India’s rulers are apparently unhappy with the country’s name and appear determined to do away with it altogether. They would prefer it if everyone – not just in India but across the rest of the world – used the name ‘Bharat’ when referring to it. Changing India’s name is political madness, amounting to nothing more than a divisive ploy dreamt up by Hindu nationalists for short term gain.
Rumours of an imminent name change have been flying after official invites for the G20 summit asked leaders to join the ‘president of Bharat’ for dinner. Officials also used the term in a handbook – called ‘Bharat, The Mother of Democracy’ – issued to foreign delegates heading to the summit. A further clue came when a senior spokesman for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tweeted that the country’s leader, Narendra Modi, was attending a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Indonesia as the ‘prime minister of Bharat’.
‘Bharat’ is a Sanskrit term for India found in ancient Hindu scriptures, written about 2,000 years ago. The word also means ‘India’ in Hindi. Yet the traditional name ‘India’ also has deep roots, tracing its origins to the river Indus, as well as terms commonly used to refer to the subcontinent for many centuries, stretching as far back as the ancient Greeks.
The problems with the name are not really about any of this complex history though. For Narendra Modi and his acolytes, ‘India’ is simply a name that symbolises ‘colonial slavery’, given to the country by the Raj. Britain, then, is to blame.
This is a blatant rewriting of India’s history and past. In its constitution, the world’s most populous country is known as India and Bharat.