NAME GAME

VK Singh wants Delhi's Akbar Road renamed – but sent his request to the wrong government branch

Urban Development Ministry says it has nothing to do with the matter.

India's Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh feels strongly about the names of roads in Delhi. Unfortunately, despite being in government, he's not quite as passionate about understanding which buildings on the roads of the capital deal with different policy matters. On Tuesday, Singh wrote a letter to the Ministry of Urban Development asking for Akbar Road to be renamed after Rajput king Maharana Pratap. That ministry has now reverted with a simple answer: We've got nothing to do with it.

"The MoUD does not come into the picture at all," a spokesperson for the ministry told the Indian Express. "We didn’t even know anything about the decision to rename Aurangzeb Road as A P J Abdul Kalam Road. The decision is taken by the NDMC and the state government."

In his letter to Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu, Singh said that Pratap had not been given his due on the streets of the capital. "You would be aware that he was not only instrumental in stopping the might of Mughal king Akbar but he was truly secular and a man of masses," Singh reportedly wrote in his letter.

 "I would request you to honour this great son of India by naming the Akbar Road as Maharana Pratap Road or a suitably important road in the Lutyen Zone in his name. This would provide recognition to his valour and spirit of secularism which makes our country great." 

— VK Singh

The minister's demand comes on the heels of several name changes in and around the capital that have prompted a fair bit of discussion about the treatment of history. The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Aam Aadmi Party moved the New Delhi Municipal Corporation – the body that Singh should have written to – to rechristen Aurangzeb Road as APJ Abdul Kalam Road, after the former president.

The change was made in a fit of patriotism not long after Kalam's death, and became part of a conversation about the government's approach to history as well as its reading of who is a "good Muslim".

Singh's demand takes that further by insisting that Pratap was "truly secular," presumably when compared to Akbar. To defend that claim, he points out that Pathans, Bhils, Adivasis and others were part of the Rajput army in its failed attempt to prevent the spread of the Mughal empire under Akbar.

This is of course problematic because of its reading of Indian history through a purely Hindu-Muslim lens, and also because Akbar's own army was equally diverse. It was led by a Rajput and drew from many of the same communities as Pratap's. Moreover, Akbar's legacy lays as much claim to secularism, particularly with his religious experiments, as well as his integration of diverse Indian traditions into forms that lay the foundation for the Indian state.

And it is one of those state policies that Singh seems to have forgotten in his letter to the MoUD: Federalism. It is the New Delhi Municipal Corporation that is empowered to take a decision about the names of roads in the capital, based on the recommendations of a naming committee that reports to the Delhi government.

According to the Express, neither of those bodies has received any suggestion from the minister, as even confirmed by Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament and NDMC member Meenakshi Lekhi, who said, "I am not aware of such a proposal, so I cannot comment on it. As far as the process is concerned, if a proposal comes to NDMC, it can be placed in the council meeting and a decision can be taken."

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