The Assam Cabinet on Wednesday announced that it was dropping former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s name from the Orang National Park.
“Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park to be renamed as Orang National Park, taking cognisance of the demands of Adivasi and tea tribe communities,” a government statement said.
The Congress criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Assam for pursuing an “agenda of rewriting history”, India Today reported. “Can we wipe away the contributions of Rajiv Gandhi towards bringing peace to Assam through the Assam Accord?” Assam Congress chief Bhupen Borah asked.
Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma claimed that the park had not been renamed – only its original name had been restored to “honour local sentiments”. “No National parks in Assam [are] named after any person,” he tweeted. “In 2005, the government broke this convention and name of the former PM Rajiv Gandhi was affixed.”
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pijush Hazarika on Wednesday told the Hindustan Times that Assam’s indigenous community wanted Gandhi’s name to be removed from the national park.
However, the president of the Assam Tea Tribe Students Association, Dhiraj Gowala, said that the community had made no official demands for renaming the national park. But some members of the community may have urged the government to change the name, he added.
“When the state has a BJP-led government, this was expected,” Gowala told the Hindustan Times. “In few years, a Congress government might change the name again. Instead of this, it would be better if the state government focuses on our main demands like granting Scheduled Tribe status to tea-tribes, increase in daily wages of tea-garden workers etc.”
The Orang National Park is located on the North Bank of the Brahmaputra river, and is spread over 78.80 square km covering the Darrang and Sonitpur districts. It is Assam’s oldest forest reserve, and was categorised as a wildlife sanctuary in 1985 and a national park in 1999, according to the Hindustan Times.
Commonly known as the “mini Kaziranga”, animals like the one-horned rhino, elephant, tiger, wild boar and a variety of fish are found in the park, The Indian Express reported.
The national park was named after the Oraon people, who originally lived in Odisha, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. During the British rule in India, thousands of people from these communities were moved to Assam to work in the tea gardens.
The 2011 Census puts the number of Oraon people in Assam at 73,437, reported the Hindustan Times.
“Since the name Orang is associated with the sentiments of the Adivasi and tea-tribe community, the Cabinet has decided to rename the Rajiv Gandhi Orang National Park as Orang National Park,” Hazarika said.
In August 2005, the state government under Congress leader Tarun Gogoi had named the national park after Gandhi in spite of opposition from local groups.
The Congress confirmed Gowala’s statement. MP Gaurav Gogoi said that if the party returns to power in Assam, it would reverse the Bharatiya Janata Party government’s decision.
“...on the first day we will cancel the decision of the BJP government to remove the name of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi from the Orang National Park,” Gogoi tweeted. “Indian culture teaches us to respect martyrs unlike Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh”, or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s ideological parent.
The Opposition had last month also criticised the Narendra Modi government’s decision to rename the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, India’s highest sporting honour, after hockey legend Dhyan Chand.
This was despite the fact that an award in Dhyan’s name already exists.
In February, the Centre had renamed the Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera after the prime minister.