India’s Modi renames cricket stadium after himself

Narendra Modi has renamed the world’s largest cricket stadium after himself, stealing the limelight before the ground’s inaugural India-England match on Wednesday.

The site on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, Modi’s political home town in the state of Gujarat, was recently rebuilt as the world’s largest cricket venue with capacity for 110,000 spectators.

Modi has sought to use a slate of signature projects — such as building the world’s tallest statue and remaking India’s parliament — to project himself as the country’s most transformative and powerful prime minister in decades.

“It’s quite stunning,” said Ronojoy Sen, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore, who argued that “the symbolism — the largest, the biggest, the best — being built in Ahmedabad” was central to Modi’s political brand.

Sen, author of a book on the history of sport in India, added: “This is the first time in my memory at least that a living Indian [prime minister] has named a stadium after themselves.”

The stadium was previously named after Sardar Patel, one of Modi’s political heroes.

Indian politicians have a long history of renaming cities, monuments and government programmes after dead leaders or historical figures, particularly to change names associated with the British Raj or Islamic empires

India is littered with buildings named after Jawaharlal Nehru, the first post independence prime minister, as well as his daughter and grandson, both assassinated former prime ministers. However, it is rare for living leaders to champion projects designed to celebrate themselves.

“The general rule is you wait for people to be out of office before bestowing those kinds of honours,” said Gilles Verniers, assistant professor of political science at Ashoka University.

Mayawati, former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, was pilloried for spending public funds on expansive statue parks filled with stone likenesses of herself, her political mentor and her party’s symbol, the elephant.

But Mayawati’s supporters defended the projects, saying the temple-like parks were an inspiration for the party’s core constituents, drawn largely from the lower ranks of Hinduism’s caste system.

The renaming of the stadium drew praise from Modi’s followers and bemusement from his critics, who accuse the prime minister of concentrating all decision-making power in his tightly run office.

“World’s largest stadium dedicated to the world’s largest personality!” tweeted Preeti Gandhi, who is in charge of social media for the women’s wing of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party.

Gaurav Pandhi, who runs social media for the opposition Congress party, called it the “heights of narcissism . . . Megalomaniac!” 

Modi served as chief minister of Gujarat before his ascent to the premiership in 2014.

The newly rebuilt stadium hosted Donald Trump when he visited India last year, but its debut as a cricket venue was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The name change was revealed only a couple of hours before the start of the third test match on England’s tour of India. The ground was at half capacity on Wednesday, hosting about 50,000 fans, thanks to a precipitous nationwide drop in Covid-19 infections. 

Prateek Dixit, a 54-year-old from Ahmedabad who attended, said the stadium was a triumph for Modi.

“It’s a proud moment for India,” Dixit, an engineer, said. “This is Modi’s dream. This is Modi’s vision. He dreamt that he would make a big stadium in Ahmedabad, and now it’s complete.”

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