The Sunday Telegraph

Modi accused of remaking India in his image after renaming spree

Fears that prime minister is trying to eclipse the role of non-Hindus as stadium is rebranded in his honour

- By Ben Farmer and Samaan Lateef naln

THE renaming of the world’s largest cricket stadium after India’s prime minister has renewed accusation­s of narcissism and a growing personalit­y cult around the nationalis­t leader, in the latest row over politicall­y driven name changes in the country.

The announceme­nt that the 132,000seat venue formerly known as Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad would become the Narendra Modi Stadium prompted delight in his supporters and scorn from political opponents.

Mr Modi’s gift for oratory and keen populist instincts have made him by far the most popular politician in India, and in 2019 won his Bharatiya Janata Party a second term. Yet Mr Modi ( pictured) has also attracted accusation­s of vanity and of attempting to glorify himself as the founder of a new Hindu India. Critics last week asked whether the stadium’s new name was an attempt to bolster his legacy cy with a relabellin­g spree.

Dedicating sports rts stadiums to former prime ministers is common in India, ia, but renaming such a highprofil­e venue for a sitting leader is rare.

The prime min- ister’s allies hit back by pointing to a host of public buildings and government projects named after members of the congress’ Nehru- Gandhi dynasty that at governed India for decades.

Mr Modi’s nationalis­t BJP party has also gained a reputation for aggressive­ly pursuing name changes. The intent behind them ranges from political point-scoring to more ambitious attempts to rewrite history and eclipse the role played by non-Hindus in the nation, commentato­rs allege. In one of the most recent examples, in December the government announced the Rajiv Gandhi Biotechnol­ogy Centre in Kerala would be renamed to celebrate MS Golwalkar, a Hindu nationalis­t ideologue. While previous government­s have replaced colonial anglicised names, such as changing Bombay to Mumbai and Madras to Chennai, the current government has been accused of going further to try to erase non-Hindu identities and particular­ly Muslim history. In 2018, the Modi government approved the renaming of 25 towns and villages across India, and among the pending proposals is one for the state of West Bengal to be switched to Bangla. That year, the BJP-ruled state of Uttar Pradesh, which has the highest Muslim population in India, changed the name of Allahabad to Prayagraj to reference a Hindu pilgrimage site.

Prof Mukul Kesavan, an Indian historian and novelist, said that the renaming of the stadium was trivial compared to the campaign t to rename Muslim sites.

“With the c changeover from Allahabad to P Prayagraj, what we are seein seeing is an assertion that I India is a Hindu stat state and its place na names should be a appropriat­ely Hindu. And that is a dangerous kind of renaming,” he said.

Prof Rakesh Sinha, a BJP member of parliament, said the renaming of cities and towns “is re returning to originalit­y” nality”, and Allahabad had o originally been called Prayagraj.

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