Mumbai square – named after ex-Israeli PM Shimon Peres – sparks row

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For the first time, a prominent junction in south Mumbai has been named after a foreign dignitary, but it sparked off a political row among various parties in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).

The square is near Kala Ghoda and Saibaba Marg, and has been rechristened as “Shimon Peres Chowk” after the late Israel President and two-time Prime Minister Shimon Peres (1923-2016), who was also the joint winner of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize along with Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin.

However, the square, renamed without fanfare around 4 months ago, ostensibly owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions, has now led to a civic political fracas.

Usually, any such proposal must be initiated by the local Municipal Corporator, but it was apparently not done in this case.

“I have not initiated this square renaming proposal.. It was moved and implemented directly by the former Municipal Commissioner Praveen Pardeshi,” BMC Ward No. 225 Shiv Sena Municipal Corporator Sujata Sanap told IANS.

The BMC Leader of Opposition and Congress Municipal Corporator Ravi Raja said that the entire renaming has been done “without following the BMC norms and it must be probed”.

“The rules are very clear on this…Any personality who has contributed or impacted Mumbai can be considered for renaming any road, chowk or other locations. This concerns a foreign personality…It never came before the elected members of the BMC. So who authorised it?” asks Raja.

When asked the (Shiv Sena) Mayor Kishori Pednekar guardedly replied that she would find out if the square renaming was done as per the rules but declined to commit if it could be reversed.

“I have discussed with the concerned persons They said it has been done as per due process. The controversy is being created by some persons who are worried about the growing relations between India-Israel,” Bharatiya Janata Party house leader Vinod Mishra told IANS.

The issue has also been opposed by several parties like Samajwadi Party, Nationalist Congress Party, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen among the prominent ones, especially since Pardeshi was removed as the BMC chief in May 2020 and his purported proposal was implemented six months later.

SP Legislator and BMC Corporator Rais Kasam Shaikh has written a letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray demanding that the chowk name should be rescinded failing which his party would launch an agitation in the state.

Renamed as ‘Shimon Pares Chowk’, it is located adjacent to the famed and Mumbai’s second oldest synagogue, the ‘Knesset Eliyahoo Synagogue’, built in 1884 by Jacob Elias Sassoon, at V. B. Gandhi Marg.

This square falls in the heart of the important sites targeting during the Mumbai terror attacks of Nov. 26-28, 2008, with the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, Hotel Taj Mahal around 1 km away, and the Chabad House in Nariman House and Hotel Trident some 2 kms away.

The quiet, magnificent locality with many old buildings, has a handful of resident Baghdadi Jew families, whose ancestors migrated here from Baghdad in the early 1800s.

Their leader was the legendary David Sassoon, who served as the Treasurer of the Pashas of the erstwhile Ottoman Empire, and the grandfather of Jacob Elias Sassoon. A big businessman of his era, several institutions including the David Sassoon Library were constructed by him and retain his name.

Incidentally, the proposal to name the square after Peres had first come up before the BMC in 2018 but was shelved due to widespread opposition that Peres had no connections nor contributed anything to the city.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: q.najmi@ians.in)

–IANS

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