Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has replaced the name India with a Sanskrit word in dinner invitations sent to guests attending this week’s Group of 20 (G20) summit, triggering speculation that the name of the country will be officially changed.
Reports suggest, India is likely to be renamed Bharat. Buzz on the country’s name change gained ground after images of the official invite to the G20 Heads of State and ministers for a dinner being hosted by President Droupadi Murmu came to the fore. The invite shows the invite was from “the President of Bharat“.
The name change from “India” to “Bharat” in the formal invite for a global summit, that will see Joe Biden and Rishi Sunak in attendance, could possibly be a hint by the Modi administration that India could soon be renamed.
Several Opposition leaders took to social media to share the invites to the dinner to be held on September 9th, that shed the country’s English name “India”. Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist government is rumoured to be looking to change the name during a special parliamentary session this month amid instances of the removal of the traces of previous governments and leaders, including the country’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, from official landmarks and buildings of national importance.
What is India officially called?
The official name for the country is mentioned in the Indian Constitution as “India, that is Bharat” that “shall be a Union of states”. The Indian Constitution was written and made public in 1951 and the issue had been heavily debated after India gained independence as well, in 1947.
Nehru, also a historian, had said in his book, Discovery of India: “Often, as I wandered from meeting to meeting, I spoke to my audiences of this India of ours, of Hindustan and of Bharata, the old Sanskrit name derived from the mythical founders of the race.” He had mentioned the three most popular names – Hindustan, India and Bharat – with their own roots to the geographical and historical relevance of the country.
All the official documents for the country in English carry the name “India” when referring to the Republic, its ministries, domestic and foreign correspondence, and even while mentioning leaders as Indian leaders. Valid identity cards like passports and voting cards use the term “India” as the official marker of citizenship. The documents published in colloquial Hindi language say “Bharat” instead of “India”.
Where do the names India and Bharat come from?
The earliest records used to identify the country reveal the usage of “Bharat”, “Bharata” or “Bharatvarsha”. These commonly used terms have found a place in the Constitution alongside “India”.
Bharat, a Sanskrit name for the country, comes from ancient Puranic literature and also from one of the two major epics of India – the Mahabharata – in which Indians are believed to be the descendants of king Bharat, a mythical figure Hindus claim had started the Indian race. Many historians believe it dates back to early Hindu texts. The word also means “India” in Hindi.
The name “India” gained relevance when the country was ruled by the British from the late 18th century onwards, and was prominently used in historical maps. After gaining freedom, the country’s new leaders did not do away with the usage, but incorporated it in official documents.
Who is calling for Bharat to be used?
After centuries of the country being known as India outside its borders, the Modi administration is pushing for the name change. This is coincidentally just weeks after the country’s opposition leaders formed an alliance bloc called “INDIA” – short for Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance – in a bid to remove Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from power in elections next year.
Several right-wing leaders of his party cheered on the probable use of “Bharat” as the only official name for the country on Tuesday, after photos widely shared across social media showed an official invite for India’s G20 summit asking foreign dignitaries to join the “President of Bharat” with no mention of India on the card.
Recent media reports about a “special session” of the Indian parliament, coupled with the photo of the invite, have also sparked rumours that BJP is planning to use the rare session to announce its intention to officially rename the country.
Why is it in the news now?
The biggest push came after the opposition rebranded itself as “INDIA” and claimed it wants to protect democracy and the idea of a united nation that it insists has been attacked by Modi’s Hindu nationalist party amid a sharp rise in attacks against other religious minorities in the country, prominently Muslims.
Right-wing political leaders from Mr Modi’s BJP, however, insist “India” was introduced by British colonialists, is a “symbol of slavery” and argue that a name change is an effort to reclaim India’s Hindu past. Large portions of India’s population, however, follow several different religions. Several of Mr Modi’s ministers have dropped India from their social media bios and replaced it with “Bharat” in the past few weeks.
Since then, some officials in Mr Modi’s party have demanded the country be called “Bharat”, without explaining how official documents, prominent national buildings, hospitals, colleges and universities using “India” in their name will be renamed.