India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rechristened three of the country’s island territories named after colonial officials, as part of a campaign by his Hindu nationalist government to disassociate itself from two centuries of British rule.
On a visit to the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago off India’s east coast in the Bay of Bengal on Sunday, Modi announced the renaming of Ross, Neil and Havelock Islands after freedom fighter Subhash Chander Bose.
Mr Bose, who was a radical Hindu nationalist, had raised a rebel army of Indian soldiers during WWII with the help of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, to fight the British.
His rag-tag Free India Army was defeated alongside the Japanese army advancing from Burma (Myanmar) into north eastern India and soon after Mr Bose died under mysterious circumstances, two years before Indian independence in 1947.
Consequently, Ross Island, named after a Colonial marine surveyor will now be known as Subhash Chander Bose Dweep or island, while nearby Neil Island that commemorated a British military officer of the East India Company, becomes Shaeed or Martyr Dweep.
Adjoining Havelock Island, that honoured a former British army general who crushed the 1857 mutiny by Indian soldiers against British rule, has been renamed Swaraj or Independent Island.
“When it comes to heroes of the freedom struggle, we take the name of Bose with pride and that is why the government has issued a notification changing the islands names” Mr Modi declared at a public function in the archipelagos capital Port Blair.
He stated that re-christening the three islands was merely fulfilling Mr Bose’s demand made 75 years earlier on 30 December 1943, when he visited the Andaman islands after the Japanese had captured them.
Opposition parties have accused the BJP of ‘seeking revenge on India’s history’ through such name changing, which they also claim is an attempt by Hindu nationalist to extended their cultural and political influence.
Ahead of a general election due by May, Mr Modi suffered a string of setbacks in December, with his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) losing power in three key states and boosting the Congress party opposition and its allies.
Yesterday Mr Modi insisted his party were in course to regain power. "No reason for morale down. We are confident and are moving ahead. In 2019, if there is one party which the country trusts and is connected with the people, it is the BJP," Mr Modi said.
Rechristening the islands is part of the enduring crusade by several provincial governments of changing the names of several towns and places with British and Muslim association.
In October legislators from Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in northern Himachal Pradesh launched a campaign to rename the British colonial government’s former summer capital of Simla in the Himalayas in an endeavor to free the town from the "oppressive" mental slavery of the past.
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Despite weeks of agitation to rename the town Shyamala, after the Hindu goddess of the same name, the move has for now, been deferred under public pressure but not abandoned.
But that has not prevented the BJP administration in northern Uttar Pradesh state from rechristening Allahabad, one of regions larger cities named by India’s Mughal rulers in the 17th century.
Located on the banks of the holy Ganges river it has been renamed Prayagraj, which according to folklore is the spot where the four-faced Hindu creator god Brahma offered his first sacrifice after making the world.
The nearby Mughalserai (Mughal Hostelry) railway station, one of north India’s busiest also has a new name. It has been renamed after Deendyal Upadhya, an associate of the ultra Hindu right wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) or National Volunteer Corps that provides spiritual guidance to the BJP.
The fundamental role of the 93-year old RSS is to keep Hinduism "pure" from outside influences like Islam and Christianity, a goal that the BJP has been avidly pursuing after assuming federal power in 2014.
The RSS, which Modi joined as a novitiate, has been proscribed twice since India’s independence in 1947, for its extremist beliefs. Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin subscribed to RSS tenets, murdering him for his secular approach towards India’s Muslims.
Meanwhile, Faizabad, 100 miles north of Allahabad, the seat of former regional Nawabs or Muslim chieftains since the 18th century, is now known as Ayodhya, a name associated with the birthplace of Rama, another Hindu god.
Sharad Yadav of the National Democratic Party said that by changing city names, the BJP was deflecting attention from its inability to rejuvenate the flailing economy, create jobs and improve India’s crumbling infrastructure.
“It is a feeble attempt by the BJP to try and hide its failures” he added.