Voters elect new governments with the hope of change. Delivering change is hard work. Improving education, health delivery, job availability, etc means putting hands to the grindstone and even then delivering improvements takes time. So new governments have gotten fond of the business of new names, which is a change they can sort of deliver overnight. Aurangzeb Road has become APJ Abdul Kalam Road in the capital. Mamata Banerjee wants to transform West Bengal into Bengal. Manohar Lal Khattar has turned Gurgaon into Gurugram. And now there are reports that Punjab, where Congress has grandly returned to power after a decade, is drafting a bill to rename British-era landmarks to celebrate Sikh rulers instead.
But reeling off factoids on India’s share of world GDP plummeting during colonial rule doesn’t really explain why the country hasn’t regained glorious heights in seven decades of independence, even as other victims of imperialism like China have barrelled ahead. Damningly, Indian workforce share in manufacturing has stayed around the same levels as seen when the Raj wound down. Obsessing over the past is not a very helpful guide to the future.
So it’s welcome that Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh seems to have ruled out a Spain-like historical memory law to “erase all remnants of cruel and humiliating British colonial rule”, adding that as a historian himself he does not believe in wiping out history but in learning from it. Actually all political parties would do well to leave history more to the historians, and focus on their own areas of expertise, which are policy making and governance. It’s not like there’s not plenty of room for improvement in these current affairs.