It seems that the Indian government wants to change the country name India. An indication of this is an invitation to a dinner on the occasion of the G20 summit in New Delhi next weekend. Photos of the invitation sent out on Tuesday show that guests are being invited in the name of President Droupadi Murmu, “President of Bharat”, not India.
In texts important to Hindus, Bharat is used as a term for the descendants of King Bharata. One of the most important texts of Hinduism is called the Mahabharata, which can be translated as ‘The great story of the Bharata dynasty’. That probably also explains why the current Hindu nationalist government of India places more value on ‘Bharat’.
Legally, in the South Asian country, both ‘India’ and ‘Bharat’ are correct and the names are used interchangeably. Internationally, ‘India’ is common.
The invitation immediately sparked controversy. Proponents and opponents speculate about the consequences of a possible name change. Several Indian media reports that the government will present a proposal to make the name change official at a special parliament session starting on September 18.
Opposition politician Shashi Tharoor hopes the government does not underestimate the brand value of the name India. He says it took centuries to build it. India will hold parliamentary elections early next year. The Tharoor Congress Party leads a group of 26 opposition parties working together under the acronym INDIA, which stands for Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance. The government may therefore now want to get rid of the name India.
Members of ruling party BJP are enthusiastic about a possible name change. India is said to be a slave name, handed over by the British after almost 200 years of colonial occupation. On X, formerly Twitter, a BJP minister from Uttarakhand state writes that every Indian should be proud to see “President of Bharat” on an official invitation.
In India, names of cities and streets are increasingly being changed to erase the colonial past. Thus Bombay became Mumbai and Madras Chennai. Names from an even more distant past, of the Islamic rulers, are also being changed. In Delhi, Aurangzeb Road, which was named after one of the chief rulers of the illustrious Muslim Mughal Empire, was renamed Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road. He was President of India from 2002 to 2007.
That the name India was also imposed by the British, as some BJP members suggest, is incorrect. Along with Bharat and Hindustan, it is one of the names that have been used for centuries to refer to the area beyond the Indus River.
The first article of the Constitution, which was introduced in 1949, states that “India i.e. Bharat shall be a Union of States”. Because the drafters of the constitution could not reach an agreement, both names were included.
On X, opposition politician Tharoor of the Congress party delivers a teasing punch: he points to the opinion of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, who did not understand why the Indian government chose the name India. The BJP government thus continues to propagate Jinnah’s ideas, writes Tharoor – a clear sneer at Prime Minister Modi’s government, which likes to portray Pakistan as the enemy, especially at election time.
Whether we will soon see ‘Bharat’ participating in the Olympic Games instead of India remains to be seen. Both names are now used side by side without any problems. The text on the invitation mainly fueled the discussion about how India wants to be seen abroad and what Indian identity is. It therefore seems mainly a campaign strategy of the BJP government to use the G20 summit for its own political agenda.
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