The Curious Case of President of Bharat:A Shift in National Identity or a Mere Typographical Choice?
Invitations for a dinner sent by Indian President Droupadi Murmu, referring to herself as the "President of Bharat," have ruffled feathers across the Indian political and social landscape. The invites, sent on the sidelines of the G20 summit, have sparked widespread speculation that the Indian government could be gearing up to officially change the country's name.
A Break from Tradition
Traditionally, invitations from Indian constitutional bodies mention the name "India" when the text is in English and "Bharat" when the text is in Hindi. However, these invitations, despite being in English, broke away from this pattern, igniting speculation over a potential change in the country’s official name. When queried, an official from the President's office declined to comment on the issue.
The Context of Hindu-Nationalism
The conjecture surrounding this issue gains added weight when viewed through the lens of the Hindu-nationalist ideology of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government. Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been proactive in changing colonial names of towns and cities to help India move past what it terms a "mentality of slavery." In light of this, critics have construed the use of "Bharat" in the invites as yet another attempt to impose cultural nationalism.
It's important to note that changing India’s name to solely "Bharat" would necessitate a constitutional amendment. According to the Indian constitution, "India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States." This would require a two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament for a change to be effected. As it happens, the government recently announced a five-day special session of Parliament later this month, albeit without disclosing the agenda, adding fuel to the speculative fire.
What's in a Name?
Both the names "India" and "Bharat" carry historical weight and have existed for more than two millennia. Supporters of the name "Bharat" argue that "India" is a legacy of British colonialism. However, historians counter this claim by stating that the name "India" actually predates colonial rule. It derives from the River Indus, which was called "Sindhu" in ancient Sanskrit, and had been recognized as such by travelers from Greece before Alexander the Great’s Indian campaign in the 3rd century BCE.
Conversely, the name "Bharat" is rooted in ancient Indian scriptures but is believed to have been more of a socio-cultural term than a geographical one. Advocates argue that "Bharat" reflects the essence and unity of the diverse Indian society more accurately than "India."
The Role of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent organization of the BJP, has always emphasized calling the country "Bharat." This aspect adds an additional layer of complexity to the issue, indicating that the shift may not merely be a fleeting consideration but possibly part of a broader agenda.
Implications for the Country
A change of the country’s name would not only impact how India presents itself on the world stage but also likely provoke internal debate on issues ranging from nationalism to cultural identity. For a country that is a melting pot of cultures, languages, and religions, the name it chooses to identify itself by carries considerable significance.
Timing and Political Strategy
The timing of this episode is noteworthy. Just days after the invitation became a talking point, the government announced a special session of Parliament. Although there’s no confirmation, the coincidence has prompted theories that a name change could be on the docket for discussion and perhaps even approval. Members of the government and the ruling BJP have also hinted that the name "Bharat" should take precedence over "India."
While it remains to be seen whether the invitation was a typographical error or a harbinger of a seismic shift in national identity, it has undeniably sparked intense debate. The episode has implications far beyond the dinner tables of the G20 summit 2023 in India, tapping into complex issues related to history, culture, and nationalism. The country watches closely as it wonders if a new chapter in its long history is about to be written or if it's merely a tempest in a teacup.