17 November 2012

Remembering Bhagat Singh, Forgetting Aurangzeb

It is regrettable, if not shameful, that not a single road in Lahore is named after the sixth Mughal Emperor, Abul Muzaffar Muhi-ud-Din Muhammad Aurangzeb (1618-1707), the man who gave Lahore (and possibly the land that is now Pakistan) its greatest, grandest and most beautiful architectural treasure, the Badshahi Mosque.

A historical opportunity to correct this omission was presented to the City District Government Lahore recently when it formed the “Dilkash Lahore Committee” to rename major roads, bridges and intersections in Lahore. However, it is regrettable that, on the recommendation of the Committee, 26 roads, bridges and intersections in Lahore have recently been renamed after important personalities of Pakistan and British India, yet not a single one of them has been renamed after Aurangzeb.

This seemingly blatant omission can only point towards the historical myopia of the members of the Committee that was constituted for this purpose. One can only hope that such omission was not deliberate but rather due to an oversight, reckless as it may be.

Those who were entrusted with the task of renaming of Lahore’s roads, bridges and intersections had a moral, historical and legal obligation to (i) take into account all considerations that ought to have been taken into account; (ii) exercise their discretion reasonably and; (ii) represent the aspirations of the majority of the residents of Lahore and not their own personal desires, biases, agendas and vested interests, if any.

Furthermore, giving the authority to decide the names of Lahore’s major roads, bridges and intersections to a select committee comprising only a handful of Lahore’s residents (without any public survey, poll or referendum) is tantamount to empowering a tiny fraction of Lahore’s residents (who may represent a particular viewpoint) with the right to decide for the vast majority of the city’s residents, who may hold a different viewpoint. Such exercise of discretion is arbitrary, unreasonable, discriminatory, unfair and non-judicious. There should be written and legally-binding guidelines for naming and renaming of public roads in Pakistan. If there aren’t any, there ought to be. If there are, then it should be examined if these are being complied with.

It may be pertinent to mention that the most expensive and prestigious road in New Delhi, the capital of India, is called “Aurangzeb Road,” i.e. after the Mughal Emperor. Indeed, one British newspaper called it “India’s richest road.” The Times of India referred to it as the road “paved with gold.” Such is its prominence. This is notwithstanding the fact that Emperor Aurangzeb is not very popular amongst a large section of the majority Hindu population of India (mostly due to demonization, historical misinterpretation and myths built up by communal, bigoted and revisionist Hindutva historians). Yet it goes to the credit of New Delhi's municipal authorities that they had the courage to accept and recognize historical realities and felt the need to honour and remember Emperor Aurangzeb by naming (and keeping) one of the major roads in their capital in his memory.

If New Delhi, in the Hindu-majority secular Republic of India, can honour Aurangzeb, so can Lahore, in the Muslim-majority Islamic Republic of Pakistan. If the City District Government Lahore can bend backwards to rename a chowk as Bhagat Singh Chowk (many residents of the Shadman locality have protested against renaming of Shadman Chowk as Bhagat Singh Chowk and some have even challenged the same in the Lahore High Court), then it can certainly find a major road in Lahore to rename after Aurangzeb.