Allahabad’s transition to its new name – Prayagraj – is starting to show signs. Two weeks ago Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath passed a government order enforcing the name change, saying all his government was doing was to correct a mistake of history. So far, boards have been changed at the office of the district magistrate and police chief, and some vehicles of the city police bear the new name.
At the city’s prestigious university, opinion is sharply divided over the move, especially at the history department. The BJP government says an ancient city that existed at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers was renamed Allahabad by the Mughal emperor Akbar. But other historians say Prayag was never a city but only a pilgrimage site near the confluence.
“Basically it is as good as uprooting your cultural roots. Uprooting you from your base. If you call it Prayagraj it does not drill sense into me. You take the spirit of the city, you take out the ethos of the city,” says Professor Herambh Chaturvedi, of the department of history at the Allahabad University.
But Atul Kumar Tiwari, a research scholar in the same department counters him. “I think this is a good decision. For many centuries, the sangam (confluence) has been known as Prayagraj for centuries and many governments deliberated about this but no one did anything,” says Mr Tiwari.
But the renaming of Allahabad isn’t the subject stirring up emotions in the city. A bigger question in many quarters is whether the city will be ready in time for January’s Ardh Kumbh – being pitched by the Adityanath government as the grandest ever. The UP government says it is executing projects worth over Rs 4,000 crore across Allahabad and in the sangam area. In contrast, the government claims the Akhilesh Yadav government spent just over a Rs 1,000 crore on the bigger Maha Kumbh in 2013.
Roads are being widened, street lights are coming up, sewers and drainage systems being expanded. But right now everything seems to be in a mess, dug up. The latest completion deadline, extended once so far, is November 30. But even staunch BJP supporters like Mahant Narendra Giri of the All India Akhara Parishad, who played a pivotal role in the renaming of the city, say they aren’t sure the deadline will be met.
“I believe that it is all in God ‘s hands now. But one thing I know for sure: If all this work gets over by November end then Prayagraj will be like heaven else it will become hellish. We have not asked for anything new. The name of this place was Prayagraj. We haven’t changed anything names – we have restored the name,” says Mr Giri.