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What's in a name? Punjab & Haryana fight over name of Chandigarh airport again

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 20 September 2016, 17:27 IST

'What's in a name?' wrote William Shakespeare, and over the next 400-odd years, the world agreed that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

But there is actually a lot to a name - especially when it comes to naming structures after political and national heroes in India.

This is evident from the political slugfest that's currently going on between Punjab and Haryana over the naming of the Chandigarh International Airport, which finally became operational with a flight to Sharjah last week.

This time around, it is the Punjab government, led by Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, which has hijacked the issue by coming out with full page advertisements in newspapers containing the name 'Mohali International Airport'.

This has not gone down well with his Haryana counterpart, Manohar Lal Khattar, who belongs to SAD's ally BJP. Khattar has taken exception to the Punjab government's move to call the airport 'Mohali International Airport' in its advertisements.

History of the squabble

This is not the first time that the naming of the Chandigarh airport has become a political issue between Punjab and Haryana, which share the Union Territory as their capital.

It was only in March 2016 that the two sides had agreed to name it after Shaheed Bhagat Singh. This had come after six months of squabbling, ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the civil air terminal on 11 September 2015.

The Assemblies of Punjab and Haryana had, in 2009 and 2010, respectively, passed resolutions for naming the airport after martyr Bhagat Singh. But then, Khattar threw a spanner in the works, approaching the Union Civil Aviation Ministry to name it after RSS leader Mangal Sein.

An upset Badal had written to Modi in December, calling Khattar's move 'distasteful'. Culture and Civil Aviation Minister Mahesh Sharma had told Parliament that the naming of the airport was delayed as the two state governments couldn't agree on a name.

Faced with all-round criticism, Khattar finally backed down and agreed to name the airport after Bhagat Singh, only to add the rider that the Central government must ensure the airport contains the word 'Chandigarh'. This is because the airport is physically located in Punjab's Mohali district, which lies beyond to the territorial boundary of Chandigarh.

It suits Badal to take credit

But now, Badal has managed to steal the thunder with his ad campaign. Calling it 'Mohali International Airport' suits him as it adds to his list of achievements that are being played up ahead of the next year's Assembly polls.

There are already advertisements comparing the airport to the very best in the world, and giving credit to Badal and his deputy, son Sukhbir Badal, for it.

Badal did make a show of it. Describing the direct international flight to UAE from 'Mohali' as a red letter day, he claimed that it was a step further towards the state emerging as a hub of air connectivity, thereby immensely benefiting the Punjabi diaspora settled across the globe.

He said it was a matter of great pride and satisfaction for Punjabis that Punjab is the first state in the northern region to have two international airports, at Mohali and Amritsar, resulting from the persistent efforts made by the state government. He pointed out that this airport would act as a catalyst to boost industrialisation in Punjab, showcasing it as the most preferred investment destination to woo the leading entrepreneurs across the world.

Sukhbir, for his part, led a special delegation of prospective industrialists from the state to Sharjah to explore more investment avenues on the first flight.

Khattar's objection

Khattar didn't take all this kindly. He shot off a strongly-worded letter to his Punjab counterpart, saying he was "deeply anguished by the Punjab government's advertisement that appeared in various newspapers, terming Chandigarh International Airport as Mohali International Airport".

Calling the advertisement 'factually incorrect', Khattar reminded Badal that the final name of the airport is yet to be decided by the Centre.

"The airport is managed by the Chandigarh International Airport Limited (CIAL), where the Airport Authority of India (AAI) has 51% equity partnership and the governments of Haryana and Punjab have equity at 24.5% each. Besides being equal partners in the CIAL, we strongly object to the misleading advertisement campaign carried out by the Punjab government," Khattar reportedly said.

Taking the fight further, Haryana finance minister Captain Abhimanyu said that the international airport at Chandigarh is an initiative of the Centre, and reminded all and sundry that Chandigarh is also the capital of Haryana. He said if Punjab was so keen on claiming the Chandigarh airport in Mohali as its own, it should hand over Chandigarh to Haryana and make Mohali its capital.

While the fight continues, the other political players in both Punjab and Haryana have thrown their hats into the ring. In Punjab, state Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh has criticised both the CMs for trying to play petty politics on the issue. He pointed out that it had already been agreed upon by both the states that the airport would be named after Shaheed Bhagat Singh.

"Chandigarh or Mohali is insignificant, what matters, is that it must be named after Shaheed Bhagat Singh and everyone had agreed on that," he said.

He asked the Union Civil Aviation Ministry to clarify the matter.

But Badal justified his advertisements by saying it's only fair to call it Mohali International Airport because it is built on land in Mohali. He said there could be no questions about that. He said the Punjab government had taken this stand throughout, and there wasn't going to change anytime soon.

Support from an old friend

Badal has received support from the Indian National Lok Dal's Chautala family in Haryana. The two families are known to have been close for decades.

Haryana's Leader of the Opposition, Abhay Chautala, recently said that the airport is Punjab's property and the neighbouring state could give it any name it wanted. He has given a new twist to the debate, asking why did the previous Congress government, led by Bhupinder Singh Hooda, spend Rs 250 crore on the airport, knowing very well that it was coming up on Punjab land?

This has drawn a sharp reaction from the Congress, with its leader, Ran Singh Mann, demanding an apology from Chautala for his stand. Mann said: "This proves that the INLD is not concerned about the interests of Haryana. The closeness between the Chautala and Badal families is well known to the people of Haryana, who know that INLD has always stood with the Akalis, even if it goes against the interests of the state."

Mann also attacked Badal for hijacking the issue. He said the Congress supports the Hooda government's decision to be a partner in the project, as it strengthens Haryana's claims over Chandigarh.

More fuel to the fire

There's a bigger political battle that's being highlighted here - the unresolved transfer of Chandigarh.

While the Shah Commission recommended it be given to Haryana, the Rajiv Gandhi-HS Longowal accord of 1985 agreed that Chandigarh would be given to Punjab, and the Hindi-speaking villages in Punjab would be identified and handed over to Haryana.

Three subsequent commissions failed to provide an agreement between the states, and in July 1986, the Union government suspended the transfer for an indefinite period.

In addition, the two states have also been fighting over the sharing of Punjab's waters, including the controversy over the Satluj-Yamuna Link Canal.

The slugfest over the naming of the airport is only going to add fuel to this fire.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 20 September 2016, 17:27 IST
 
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