The Independent newspaper is to switch back to using Bombay rather than Mumbai when referring to India’s financial capital, its Indian-origin editor said today.
Amol Rajan said the move was a stand against what he said was the closed-minded view of Hindu nationalists.
The city was officially renamed Mumbai in 1995, a change forced through by the far-right Shiv Sena party. However, within the city, the old colonial name and the Marathi-language name are often used interchangeably.
“The whole point of Bombay is of an open, cosmopolitan port city, the gateway of India that’s open to the world,” said Rajan, who was born in Kolkata — formerly known as Calcutta — and raised in London.
“If you call it what Hindu nationalists want you to call it, you essentially do their work for them,” the 32-year-old told BBC radio.
“As journalists, as someone who edits The Independent, it’s incredibly important to be specific about our terminology.
“I’d rather side with the tradition of India that’s been open to the world, rather than the one that’s been closed, which is in ascendance right now,” he said, referring to the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
Their coalition partner Shiv Sena is strongly pro-Marathi, the dominant language and ethnic group in the state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital.
Rajan said post-colonial India had the “open, secular, pluralist and tolerant” tradition of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and independence leader Mahatma Gandhi.
It also had a “slightly nastier strain of Hindu nationalism” and it was important to “venerate the tradition of India which shows the best of India — an open metropolis”.
Shiv Sena renamed the western Indian city after the goddess Mumbadevi, the protector of fisherman who were the area’s original inhabitants.
Marathi speakers had always called the city “Mumbai”, and the move was popular among that community, whereas “Bombay” was an anglicised take on the Portuguese colonial name “Bom Bahia”, or “good bay”.