Narendra Modi renamed the world’s largest cricket stadium after himself, stealing the show ahead of the inaugural India-England match from the pitch on Wednesday.
The venue on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, Modi’s political hometown in the state of Gujarat, was recently rebuilt as the world’s largest cricket venue with a capacity of 110,000 spectators.
Modi sought to use a list of signature projects – such as building the tallest statue in the world and remake the Indian parliament – project himself as the most transformative and powerful Prime Minister in the country for decades.
“It’s quite astonishing,” said Ronojoy Sen, senior researcher at the National University of Singapore, who argued that “the symbolism – the bigger, the bigger, the better – built in Ahmedabad” was at the heart of 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] gave its name to a stadium.
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 programs 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 prime minister after independence, as well as his daughter and grandson, both of whom were murdered former prime ministers. However, it is rare that living leaders support projects designed to celebrate themselves.
“The general rule is to wait until people are removed from their posts before awarding these kinds of honors,” said Gilles Verniers, assistant professor of political science at Ashoka University.
Mayawati, former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, was pilloried for spending public funds in vast statuary parks filled with stone likenesses of herself, her political mentor and her party symbol , the elephant.
But Mayawati supporters defended the plans, saying the temple-like parks were a source of inspiration for the party’s main constituents, largely from the lower ranks of Hinduism’s caste system.
The stadium’s renaming has drawn praise from Modi’s supporters and bewilderment from his critics, who accuse the prime minister of concentrating all decision-making power in his tightly-run office.
“The largest stadium in the world dedicated to the greatest personality in the world!” tweeted Preeti Gandhi, social media manager for the women’s wing of Modi’s ruling party, Bharatiya Janata.
Gaurav Pandhi, who heads social media for the opposition Congress party, called it “the heights of narcissism. . . Megalomaniac!”
Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat before he became Prime Minister in 2014.
The recently reconstructed stadium welcomed Donald Trump during his visit to India last year, but his debut as a cricket hall was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The name change was only revealed hours before the start of the third test match of the English tour of India. The pitch was at half its capacity on Wednesday, hosting around 50,000 fans, thanks to a sharp drop in Covid-19 infections nationwide.
Prateek Dixit, 54 from Ahmedabad who was in attendance, said the stadium was a triumph for Modi.
“This is a proud moment for India,” said Dixit, an engineer. “This is Modi’s dream. This is Modi’s vision. He dreamed of building a big stadium in Ahmedabad, and now it’s over.