The Jinnah Tower in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, a pre-Independence era monument which has been at the centre of a controversy, especially over the past few weeks, was painted in the national tricolours by the Guntur Municipal Corporation (GMC) on Tuesday, February 1. The tower, which is a Guntur city landmark, has been mired in controversy over being named in honour of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. Demands from BJP and various Hindu organisations to rename the tower have grown louder in recent weeks.
Objecting to the use of Jinnah’s name for a major city centre in Andhra Pradesh, the state unit of the BJP has been demanding that the tower be renamed in honour of former president APJ Abdul Kalam, or culturally important persons or freedom fighters from the Guntur district like Telugu poet Gurram Jashua. It was on the heels of this controversy that authorities from the ruling YSRCP along with the Guntur Municipal Corporation painted the tower in tricolours of the national flag.
Jinnah Tower is a key landmark in Guntur city, located on Mahatma Gandhi Road, an arterial road of the city. Despite the conflicts between India and Pakistan, the tower has continued to stand in the city with the same name, remaining a symbol of harmony.
The tower, built in honour of Jinnah in the pre-Independence era, stands tall on six pillars and opens to a dome. The Jinnah Tower is one of the few structures of Islamic architecture in the region. According to historians, the tower was built by a local Muslim leader Lal Jan Basha after the visit of Jinnah's representative Liaquat Ali Khan to Guntur.
Heritage activists in the past have raised concern over parts of the tower crumbling due to negligence by authorities, and had called for protecting the edifice.
There have been repeated demands in the past by Hindu organisations and the BJP to rename the tower. On December 30, BJP's Andhra Pradesh chief Somu Veerraju raised the demand and asked, "How can we continue to use the name of a man who was responsible for the country's partition?" The BJP leader said that wherever there are names of “anti-nationals,” they should be removed.
“Many Indians suffered due to the partition… At a time when many people in Pakistan consider India as an enemy nation, BJP feels that continuing to use Jinnah’s name for a centre in Guntur is not acceptable,” Somu Veerraju said.
A few BJP leaders including Telangana MLA Raja Singh, and party National Secretary Y Satya Kumar, also echoed the demand that the name of Jinnah Tower should be changed immediately by the Andhra Pradesh government.
However, Guntur Mayor and YSRCP leader Kavati Manohar Naidu ruled out renaming the tower, recalling that Guntur Municipal Corporation had rejected a resolution back in 1966 that the tower be renamed as 'Hamid Minar'. "Jinnah Tower is an enduring symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity and no force can disrupt the secular traditions of Guntur town," he said.
Guntur West MLA M Giridhar Rao also slammed BJP for raking up the issue to create communal disharmony. He pointed out that Guntur is the only place in the country which has a tower built in the memory of Muhammad Ali Jinnah on a road named after Mahatma Gandhi.
Amid threats to demolish the structure if the YSRCP government did not rename the monument, the Mayor of Guntur inspected the fence around it on January 24, and police were posted to prevent any untoward incidents that could potentially flare up communal tension. The Hindu Vahini outfit had given a call for hoisting the tricolour at Jinnah Tower on Republic Day to intensify the demand for its renaming.
On January 26, Republic Day, Hindu Vahini members tried to storm the Jinnah Tower and unfurl the national flag on top of it, even as a large posse of police personnel was posted there to prevent such an act. They were seen raising slogans of 'Bharat Mata ki Jai’ while moving towards the tower before they were stopped by the police and detained for violating prohibitory orders.
BJP National Secretary and Andhra Pradesh co-incharge Sunil Deodhar called it an “unfortunate incident,” sympathising with Hindu Vahini members and saying they will agitate until the name of the tower is changed.
It was in the midst of this controversy with a communal tone that the Guntur Municipal Corporation on Tuesday, February 1, painted the structure in the colours of the Indian flag and erected an iron fencing around the structure.
Mayor Kavati Manohar Naidu said that the tower is a symbol of the freedom movement and that is the reason for painting it saffron, white and green. Guntur East MLA Mohammad Musthafa Shaik said that the move to paint the tower in the national colours was made following requests from several groups. He said arrangements have also been made for hoisting the national flag in the tower's vicinity.
With IANS inputs