The Aurangabad Municipal Corporation passed the resolution to officially rename the city as Sambhaji Nagar in 1995.
Aurangabad district is home to Ajanta and Ellora Caves, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, among other monuments. (File Image)
A controversy over Shiv Sena wanting the Centre to officially rename Aurangabad city in Maharashtra as Sambhaji Nagar has erupted in the last few days. Ruling Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) allies Shiv Sena and the Congress party are at loggerheads over the issue. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on the other hand, is in agreement with the Congress party over the issue and has attacked the Uddav Thackrey government asking them to focus on matters concerned with development instead of emotional issues.
Aurangabad was built in the 15th century by Malik Ambar of the Nijamshahi dynasty. When Aurangzeb, the son of Shah Jahan took over the Mughal Empire, he made the city his capital and renamed it after his name. He tortured and later killed Chhatrapati Sambahji Maharaj, son of Maratha warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in Aurangabad where he lived until his death.
In the late 1980s, the Balasaheb Thackeray-led Shiv Sena started expanding its influence beyond Mumbai. Soon it came to power at the Aurangabad’s local body and during the victory rally on May 8, 1998, Thackeray renamed the city as Sambhaji Nagar as this was the place where the Maratha warrior was kept captive and tortured till death, Chandrakant Khaire, former Shiv Sena MP from the city, said.
Since then, Aurangabad is referred to as Sambhaji Nagar in all political rhetoric and in the party’s mouthpiece Saamana. The Aurangabad Municipal Corporation only passed the resolution to officially rename the city in 1995.
The then Maharashtra Chief Minister Manohar Joshi then issued a notification asking public opinion on renaming the city. Then Congress corporator Mushtaq Ahmed challenged the resolution by the municipal corporation at the high court. The court, however, disposed of the matter. Ahmed then took the matter to the apex court that granted a stay on the notification. After the Congress-NCP alliance came to power in 1999, the notification for renaming was taken back. Now an NCP member, Ahmed said if MVA takes the decision again, he will challenge the decision at the court again.
Since then, the renaming of the city has been a bone of contention between political parties that resurface during civil polls.
Why renaming the city is a big deal
The BJP has repeatedly criticised Sena about keeping old promise with new allies, the NCP and Congress and now challenging its own Hindutva ideology it has been daring Shiv Sena to effect the change in its bid to corner the party.
Maharashtra Cabinet in March last year approved a proposal to rename Aurangabad airport as Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj airport. According to sources, Divisional Commissioner had sent the report on renaming Aurangabad city to the government, but failed to get a nod from the Centre.
Aurangabad is a city with 11.75 lakh population. That includes a majority 51 per cent Hindus and 30.8 per cent Muslims. Imtiaz Jaleel of AIMIM is the MP of the area who has defeated Sena MP Khaire in 2019. Hence the decision of renaming the city ahead the civil polls is a strategic step by the Shiv Sena.
What is at stake for parties in renaming Aurangabad
The Sena wants to rename the city to assert its Hindutva agenda appeasing the majority Hindu population while the Congress party does not want to upset its Muslim vote bank. If Sena pays heed to Congress opposition to the decision for coalition’s sake, BJP will project it as Sena compromising its saffron values. If Congress fails to convince Sena, AIMIM will project it as a betrayal to its secular credentials.
For BJP, this will be an opportune moment to causing a rift in the Sena-Congress coalition. But knowing that Sena going for a Cabinet resolution for renaming would elicit angry reactions from the Congress, CM Uddhav Thackrey might not take the step at all.
The issue will not only act as a coalition divider for the BJP but will also give it an edge to mobilise cadres ahead of civic polls. The BJP desperately needs a come-back after the setbacks at legislative elections in Maharashtra last year and in Legislative council and local body elections.
The BJP, however, cannot use the issue too much in its favour as it might backfire on its ally with Republican Party of India that too has a Muslim and Dalit vote bank in Aurangabad and is also in agreement with Congress opposing any move to rename the city. The BJP might also find a tough spot if all the disagreement between Congress and Sena makes them the two main opponents. BJP, however, feels that the Republican’s party’s opposition will keep Congress from taking the space fully.
According to AIMIM MP Jaleel, every five years during polls the Sena and BJP take these matters to the public forum to divert attention from other concerns like water, roads, sanitation, open spaces, and jobs, etc. Jaleel in his tweet condemned the issue calling the issue a way of seeking ‘cheap political gains.’
NCP, however, has tried to keep it aloof as much as possible from the war of words so far. Deputy CM Ajit Pawar said that the opposition is using the issue to cause a rift between MVA allies and decision on the same will be taken agreeably.