Friday, November 03, 2006

What's Wrong With Bengalooru ?

Nothing at all. I have no objection to name changes. After all, individuals do it all the time..particularly in Bombay (oops Mumbai) where I stay..remember all those who added alphabets to their name because it was felt to be numerologically beneficial. So, you had Shobhaa and Kiraan and so on. Some of the revised names are downright hilarious. But then who cares, its their choice.

So, do I not have a problem with Bengalooru or is Bengaluru ? Of course I do. And two principal ones. And they are to do with the motivation and cost behind the name change, rather than the name change itself. The first is debated extensively but the second, rarely. Lets talk about motivation first. I would think that regardless of all the political sermonising that accompanies such moves, the motive is very simple - which is to create some connect with a vote bank that is potentially about to drift or already has drifted.

I always have one question when our smart politicians embark on such moves - why now ? Believe me, I am yet to hear an answer that makes logical sense. Its not just Bangalore but Bombay as well. Why was it done when it was done ? I mean, there have been several phases of heightened state-level patriotism over the past few decades in Maharashtra, West Bengal and Karnataka. There have been agitations, protests, demonstrations and legal battles. And yet, no one thought of it earlier. Why ?

Bankruptcy Of Ideas

Let me tell you my answer. For one, because earlier, there were greater, more imaginative causes. It might have been the creation of the state itself or a linguistic issue or something more fundamental to do with preservation of historical identity. What is it now ? Well, nothing but a desperate move by a polity that's utterly bankrupt when it comes to causes.

And if you don't have a cause or you are seen not to have done something for your people, what do you do ? Well in India, try and stoke some local fervour by changing the name. Because that way, you can think you've achieved something grand so that you could return to protecting your wayward children as they run amok with their Hummers (or its equivalent in value and attraction) and beat up innocent people.

To dwell on Karnataka in specific, what comes to mind when you think of how local politicians have performed in the last few years. Let me tell you what I can remember. For one, they tried to stymie every major infrastructure project that was on the anvil. Like the Bangalore-Mysore expressway and the new international airport. Then, they focussed their attention on changing legislation to kill the expressway because their ego was hurt or their dirty games were exposed. And finally, they tried to force schools to teach in Kannada.

Show Me One Fundamental Change ?

If there is anything that Karnataka's politicians have done that reflects stellar political leadership and innovative action that has fundamentally changed people's lives for the better, please let me know. Because I really don't know and I can't see. Yes, they did allow Infosys to stay on and not drive them out of the city or descend on Electronic City with bricks and stones. Though, they did succeed in driving N R Narayan Murthy out of Bangalore International Airport Ltd (BIAL).

But I digress. Now, let me come to the second point about cost. Do you know the cost or effort involved in a name change ? Well, I am not sure myself, but let me make some educated guesses. A name change means that every railway station, government office, airport and road will have to go in for a fresh coat of paint or put up a new hoarding.

It means fresh printing of Government stationary and changes in official gazettes, rule books and what have you. Frankly, I don't even know how vast this effort is. All I know is that it is. So we are talking crores of rupees or millions of dollars. And please don't tell me that the coffers of our respective state governments are so full up that these are just niggling expenditures.


In addition to the Government spending crores of rupees of public money, thousands of private organisations have to do it as well. Airlines, shops, companies, bus services, newspapers, books and what have you. Think about it, officials sitting in airports spanning from Singapore and Bangkok to London and Frankfurt have to figure out whether the initials BAN will work in the new dispensation or does it now become BEN. In which case, is it clashing with another BEN.

So, while the likes of writer UR Ananthamurthy (a crusader behind the Bangalore name change to whom I bear no disrespect) may be thrilled at the prospect of having achieved a literary and cultural goal, the politicians of Bangalore have proved, yet again, that they are supremely bankrupt when it comes to political goals.

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