When New Delhi Municipal Council decided in late August to rename Aurangzeb Road in Lutyens’ Delhi to Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road, 26-year-old Ali watched the news on television in his home in Jamia Nagar with disbelief.

As a former student of history at Jamia Milia Islamia university, the development disappointed him. “It seemed like disowning our past, our history,” he said.

Yet, when former Congress MLA from the constituency, Asif Mohammad Khan, put up a board shortly afterwards, renaming a road in Jamia from “Pukhta” to Aurangzeb, Ali strongly opposed the move. “It’s completely ridiculous,” he said. The government’s move didn’t make much sense to him, he said, “but this move by Khan is equally illogical”.

Across Jamia Nagar, young men and women largely echoed the same sentiment. True, the neighbourhood still faces “a lot of discrimination” in their daily lives, they said, but that could never translate into support for such a move.

Armaan, an auto-rickshaw driver, said he was indifferent to the controversy. “A normal person like me does not bother about all this,” he said. “Our main aim is survival and saving enough to send back home in Bihar. At the inauguration of the new road here, only 50-60 people attended it.”

Political stunt

Anas, a 27-year-old Allahabad native who lives in Shaheen Bagh, felt Khan’s move sends out a wrong message. “If tomorrow, the government renames Taj Mahal, will the former MLA erect a new Taj Mahal here in Jamia?” he asked. “If he really wanted to protest, he should have raised the issue in Parliament or court; taken the legal course. This means you haven’t fought for your right – you have taken the easy route. In Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati had renamed a number of districts during her tenure but opposition leaders opposed it and she had to retrace her steps.” This issue, he said, needed political representation.

A few years ago, Khan had swept the elections from this constituency on a Rashtriya Janata Dal ticket demanding a judicial inquiry into the 2008 Batla House encounter by Delhi Police’s Special Cell. Many people believe that the killing of two alleged terrorists was actually staged.

“However, in 2014, he switched to the same Congress party he had accused of staging the fake encounter,” said Shahnawaz, a Jamia student. The judicial probe was never conducted. “Today, he does not even mention the encounter,” he said. “He did not have any other issue, so this is an attempt to regain his popularity.”

According to Shahnawaz, academicians, professors and students in the university have unanimously protested against Khan’s move. “This is no alternative,” he said. “What authority does he have to rename a road?” The Masters’ student, however, felt that what the government did was also unjustified. “By renaming Aurangzeb road after APJ Kalam, they are basically telling the minority to behave like Kalam – a ‘good’ Muslim – one who is a scientist, has BJP [Bharatiya Jantata Party] and RSS [Rashtriya Swayhamsevak Sangh] approval, and not a ‘bad’ Muslim.”

Road with no footpath

The neighbourhood, he said, still faces a lot of issues. “But that is true for any ghetto, not just Batla House or Jamia.” There is reportedly a lack of basic amenities – no footpaths, not enough water.

Ehsan, a 28-year-old businessman from Gaffar Manzil, calls Khan’s move a “political stunt” to “rekindle his dwindling” luck. “Most ghettos have some problems and a few small-time politicians try to earn political mileage from it. If that [renaming Aurangzeb to Kalam road] was a political move, so is this. Asif has a strong political constituency here, so there may be some support for his actions. Some many feel we have ‘avenged’ the government’s move. But most people are too busy earning their livelihood. They simply do not care and many even find his move foolish.”

Imran, a lawyer with Supreme Court, too questions renaming the road in Jamia. “There is no road named after Ghalib in Delhi, but there is one in Turkey. So, did we stop knowing Ghalib... There are no drains on that road which he has renamed... Former MLA Asif Khan won’t repair it but when it comes to renaming it after Aurangzeb and taking credit, he will be the first to do so. Ab naam rakh hi diya hai toh kam se kam is sadak ko Badshah salamat ke barabar toh bana do (Now when you have named it, at least repair the road to bring it up to the standard of the emperor).”