Patna: Emulating their ‘role model’, Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, some Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders in Bihar have reiterated their demand that Bakhtiyarpur town, named after a Muslim 'invader', be rechristened as Nitish Nagar(named after Chief Minister Nitish Kumar).
The suggestion came from saffron-clad BJP MLA Hari Bhushan Thakur, who has emerged as a “firebrand Hindutva icon” in the state.
In the past two months, a string of BJP leaders, including ministers, MLAs and MLCs, has been pitching for a population control law in Bihar on the lines of Uttar Pradesh. Also, in the recent past, several BJP leaders strongly advocated adoption of the UP police “encounter model” to get rid of criminals and control the increasing crime rate in the state.
Though the BJP leaders’ demand to change name of Bakhtiyarpur is an old one, it was given a new twist by Thakur who sought renaming it after Nitish Kumar, who is a Janata Dal(United) leader, a BJP ally.
"If Allahabad can be renamed Prayagraj, why not Bakhtiyarpur? It should be renamed as Nitish Nagar. This place has close association with Nitish Kumar since his childhood. He is a vikas purush (development king) and this would be a small gesture”, said Thakur, who is an MLA from Bisfi Assembly constituency.
Bakhtiyarpur is a small urban centre in Patna district. It is about 50 km from Bihar’s capital Patna, and is also Nitish Kumar's hometown.
The BJP's demand to rename this town after the Chief Minister is being seen as a snide remark meant to embarrass JD-U, which has been vocal in the past about not changing names of towns or districts.
In Bihar, JD(U) is in alliance with BJP. However, the old power equations have changed, as BJP has an upper hand in the coalition after having won 73 Assembly seats last year, taking advantage of a weak JD-U that won only 43 seats.
According to Thakur, Bakhtiyarpur was named after Bakhtiyar Khilji -- the military general of Qutb-ud-Aibak -- who was an
“invader and a looter, who destroyed the famous Nalanda University in late 12 century” , hence it was wrong to allow a town to bear his name.
“I will place a proposal in the Bihar Assembly to rename Bakhtiyarpur. I will mobilise support from other MLAs and will formally put up a proposal in the next session.” Thakur, who belongs to the powerful upper-caste Bhumihar community, which overwhelmingly supports BJP and its Hindutva agenda, said.
Meanwhile, Nitish Kumar on Monday described the demand to rename Bakhtiyarpur as “worthless (faltu)”.
“Bakhtiyarpur is my birthplace, why should its name be changed", he added.
In 2018, senior BJP leader and Union Minister Giriraj Singh, had proposed that Bakhtiyarpur and other towns and cities in Bihar, named after Muslim “invaders”, should be renamed. Singh first raised this demand soon after the BJP government in UP had renamed the Mughal Sarai Railway Junction as Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay Junction, and changed the name of Allahabad city to Prayagraj.
The JD-U leaders back then had disapproved of Singh’s demand.
Singh, who also belongs to the Bhumihar community, is known for repeated controversial statements that seek to strengthen Hindutva and polarise communal politics in the state. He earlier attacked Nitish Kumar for opposing abrogation of Article 370, Triple Talaq and National Register of Citizens. Singh had also made headlines in 2014 when he said that those opposing Narendra Modi should “go to Pakistan”.
Nitish Kumar, despite being an ally, has expressed his differences with BJP on these three issues, including the caste-based Census, the Pegasus spyware scandal and the population control Bill. His party has already termed Nitish Kumar as ‘PM material’ and has announced the launch of “Mission Nitish” across the country to project him as a “capable and able” leader to lead the country.
Since then, BJP leaders have been doing everything to counter Nitish Kumar with an eye to replace him, say some observers.
The BJP leaders’ chorus in Bihar is widely being seen as a part of the saffron party’s strategy to counter Nitish Kumar and his party JD-U's bid to demand a caste-based Census.