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Bharat: Why the recent push to change India’s name has a hidden agenda

15 Comments
By Nitasha Kaul

The invitations to a state dinner to mark India’s hosting of this year’s G20 came not, as you’d expect, from the office of the president of India, but from the “president of Bharat”. This has prompted speculation from observers both at home and abroad about whether this signifies an official government intention to rename the country.

Some have suggested that the ruling BJP (Bharatiya Janata arty) is rattled, and is responding to the adoption of the acronym INDIA (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance) by a group of more than two dozen opposition political parties ahead of the general elections in 2024.

There are numerous debates taking place online – both humorous and serious – about whether this name change ought to go ahead.

There’s a growing push among BJP MPs to adopt the name change, since “India” – the conventional English rendering of the country’s name – to some at least, symbolises “colonial slavery”. There have been previous petitions seeking such a name change, but these were dismissed by the Supreme Court in 2016, and again in 2020.

Just days before the G20 invitation went out, Mohan Bhagwat, head of the nationwide right-wing paramilitary organisation RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) – the ideological parent of the BJP – called explicitly for the use of “Bharat” rather than India, saying: “We don’t have to think about whether anyone outside will understand this or not. If they want to, they will, but that is not our problem … The world need us today, we don’t need the world.”

Constitutional change

The recent flurry of speculation reopens old debates that were discussed and resolved in the Constituent Assembly in September 1949. Article 1 of the constitution, which deals with the name and territory of the Union, refers to the country as “India, that is Bharat”. In other words, the two names for the country have since always been understood as being synonymous. So the proposed change would mean altering the constitution to remove the reference to “India”.

Adding to the mix is the fact that a special session of the Indian parliament has been called for September 18-22, thus fuelling speculations that this in on the order of business.

But it’s unlikely that the path to the name change will be a formal one in the first instance. Like many significant changes that accommodate long-held demands of the Hindu nationalist right-wing in India, any name change will probably need to follow a process of societal normalisation.

For example, take the decision in April 2023 to remove from school textbooks references to the (Muslim) Mughals who ruled over the subcontinent between the 16th and 19th centuries. The push for this began to gain momentum in 2016 with the informal #DeleteMughalsFromHistory hashtag in 2016.

So the G20 dinner invite is merely an opening gambit in a longer play.

Rise of the Hindu right

Part of the rationale offered by supporters of the name change is that Bharat is an indigenous term that goes back in history and was prominent in the anti-colonial struggles – for example, the slogan "Bharat Mata ki Jai" (Hail to mother Bharat). But there are other more important political ideological factors that must not be missed.

As the backbone of the right-wing in the country, the RSS (founded in 1925) has always carried a vision for India as a Hindu nation that extends far beyond electoral politics. In this transformation of Indian society and polity, the idea of “othering” non-Hindus has been crucial, and at various times has targeted Muslims, Christians, non-Brahmins, secularists, atheists, dissenters and so on.

So the proposed change of name from India to Bharat is not an anti-colonial move. Rather it is the creation of a binary designation whereby those who continue to espouse an “Indian” identity will, over time, become politically labelled as an “other” to the true and authentic “Bharatiya” (resident of Bharat) who is the “ideal” Hindu or Hindu-ised citizen.

In my 2017 analysis of the rise of the right in India, I outlined the strategic ways in which the right relies upon contradictory leveraging of various dualities. One that I identified was India versus Bharat.

The Hindutva, or political Hindu right-wing vision of India cherished by the RSS and BJP, is one where Bharat stands not just for a country that is India, but also connotes an idyll of pure Hindutva morality.

The right is seeking to create a new wedge between those who live in India and those who live in Bharat. Much like the divide between Remainers and Leavers in the UK is a legacy of Brexit, this kind of divisive politics has long-term consequences as the meanings attached to specific terms are altered.

The entities Bharat and India are constructed for particular political purposes. The RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said in 2013: “Rapes do not happen in Bharat, they happen in India.”

But facts matter little in the face of politically charged ideologues. Contemporary India is marked by a politics of distraction, where the recovering of some idyllic past is used by the right to obscure from view the failures of the present when it comes to equal rights and freedoms for citizens, competitive politics and the rule of law.

