Atanu Dey On India's Development

Naming of Things

Some years ago I came across a single-panel cartoon which showed a statue of a figure on horseback. It was clearly the statue of Shivaji Maharaj, the great Maratha hero. Standing in front was a little kid with an adult. The kid was asking, “But what was the statue called before it was renamed Shivaji Maharaj?”

In Mumbai, the trend is that everything gets renamed after Shivaji. And in the broader context of India, everything gets named after Nehru and his clan. Naming things is easy in India. “Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal, Indira, Rajiv, and Sanjay” are the choices for the first bit, as in “Jawaharlal Nehru University,” or “Indira Gandhi International.” It won’t be too long before we have “Sonia, Priyanka, Rahul, Spotty” added to the list. (Spotty is just a place holder as I am not sure what the name of the Gandhi family dog actually is.)

I know that other nations also identify their important landmarks with the names of their historical political leaders. The US honors Lincoln, Washington, Kennedy, and so on. However, there is a great deal of diversity in their naming of things that they value. They name their scientific projects after scientists, for instance. Remember Hubble, Fermi, etc. Indeed, the Americans even named one of their space telescopes after an Indian: Chandra. I somehow doubt that would happen in India.

But no where other than in India have I noticed only one family monopolizing the naming of things. It is as if India never had any heroes until the birth of Jawaharlal Nehru and after that all the seats were taken by his progeny for eternity. I think there is a simple reason. The naming of things is a way of political advertising. An “Indira Gandhi Seva Yojna” publicly funded though it may be will ultimately drive home the message that the Gandhi family is the giver of gifts and ensure that the thumb impression of the voter lands on the Congress candidate come election time.

It is a sort of a vicious circle. First, name every institution and program with the Nehru-Gandhi name. Brand name recognition ensures that as long as the Congress has someone leading it with that brand name, it will get the millions of thumb impressions. Then if you can promote the name even more by labeling even more things with the name, you get to share some of the goodies political power provides.

There is an interesting contrast to that political naming convention. There is a total lack of names associated with ownership and responsibility. Let me start with an example very close to me. The notices that are posted in the building that I live in never has a name or a number associated with it. It is hard to hold an anonymous person responsible. It appears as if there are people in authority out there somewhere and their dictates have to be followed unquestioningly. You don’t need to ask for explanations or justification.

What we need is an ownership society.

  • SG

    We are also dhimmi enough to have streets and entire cities named after our great oppressors: Lodhi road, Mughal gardens, Aurangabad..It’s the equivalent of having Adolf Hitler street, Goebbels garden, Nazi township in Israel. What do you think of that?

  • Mystic Fire

    I graduated from Rajiv Gandhi Technical University, named after our formal prime minister who failed to get his bachelor’s degree in engineering. How about naming IGNOU after Indira Gandhi, another flunkie from the Gandhi dynasty? As ironical as Adolf Hitler street in Israel? :-)