HomeIndian AmericanWhy does the Hindu right want to rename India Bharat?

Why does the Hindu right want to rename India Bharat?

The long-running debate about India’s name launched back into prominence on September 5th when English-language invitations for a G20 dinner sent out by India President Droupadi Murmu used the title ‘President of Bharat’ instead of ‘President of India.’

Bharat is the name used for the country in many Indian languages, including Hindi, but India is the typical English name. Both names are co-official in the country’s constitution, a compromise dating from arguments when it was written in 1949 described in the Economic Times.

Conventionally, English-language invites have used the name ‘India,’ while ‘Bharat’ is used in Hindi-language ones. The same convention is followed in the country’s constitution.

These events followed shortly after a speech made by RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat in which he called for the country to abandon the name “India,” according to Yahoo! News.

The BBC reports several ministers from the BJP, India’s rulling party, cheered on the use of Bharat in English-language official titles by the government, but the government hasn’t officially confirmed it’s mulling changing the English name of the country.

However, many in the opposition say the change might be related to their choice of name. Manoj Jha of the Rashtriya Janata Dal party of Bihar state said that “It has just been a few weeks since we named our alliance as INDIA ( the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance) and BJP has started sending invitations with ‘Republic of Bharat’ instead of ‘Republic of India’.”

Indian MP, diplomat and former UN under-secretary Shashi Tharoor tweeted that “We could of course call ourselves the Alliance for Betterment, Harmony And Responsible Advancement for Tomorrow (BHARAT). Then perhaps the ruling party might stop this fatuous game of changing names.”

By stoking controversy over the use of the name ‘India’, the BJP could be aiming to make voters reconsider casting ballots for INDIA by weakening the association between the coalition and the nation. Conversely, with ‘Bharat’ in its name, the Bharatiya Janata Party (or BJP) could be trying to build ties to the national identity by supporting that name.

Supporting the name-change, former Indian cricketer Virender Sehwag posted that “I have always believed a name should be one which instills pride in us. We are Bhartiyas. India is a name given by the British & it has been long overdue to get our original name ‘Bharat’ back officially.”

Speaking to India Today, RSS ideologue Swaminathan Gurumurthy called the name a “British era legacy.”

However, the western exonym ‘India’ doesn’t originate with the British Empire, but much earlier as an ancient Greek loanword based on the Sanskrit word for the Indus river, used by the ancient geographer Herodotus. From ancient Greek, the term made it into Latin and Old English.

Many Indian cities, streets, buildings and institutions were given exonyms by colonial governments and have since been renamed, like replacing Bombay with Mumbai or Calcutta with Kolkata, but the name ‘India’ was applied to the subcontinent long before the British, French or Portuguese empires existed.

Changing the name also raises questions around national identity and language. ‘Bharat’ originates from Sanskrit, part of the Indo-Aryan language family and the ancestor of many northern Indian languages. Though it’s been adopted into some southern Indian languages, other official languages of India don’t use the term, like Tamil or Tantali. Sometimes that leads to ‘Bharat’ being associated with northern Indian dominance, while ‘India’ can be viewed as more neutral ground.

For Indian Americans and others in the diaspora, changing the name of the country away from the conventional English name could also raise issues of identity, leaving those who identify more with ‘Indian’ (and variants like ‘Indian American’) than ‘Bharatiya’ without as clear of a connection to their homeland.

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  1. This is a real hold-my-beer moment for all those who are changing names of institutions. A whole country! Interesting. Thanks for writing – I had no idea about this controversy!


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