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Is "Bharat" in India's Future? Controversy Brews Over Rumors of Official Name Change. The Heated National Debate Explained
Recent events have sparked speculation that India's government may be moving to officially change the country's name to "Bharat," the Hindi word commonly used to describe the nation. Rumors of an impending name change grew after invitees to India's G20 summit this week received cards from the "President of Bharat" rather than the usual "President of India." Photos of the invites went viral, fueling debate over whether the Modi government plans to formally adopt "Bharat" in place of "India."
The term Bharat has ancient origins and cultural significance in India. Deriving from the Sanskrit language, it refers poetically to the land of the legendary King Bharata in Hindu scriptures.
Bharat is widely used colloquially when speaking Hindi or other regional languages to refer affectionately to the country, similar to "Britain" in English.
However, India's official name since independence has remained "Republic of India" in all formal government communication, diplomacy, and international relations. The constitution only recognizes either "India" or "Bharat" when referring to the nation. Most institutional names also utilize "India" - like the Government of India, India Post, Reserve Bank of India, etc.
Recent unnamed reports suggest the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may use an upcoming special parliamentary session to propose officially renaming the country to Bharat. This follows years of debate over more prominently using the Hindi term, which has intensified since the Hindu nationalist BJP took power in 2014. Party figures argue Bharat better reflects the country's heritage and identity.
Opponents criticize the move as unnecessary posturing that would undermine the globally recognized India brand. It could also come across as forcing Hindi cultural hegemony on India's diverse populations. However, among more hardline Hindu nationalists, Bharat carries deep symbolism of a return to historic cultural glory.
The presidential dinner invite referring to the leader as "President of Bharat" aligns with what some see as the BJP's pivot toward officially "reclaiming" the name Bharat. Another clue was a key BJP chief minister changing his social media location to "Assam, Bharat." With the BJP dominating parliament, a name change could pass despite opposition objections.
The main opposition Congress Party has argued India's name should remain unchanged. Party leaders say the BJP does not have sole ownership over national identity, which belongs collectively to the entire populace. They argue the move has no constitutional basis and could undermine recognition of India built up over centuries.
Some also accuse the BJP of playing petty politics in response to the opposition coalition rebranding itself as INDIA, or Indian National Democratic Inclusive Alliance, ahead of 2024 elections. BJP figures lashed out at INDIA as an attack on India's identity. In turn, adopting Bharat would counter the opposition's embrace of the India name.
The rumored Bharat shift also aligns with the BJP's broader Hindu-centric cultural agenda. Policies like revoking Kashmir's autonomy, mandating yoga practice, and tightening citizenship requirements have appealed to the party's Hindu base. Championing the traditionally Hindu term Bharat taps into the same political motivations.
However, critics argue that India's constitutional secularism precludes changing the officially neutral name India on religious-nationalist grounds. They say the BJP should focus on pressing policy issues rather than symbolic rhetoric and unnecessary renaming exercises. Doing so risks further dividing India's diverse society.
Procedurally, for India to formally become Bharat would require amending the constitution. Whether the BJP pursues a straightforward name change or subtly elevates Bharat's status through usage shifts remains to be seen. Regardless, the Bharat controversy illustrates the BJP's calculated efforts to infuse Hindu identity into India's political fabric.
While proponents argue Bharat reclaims India's heritage, critics see it as erasing India's syncretic, pluralist brand built since independence. With Indian politics becoming increasingly polarized under BJP rule, the name change debate exemplifies the divides over interpretations of Indian national identity in the 21st century.
- Ramesh, Jairam (@Jairam_Ramesh). "So the news is indeed true. Rashtrapati Bhawan has sent out an invite for a G20 dinner on September 9th in the name of ‘President of Bharat’ instead of the usual ‘President of India’." Twitter, 5 September 2023, https://twitter.com/Jairam_Ramesh/status/1566868413846831105
- "India's Parliament session from September 18 to take up 'special business'." The Economic Times, 2 September 2023, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/indias-parliament-session-from-september-18-to-take-up-special-business/articleshow/93813355.cms
- Sarma, Himanta Biswa (@himantabiswa). "Assam, BHARAT." Twitter, 5 September 2023, https://twitter.com/himantabiswa/status/1566896182722691072
- "Opposition leaders unveil alliance named INDIA to take on BJP in 2024 polls." India Today, 5 September 2023, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/india-alliance-opposition-leaders-bjp-2024-polls-1990670-2022-09-05
- Tharoor, Shashi (@ShashiTharoor). "While there is no constitutional objection to calling India 'Bharat', which is one of the country's two official names, I hope the government will not be so foolish as to completely dispense with 'India', which has incalculable brand value built up over centuries." Twitter, 5 September 2023, https://twitter.com/ShashiTharoor/status/1566907128021610496
- Kejriwal, Arvind (@ArvindKejriwal). "If an alliance of some parties become 'INDIA', would they [BJP] change the name of the country? The country belongs to 140 crore people, not to a party. Let’s assume if the India alliance renames itself as Bharat, would they rename Bharat as BJP then? What’s this joke?" Twitter, 5 September 2023, https://twitter.com/ArvindKejriwal/status/1566908840941772801
- "Preamble to the Constitution of India" Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India. https://www.india.gov.in/my-government/constitution-india/preamble-constitution-india
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