Why does India want to change its name to Bharat?

The dinner invitation sent on Tuesday (5/9/2023) by Indian President Droupadi Murmu to the leaders of countries attending the G20 summit in New Delhi attracted controversy for referring to him as "President Bharat", a Sanskrit name that also means India. The question now is "Why does India want to change its name to Bharat?"

The use of "Bharat" in the diplomatic invitation has sparked fears that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government is planning to remove the official use of the country's name.

The Bharat Mandapam G20 venue on September 05, 2023 in Delhi, India. The 18th G20 Summit will take place September 9 - 10, 2023. (Photo: Elke Scholiers–Getty Images) 

The Indian government will also hold a special five-day parliamentary session later this month to submit a special resolution addressing the priority of using the name Bharat.

The abundance of names in India

The language used in Article 1 of the Constitution of India states that "India, i.e. Bharat, shall become a union of states", referring to the naming in both English and Hindi.

India gained its independence in 1947, after nearly 200 years under British rule.

The name Bharat is of Sanskrit origin and its application is not unusual as Bharat and Indian are used interchangeably.  

Also, read: India renamed Bharat in G20 summit dinner invitation.

However, India's opposition parties, which have also formed a new alliance to oppose the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in parliamentary elections to be held next year, said the BJP had made a mistake by proposing that the name India no longer be used.

"While there is no constitutional objection to referring to India as 'Bharat', which is one of the country's two official names, I hope the government will not be so stupid as to completely discard 'India', which has an incalculable brand value that has been built up over centuries," Shashi Tharoor, a senior leader from the main opposition Indian National Congress (INC) party, told AFP. on his official X account, formerly known as Twitter.

"We should continue to use both words rather than relinquishing claims in a name steeped in history, a name recognized around the world," Tharoor added.

Mehbooba Mufti, an opposition alliance partner from the Jammu and Kashmir region, also said that "the BJP's aversion to the basic principle of unity in India's diversity has hit a new low." "By reducing many Indian names from Hindustani and India to just Bharat, shows how cunning and intolerant they are," he wrote in X.

Bharat is a matter of 'national pride

The BJP said that using Bharat, instead of India, would instill a sense of national pride and strengthen the country's rich cultural heritage.

"This should have been done from the beginning. The president has given priority to 'Bharat'. This is the biggest statement coming out of the colonial mindset," Dharmendra Pradhan, a minister in Modi's cabinet, said in a press statement.

Anurag Thakur, India's Minister of Information and Broadcasting, appeared to criticize those who oppose the use of Bharat, saying, "When they go abroad, they criticize Bharat. When they were in India, they objected to the name Bharat."

Last week, Mohan Bhagwat, chairman of the BJP's ideological backbone organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), called on Indians to stop using Indian names and switch to Bharat.

"Our country is Bharat, we should stop using the word 'India' and start using Bharat in all practical areas, only then will change happen. We should refer to our country as Bharat and explain it to others," the RSS chief explained.

The RSS is an umbrella Hindu group that became the ideological inspiration of the BJP, which has worked to transform Indian Hindus from a religious community into a political constituency.

Critics say their goal is to establish Hindu hegemony in the Hindu-majority country and leave minority religions marginalized.

The name change is just a political ploy?

Political analysts claim that the BJP wants to tinker with politics in India to appease its conservative voter base ahead of the 2024 general elections.  

"They are worried about a one-on-one contest in the elections," political analyst Neerja Chowdhury told DW, adding that the BJP was trying to "stir up nationalist sentiment."

This is not the first time the BJP has changed the designation on the use of country names. Since 2014, the party has changed the names of cities and other historical sites in India and rewritten the country's history by renovating historical markers to legitimize its Hindu nationalist ideology.

One example is the recent renovation of Central Vista in the heart of New Delhi. The government transformed the 35-hectare area, filled with iconic heritage landmarks, into a public area with museums and government buildings.  

The renovation, which cost 2.5 billion US dollars (around Rp 38.3 trillion), required the demolition of several buildings and the redesign of several places, such as the Parliament Building, the Presidential Palace, the India Gate, and the War Memorial.  

Critics say the BJP is trying to change some historical memory and remove symbols of British colonial rule.

Removing the use of the word India is not an easy task. Legal experts say that requires a constitutional amendment to be passed by a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament before it is finally ratified by at least half of the states.

Regardless of the Indian Government's desire to change the name, indeed "Why India Wants to Change the Name to Bharat?" is a question in the minds of the world community. And this will open slowly to answer these questions.

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