Aligarh: “Is this place now called Harigarh?” this correspondent asked the manager of Utsav Hotel at the Sootmill Chouraha as he checked in.
“No. You can hear Harigarh only in Yogiji’s (Adityanath’s) speeches and on the lips of RSS-BJP leaders. For us, it was Aligarh, it’s Aligarh and it will remain Aligarh,” the manager replied.
Why Harigarh? Why not Ramgarh?
The place was once called Kol or Koil after Jat Kings Surajmal and Bahadur Singh occupied forts in the area, after fighting the Mughal governors of the 18th century. A Mughal Shia commander captured Ramgarh subsequently and named it Aligarh. Later, British commander Lord Gerard Lake captured the Ramgarh fort in 1803 and retained the area’s name as Aligarh – rather with an anglicised pronunciation ‘Ali Ghur’.
The same question on the change of name was posed to students and educationists of the Aligarh Muslim University, which Aligarh (now, Harigarh) is known for globally. Almost everybody on the campus opined that the change in the name was the result of the rising clout of Hindutva elements in the area.
“It’s hard to know how Harigarh was conceptualised by the extreme Hindu elements. The Hindu Mahasabha volunteers began writing on the walls here calling the city Harigarh in the 1960s and 1970s. Nobody took them seriously because they were nothing but fringe elements back then. But those who were considered fringe elements have now occupied power in the local municipal corporation. Last year, they proposed naming the city Harigarh,” explained Mohammad Sajjad, professor of modern history at AMU.
On the other hand, Yogi Adityanath – who is infamous for changing names and known for denigrating anything Islamic – has been referring to Aligarh as Harigarh in his speeches even before his government notified it officially. Soon, the Hindutva brigade latched on to it and went about bandying Harigarh.
According to Aquib and Nohid, PhD students of AMU, local Hindutva groups have created trouble a number of times in the last few years on the AMU campus.
“Aligarh MP Satish Gautam led several demonstrations of the Bajrang Dal and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad near the AMU gate to force the university to celebrate the birth anniversary of Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh.
The Raja – a Jat king – was an alumna of the AMU. Mahendra’s father Raja Ghanshyam was a friend of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan [top educationist and founder of AMU]. Ghanshyam put Mahendra under the tutelage of Sir Syed, who loved Mahendra. Mahendra later wrote about his teacher, Sir Syed, in a glowing manner in his autobiography. Sir Syed was a great freedom fighter who revolted against British rule with his friends, like Syed Mehmood and other illustrious alumni from AMU, who shared the same nationalist zeal.
A globetrotter, Mahendra was the president of the government-in-exile against the British. He donated a princely sum of Rs 1,000 to Mahatma Gandhi, who was at that time carrying out a struggle against racial discrimination in South Africa,” recounted Professor Sajjad and students sitting at Sir Syed North Hall Hostel on AMU campus.
They expressed shock as to how the Hindutva brigade could use Raja Mahendra for their “ulterior motives”. The Raja was known for his secularism. He had defeated Atal Bihari Vajpayee – a Jana Sangh candidate from the Mathura Lok Sabha seat in 1957. Vajpayee had forfeited his deposit against Mahendra.
The students of AMU have tales of violence and state high-handedness to share when prodded about the performance of Yogi Adityanath’s government. Almost all of them in unison deplored the “inhuman” way the police had responded when they were “peacefully” protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) on the AMU campus last year.
They recalled with horror that the Adityanath government had deployed paramilitary forces at the AMU campus gate to stop “peaceful protests”. Later, the students recounted, that the police “extracted permission” from the AMU vice-chancellor to “barge into the campus”. In the pandemonium that followed, the students said, several of them were beaten up badly, and the police opened teargas. They were also charged with criminal cases.
“Why did they treat us like vandals? Why did they not stop the Bajrang Dal and ABVP activists regularly gathering at the AMU gate and shouting slogans against the university? The students and scholars here are looking for answers to these questions,” said students gathered at Sir Syed North Hall Hostel.
According to students, the efforts by the Uttar Pradesh government to set up Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh State University at Lodha-Nagaria village, 20 kms from Aligarh on the Khair bypass, is a “Hindutva project, but not an educational one”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for the university on September 14, 2021, amid fanfare after the Adityanath government had enacted a law to establish the Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh State University.
“It is very clear. It’s a Hindutva project, not an educational one. The establishment of a university after Raja Mahendra’s name is to appease the Jat voters. The BJP knows it well that their once stronghold among Jats has now lost because of three contentious farm laws enacted (now, repealed) by the Union government. It is that simple that the BJP now wants to placate Jats by naming a university after Raja Mahendra. But it will not work. The Jats are angry. They are up in arms against the Yogi-Modi government. They won’t vote for the BJP,” said Dinesh Singh, a resident of Lodha Nagaria in Aligarh.
The residents of Lodha-Nagaria appeared least interested in the university, which could, at any rate, take years to complete before providing any fruits of development to the locals. “The work on it began only two months ahead of the announcement of the polls. It will stop after the polls. The BJP will resume it again ahead of the 2024 elections. The BJP will try to drag it and harness it for electoral gains,” added Dinesh Singh, skeptical of the project.
Palpable anger against BJP
There was palpable anger against the BJP among the residents of Lodha-Nagaria.
“We had voted for them [the BJP] in the past. But we will vote against them now,” said Amit (25) while indicating his preference for the hand pump symbol of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, which is in alliance with the Samajwadi Party.
None from the cross-section of people – be it in the Muslim-dominated Nibri village; or Dalits and OBCs in Lodha, Nagaria and Ibrahimpur; or be it men, women or youth – whom this correspondent spoke to favoured BJP this time around.
Instead, they derided the BJP government as “cruel Yogi-Modi raj“.
They cited “Kamartod Mahangai (back-breaking prices of essentials), Berojgari (unemployment) and Dabangayee (coercion)” as reasons for their opposition towards BJP.
“Iss baar Yogi-Modi ka koi chance nahin hain (Yogi and Modi don’t stand a chance this time), we will vote for Akhilesh Yadav,” summed up Pradeep, a Jatav youth and unemployed graduate of Ibrahimpur.
Nalin Verma is a senior journalist, author and professor of journalism and mass communication at Invertis University, Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh.
Courtesy The Wire