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SoBo junction named after ex-Israeli President Shimon Peres, sparks controversy

The Samajwadi Party and Congress had opposed the proposal when it was discussed in 2018 saying though Peres had been a friend of India, he didn’t have any specific connection with city or state. Surprisingly, the BJP had backed the plan, said official.

SoBo junction named after ex-Israeli President Shimon Peres, sparks controversy
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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).

A junction between Kala Ghoda and Saibaba Marg in South Mumbai has been named 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.

This move of the BMC has come despite the proposal having been roundly opposed twice by its group leaders two years ago. However, it was renamed without fanfare around four months ago, ostensibly owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions, has now led to a civic political fracas.

The naming of the chowk after Peres has led to a fresh controversy with the SP and the Congress opposing the naming. 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 Samajwadi Party and the Congress had opposed the proposal when it was discussed in 2018 saying though Peres had been a friend of India, he didn’t have any specific connection with Mumbai or Maharashtra. Surprisingly, the BJP had backed the plan, said a BMC official.

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Rais Kasam Shaikh has written a letter to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray demanding that the chowk name should be rescinded failing which his party would launch an agitation in the state.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

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