Uttar Pradesh minister Om Prakash Rajbhar on Saturday said the Bharatiya Janata Party should consider changing the names of its Muslim leaders before renaming cities and places, ANI reported. Rajbhar’s party, the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, is a partner in the state’s ruling alliance.

Rajbhar said the BJP changed the names of Mughalsarai and Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh as they were named after “the Mughals”. “They [BJP] have a national spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain, Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Uttar Pradesh minister Mohsin Raza – three Muslim faces of the BJP,” said Rajbhar. “They should change their names first.”

In his Diwali speech on November 6, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath announced that Faizabad district will be renamed Ayodhya. Last month, the state Cabinet had approved a proposal to rename Allahabad as Prayagraj. In June, Adityanath’s government had renamed the Mughalsarai railway station as Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay station.

Rajbhar, minister for welfare of the backward classes in the Uttar Pradesh Cabinet, claimed the names were changed to divert attention of the marginalised groups from their actual issues.

“This is all a drama to distract the backward and oppressed people whenever they raise their voices for their rights,” he said, adding that Muslim rulers built monuments like the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort, among other things.

Meanwhile, historian Irfan Habib on Saturday took a jibe at the BJP for more proposals to rename cities, saying the party should also consider changing its chief Amit Shah’s name, The Times of India reported. “His surname ‘Shah’ is of Persian origin and not of Gujarati origin,” he said. Habib’s remarks came after BJP MLA Jagan Prasad Garg wrote to Adityanath, requesting that Agra be renamed “Agravan”. Garg claimed that Agra is home to the Agarwal community.

Habib, professor emeritus at the Aligarh Muslim University, added the name “Gujarat” derives from Persian as well. “It was called Gurjaratra earlier,” he said. “They [BJP] should change it.”

Habib said the BJP government’s policy of renaming places reflected the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s Hindutva policy. “Just like the neighbouring country Pakistan where everything that is not Islamic has been removed, BJP and other right-wing supporters want to change things which are non-Hindu, particularly of Islamic origin.”

Adityanath has justified the development and said the state government is likely to continue changing names of places, NDTV reported. “We did what we felt was good. We renamed Mughalsarai as Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay Nagar, Allahabad as Prayagraj and Faizabad as Ayodhya,” he said. “Where there is a need, the government will take the steps required.”

On Friday, BJP MLA Sangeet Som asked the state government to rename Muzaffarnagar as Laxminagar, reported The Times of India.