For citizens in need of life and livelihood security, a renamed Bharat is a hollow promise trading on manipulated narratives of past glory.

Nitasha Kaul is Director, Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD), Professor of Politics, International Relations, and Critical Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Westminster.

The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

15 Comments
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There have been previous petitions seeking such a name change, but these were dismissed by the Supreme Court in 2016, and again in 2020.

Shows the importance of an independent judiciary.

The attempted name change is more of an election stunt, since the opposition came up with the bright idea of calling themselves INDIA, playing right into BJPs hands.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

EvilBuddha, Bharat is part of the BJP name and is integral with their Hindu supremist Hinduta ideology. They have been pushing this for many years, long before their political opposition coalesced behind the INDIA moniker.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Bharat is part of the BJP name and is integral with their Hindu supremist Hinduta ideology.

Bharat is the ancient name for India. Just like Nippon is another name for Japan.

Bharat has nothing to do with Hindu supremacy. The fact is that the Hindutva brigade has appropriated Bharat for their own ends, just like Nazis misappropriated the Swastika for their own agenda.

Westerners who don't know anything better will confuse between the two.

If Bharat is really about Hindutva as you claim, then explain the following please -

BHEL - Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited

BEL - Bharat Electronics Limited

BPCL - Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited

BSNL - Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited

For more companies you can go through the below -

https://www.forbesindia.com/amp/article/news/india-or-bharat-check-out-the-central-governments-psu-list-for-answers/88017/1

Last but not the least, BSG or Bharat Soka Gakkai which is a Buddhist organization and an affiliate of Soka Gakkai International, the Japanese Buddhist organization.

Now you will say that even Buddhists and Japanese buddhists believe in Hindu supremacy.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Interesting. Thank you, editors, for posting this story.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I don't get the rather crazed response in the west (well okay, I sort of understand, in that the Leftist forces are on the backfoot in India, and look set to lose big, for a third time to the rightwing BJP, in spite of all the hand-wringing in the press). But come on. Japanese don't call their country "Japan", nor does China refer to themselves as "China". "Turkey" doesn't want to be known as "Turkey" anymore, either. The list goes on.

The move to decolonize British/Imperialist designated names (bequeathed to Indians with no input from them whatsoever) is an impulse even older than the present political manifestation of "India". Bombay is now Mumbai. Calcutta is now Kolkata, and Pondicherry is now Puducherry. And it's not like "Bharat" is some radical innovation of a name...far from it, as has been explained above. It's older than most nation-states on this earth!

Besides, if it's OK for a woman surnamed "Nehru" to morph into "Indira Gandhi" just because her husband decided to change his perfectly-fine Parsi name, Ghandy, to Gandhi, even though there's no relation whatsoever between the Nehru dynasty and the Mahatma whatsoever, why can't the country also choose its own names to refer to itself?

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Latin 'India', Greek 'India', the region of the Indus River.

Related to old Persian word Hindu.

Much older than English.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The Indians can call their nation whatever they want. 'India' will still be used as 'the English for Bharat'. Just as 'Japan' is used as 'the English for Nihon or Nippon or 日本' and 'Grande Bretagne' is used by the French for Great Britain. Anglophones still use 'The Ivory Coast', which I think peeves the government there who want people to use the French. But Anglophones are not French.

India may have some problems with their domain name suffix if they go the whole hog. .ba is Bosnia and Herzegovina, .bh is Bahrain, .br is Brazil and .bt is Bhutan. Maybe they didn't think that through, eh?

India has been changing the names of towns and cities since independence, causing varying amounts of confusion. It often hasn't been popular with local residents.

It happens everywhere that Nationalists want to cause a bit of aggro. Most places in Wales have an English and Welsh name. The Welsh recently decided that Snowdon would be known by its Welsh name. Unfortunately, only the Welsh can pronounce Welsh names. The tourist industry there wasn't pleased.

