Opinion: Time for the government to look beyond renaming of Chennai roads

The announcement on renaming of East Coast Road has raised doubts over the logic and rationale for changing names of Chennai roads.

The state government is back to what it does best – renaming Chennai roads. There is of course the other thing they do equally well – unnecessary ‘beautification’ of neighbourhoods but we will not go into that. At least not just now. Since these are times when being critical of anybody in power usually means inviting the accusation that we are in the pay of the Opposition, let us assure everyone that we were equally critical when the previous regime did the same. Overall, the road-renaming exercise is one of the most wasteful activities possible, but State Governments do not seem to think so.

Renaming roads without tangible connections

It was only last week that the Chief Minister announced with much fanfare that the East Coast Road, which had been getting along very well with that name for quite some time now, will henceforth be known as Muthamizh ArignarKalaignar Karunanidhi Road. As to what connection the late Kalaignar and former Chief Minister had with that thoroughfare is not known but then there it is.

The road will henceforth be officially known by its new name, just as Nungambakkam High Road is in reality Utthamar GandhiSalai and Old Mahabalipuram Road is Rajiv Gandhi Expressway. No connection of any kind – just a renaming. There was a time when roads were renamed after leaders or prominent citizens who lived on them, as for instance Radhakrishnan Salai and Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy Road, but now such connections are not of any importance.

uthamar gandhi salai
Nungambakkam High Road was renamed Uthamar Gandhi Salai. Pic: Ravi C

Any road can be picked up at random and renamed at will, just as the previous regime suddenly changed Halls Road to Tamizh Salai. 

Read more: Explainer: How are roads in Chennai laid?

Absence of creativity

It is not as though the late Kalaignar does not already have places named after him. KK Nagar is a vast residential area that takes his name and it has been around for several decades. For that matter, we find the same leaders being commemorated in various roads and streets repeatedly. Surely even if there was a renaming exercise it can be done with some creativity? But then it is only by continuously reinforcing a few names repeatedly can they be retained in public memory and their link to the present be reinforced. 

There was a time when roads named after colonial rulers and civil servants were the first targets for renaming. There again, I have consistently argued that not all of these were names that could be obliterated. Some deserved retention for the good work that they did in the city. But with most of such roads already renamed and the others being too small or insignificant thoroughfares, the Government attention has evidently turned to other names such as OMR and ECR for renaming. What will happen when these names too are exhausted? Will there be a round of renaming the roads that are already renamed? 

Read more: Why road milling work calls for active involvement of Chennai citizens

Not a mark of progress

If a city is to be marked by progress and growth, it is necessary that thoroughfares in the newer parts are named after leaders who contributed to it. But then our political masters have probably realised that such new areas are not news worthy. The idea is to keep focusing on the older parts and making sure that they are perpetually in a state of churn.

It is time that the Governments in power realise that it is more important to be remembered by a legacy of good work and worthy achievements and not by way of a tally of the number of roads renamed. But evidently such maturity in thought is yet to come about. All over India we are seeing a rising trend of renaming and Chennai, despite its claims to be different, has proved disappointingly to be the same.

[This article was first published on the author’s blog and has been republished here with permission.]

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  1. Kumar says:

    Sir, Renaming of the Madras itself is a big futile exercise and lost in glory and heritage.

  2. srikrishna says:

    What a mouthful and difficult to pronounce. Can’t it be kept simple.

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