the elected government that represent people of Kashmir.

“You can’t witness it in any part of the world,” says 75-year old Mohammad Yousuf of Srinagar, who witnessed Indo-Pak partition. He feels this is useless as compared to “Pakistan’s Lahore which was named after the son of Lord Ram and till this time they never tried to rename it.” He further added that during the Mughal period in India, Delhi remained Delhi, Bhopal remained Bhopal and Agra remained Agra. “These were the names that were there before Mughals and they remained the same,” he said.

However, the move is being criticized by the mainstream political parties in the erstwhile state.

In a statement, CPI(M) leader Tarigami said dropping the Sher-e-Kashmir title is an “attack on the history of J&K”, calling it as an attempt “to undermine the contribution of the leadership headed by Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, who preferred secular India over Pakistan by rejecting the two-nation theory.” He added that Sher-e-Kashmir is not just a title but a glorious chapter of history in Jammu and Kashmir, suggesting that Kashmiris might have differences regarding Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah but that doesn’t mean his historic role can be undermined.

 Senior Congress leader Saifuddin Soz in a statement condemned the removal of Sheikh Abdullah’s title from Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC) saying that “Kashmir did not have a culture of changing names of historical places.”

 “So, Hari Parbat, Jogi Lankar, Amar Singh College, Sri Pratap College, SMHS Hospital, Vishwa Bharti College, Gandhi Memorial College and dozens of other titles of institutions have continued to be the same,” Soz added, recollecting that Kashmir never had a history of renaming any road, institution or place of historical importance.