Touching as the gesture is, one must still ask: what exactly has been Dr Chopra’s contribution to society, other than being the father of the actress? Even if we don’t fault her desire to have such a memorial—any daughter would want just as much—should society also be a participant in it? Surely, if it is a public road owned by the state, there needs to be some objective measure for such decisions, an overwhelming reason for one person’s name to be affixed to it as against someone else’s. There are many daughters and sons who love their late fathers and mothers equally and all of them, if they could, would want a road to name. Is there any reason for Chopra to have a better stake to that particular road?
But we must not blame Chopra alone. Some years back, a road in Mumbai was named after the late son of the ghazal singers Jagjit and Chitra Singh. Vivek Singh had died in a car accident in 1990 at the age of 18. It was a huge tragedy for the parents and Chitra stopped singing after that. Later, she managed to get the road named after him. After her husband died, she wanted one named after him too. It had become a habit. Heart-rending as her sorrow is, the civic body again had little justification in humouring her—the sole consideration is influence. All it takes in Mumbai is for a local corporator to push for the renaming. Two years ago, a report by an NGO, the Praja Foundation, on the performance of municipal corporators in the city found that they were more interested in naming the roads than the plights of roads themselves. The rest of the country wouldn’t be any different.
It is unfair to pick on just celebrities, because many road names are hogged by dead local politicians. The power to dole out a road name is part of the culture of patronage that is intrinsic to Indian politics. In democracies, we would assume there is a distinction between the private and the public but India is still to evolve anywhere close to that ideal. An Indian politician lives in the hangover of kings who own the lands that they rule and are free to do with it as they please.
There is also another fundamental issue with naming roads after human beings. Roads exist to travel on and that purpose is what should determine the name. Naming them after unknown entities only makes the address harder to find. Numbering them is so much more apt and orderly. Or at the very least auction off the names, like the traffic department does with unique vehicle number plates. If Chopra is so keen on a road named after her father, let her buy it. The money can be used to repair and maintain the road and there is some public good coming from it. There are counter-arguments to that too but it is still more legitimate than doling them out as a favour to the rich and powerful.