Protests break out after VHP proposes renaming Aligarh to Harigarh

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As part of its 50th anniversary celebrations held in Aligarh on Monday, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad proposed renaming Aligarh to Harigarh, triggering howls of protests from both local residents and historians, who said there was no merit in the demand.

In attendance as chief guest was Sadhvi Prachi, who has been in news recently for her views on ‘ghar wapsi’ and ‘love jihad’.

“This (Harigarh) is Aligarh’s oldest and real name,” Krishna Gupta, a VHP member, said. The old name lost currency following a series of conquests faced by India, VHP’s Aligarh president Dev Suman Goyal added. “We have recognized this as the real name of Aligarh because it is mentioned in Hindu mythology.”

Aligarh like many Indian cities has been known by different names in the past.

“Check the records and you will find that Aligarh used to be known as Kohl or Koil, which has been mentioned in the travelogues of Ibn Abatuta and even find mention in many Mughal records. The modern day Koil tehsil is a remnant of that name. The city was named Aligarh after its takeover by Mughal governor Najaf Ali Khan,” Nadeem Rezavi, historian from Aligarh Muslim University said.

He said the VHP’s demand has no historical basis. “This is a very old story with VHP and other right wing outfits – earlier also they have named a temple Harigarh in Aligarh,” he said.

While Dev Suman Goyal insisted that he had the proof to authenticate VHP’s claim, he added that the new ‘old name’ should be introduced subtly. “We don’t need to officially approach this,” he said. “These things should be dealt with subtlety — banners can be put up mentioning the city as Harigarh. We can even try sending letters with the address marked to the city of Harigarh. Those letters will be delivered to Aligarh. Some people in our wing do this already. So the name can change automatically.”

Members of the right-wing outfit also expressed their collective intent to continue with the ‘ghar wapsi’ campaign. Anandji Harbola, a VHP member said, “Around 8 crore people left the fold of Hinduism and, so far, we have only brought back 15 lakh people. There are 750 crore Hindus spread across 100 countries. We have to use Hindutva to bring everyone together.”