Changing names of places has always been a political game. Sometimes it is done with progressive intentions, as in the case of the Maharashtra government’s plan to change caste-based location names. At other times it is done for ideological considerations as seen in the proposal to change the name of Aurangabad to Sambhaji Nagar, after the Maratha warrior king and son of Shivaji.
The proposal has been in the offing for some time. Just into the second day of 2021, the Shiv Sena’s broadsheet, Saamna, promised the change would happen soon. The editorial was written after Balasaheb Thorat, the State president of the Congress, said his party would oppose any move to change the name. The Sena has been reiterating its demand of late. Thorat has been insisting that it is not part of the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the State’s ruling coalition, the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) consisting of the Sena, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party. The Sena has responded by saying its demand precedes the CMP and the MVA. In this it is on the same side of its former partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), thereby underlining the inescapable fact that the two still share a strong Hindutva link.
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The Sena says its rationale to rename the 400-year-old city is because the Mughal emperor “Aurangzeb isn’t a symbol of raj dharma or pride, and [even] the Congress would accept the fact that the Mughal ruler was not a secular ruler”. When Aurangzeb made the city his capital he called it after himself. It is said that after he captured Shivaji’s son, Sambhaji, he tortured and killed the Maratha ruler here. For the Sena, the renaming is a righting of this wrong.
With 29 corporators, the Sena dominates the 112-member Aurangabad Municipal Corporation. The BJP has 22 and can be counted on to support the Sena. The party with the second largest number of members, at 25, is the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), which will in all likelihood support the eight members of the Congress in opposing the name change. Furthermore, the Lok Sabha seat is also held by the AIMIM whose candidate defeated the sitting four-time Member of Parliament of the Sena in 2019.
In 1995, the Sena-BJP in the corporation passed a resolution to rename the city. The then Sena Chief Minister, Manohar Joshi, issued a notification to confirm this but the then Congress corporator Mushtaq Ahmed challenged it in the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court. But the plea was rejected. In 1999, the notification was withdrawn after the Congress-NCP won the election.
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The Sena’s determination to rename Aurangabad and the Congress’ resolve to prevent it has exposed a crack in the MVA which so far has been working as a unified coalition. It will be a point of friction in the upcoming corporation election. Though the BJP and the Sena think alike on the matter, the BJP has been taunting its former ally by saying the Sena may back down because of coalition politics. It is definitely a handle for the BJP and the party will use it in its pre-election campaigning.
If Aurangabad is renamed, then it opens up the possibilities of Pune and Ahmednagar also being renamed.