Bilingual takes up more space everywhere, but is usually an acceptable compromise, as on the place name boards at the women's world cup in Aus/NZ. But Nationalists tend not to compromise. They just break things and damage stuff.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Bharat has nothing to do with Hindu supremacy. 

It has everything to do with it. The Bharatiya Janata Party, usually abbreviated BJP, which traces its origins to the political wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Hindu nationalist paramilitary volunteer group, is not seeking to erase colonial names but is instead trying to erase India's Muslim heritage and disenfranchising Indias Muslim population.

https://www.npr.org/2019/04/23/714108344/india-is-changing-some-cities-names-and-muslims-fear-their-heritage-is-being-era

https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/india-muslims-marginalized-population-bjp-modi

2 ( +3 / -1 )

It has everything to do with it.

Your tunnel vision is astounding. You have given links to completely unrelated articles.

The Muslim name for India was Hindustan which was dropped 76 years ago at the time of independence from the constitution. But even Hindustan is used locally to refer to India. Some big companies use Hindustan in their name.

There are 2 names for India as per India's constitution and both can be used interchangeably. To drop India altogether will require a constitutional amendment for which BJP doesn't have the numbers. Not to mention the massive protests that will result.

I have given numerous points to show that Bharat, India and even Hindustan all 3 names are used in India locally, but you have not given me even one to show that the usage of Bharat disenfranchises Muslims. Even India is not a Muslim name, the Mughals and the Islamic dynasties that ruled India previously used to refer to it as Hindustan.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The fact that Americans refer to the original inhabitants of their continent as Indians is because of Western supremacy. If the West sees it fit to interfere in India's internal affairs, India should be allowed to do the same.

When Christopher Columbus set out to discover a sea route to India he did not expect that one day Indians in the US will be relegated to second class status.

I suppose that this is the real reason that Modi wants to change India's name to Bharat. When he spent a few years in the US, he would have been shocked to learn that Indians in the US will have to share their heritage with those who have nothing to do with India.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

EvilBuddhaSep. 14 10:44 am JST

When Christopher Columbus set out to discover a sea route to India he did not expect that one day Indians in the US will be relegated to second class status.

I'm going to need some proof if your claim is that south asians are second class citizens. Native Americans, I will admit, have far more challenges, but Christopher Columbus would have and did set out brutalizing them, so I'm not sure he would be terribly surprised.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"In actual fact, Columbus did not discover North America. He was the first European to sight the Bahamas archipelago and then the island later named Hispaniola, now split into Haiti and the Dominican Republic. On his subsequent voyages he went farther south, to Central and South America."

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'm going to need some proof if your claim is that south asians are second class citizens.

When Americans refer to Indians they are actually referring to Comanche, Sioux, Navajo, Apache, Cherokee, Mohicans and the likes.

The actual Indians from India who migrated to the US were referred to as dot Indians until someone decided its racist, so they are now referred to as Indian-Americans, not American Indians. This might have caused a lot of confusion to Modi (who doesn't have a formal education) when he lived in the US for some years. I think this is when he decided that he will go about changing the name of India to Bharat.

If some Americans (who don't know much about the rest of the world, there are enough Youtube videos proving it) think that the name of Bharat is because of Hindu supremacy, it’s the direct result of Western supremacy due to which Indians have been relegated to second class status in the West.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

EvilBuddhaToday 05:30 pm JST

If some Americans (who don't know much about the rest of the world, there are enough Youtube videos proving it) think that the name of Bharat is because of Hindu supremacy, it’s the direct result of Western supremacy due to which Indians have been relegated to second class status in the West.

If you are getting your info from Youtube, I think you need to up your sources a bit. Considering only 8% of Indians complete a college education, I would say they probably don't know much about the rest of the world either.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Considering only 8% of Indians complete a college education, I would say they probably don't know much about the rest of the world either.

That's true but not related to the topic of discussion.

The topic here is the name change from India to Bharat (something which will never happen anyways, and its not even necessary because India has 2 names as per its constitution and that means dropping one of the names permanently) on which some 'expert' commentators thought it fit to reveal their ignorance by postulating that its an outcome of Hindu supremacy.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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