SEPTEMBER 5, 2023
NEW DELHI: President Droupadi Murmu’s invite to G20 delegates for a dinner along with an official communication identifying Narendra Modi as the “Prime Minister of Bharat” sparked speculation on whether the government was moving to drop “India” as the country’s name.
This was not the first time that the government favoured use of Bharat. It transpires that the MEA had used “Prime Minister of Bharat” in protocol documents as the official description to identify Modi during the PM’s visit to South Africa and Greece but this went unnoticed.
This time, there was no way it could have escaped attention as the preference for Bharat appeared to be by design.
It was education minister Dharmendra Pradhan who first made it public. “This gives great satisfaction to the mind. ‘Bharat’ is our introduction. We are proud of it. The President has given priority to ‘Bharat’. This is the biggest statement to come out of the colonial mindset,” he said on X. His social media handle was deluged with endorsements when he also posted the “Bharat Bhagya Vidhata” line from the national anthem along with a screenshot of Murmu’s invite.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra soon shared an official communication on Modi’s visit to Indonesia in which he was referred to as the “Prime Minister of Bharat”, making it clear that Murmu’s dinner invite was no one-off improvisation.
While all this — and the proposed five-day special session of Parliament — gave rise to the possibility that the government was making a serious effort to substitute “Bharat” for “India”, there was no clarity about how and when the government plans to transform the idea into practice.
BJP and senior members of the government welcomed the message sought to be put across through the embrace of “Bharat” in official communications — Bharat figures in many of the G20 documents too. However, they appeared to be in the dark about how the switch was going to happen.
The preference for the Sanskritic “Bharat” over “India”, a foreign coinage that got grafted on to India during British rule, is in sync with the decolonization project, one of the five vows, the “Panch Pran”, that the PM pitched for in his Independence Day address last year.
The parentage of the bias can also be traced to Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, founder of Bharatiya Jan Sangh as the BJP was known originally, who pushed for the country to be named so during the debate on the subject in the Constituent Assembly.
Significantly, the special session of Parliament, to be held in the new building, will coincide with the anniversary of Bharat’s embrace in the Constituent Assembly as the country’s name after Mookerjee batted for it.
The government is yet to announce the agenda for the special session starting on September 18 and the bias for Bharat led many to wonder if name change could be on the table. Sources, however, refused to confirm, pointing to the difficulty in dropping India from the Preamble as it would entail a constitutional amendment to be carried out by “super majority” that would include ratification by at least half of the states.
They, however, said that as a first step, the government could start using “Bharat” as the country’s description in all communications by a government order.
The first step in that direction was taken when the proposed bills to replace IPC, CrPC and Evidence Act were named Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita and Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, sources said, adding that the Rashtrapati Bhavan invite and the official description of Modi in the communication on his visit to Indonesia could have been intended to put across the message to the world at large.
For the BJP, this marks another moment of triumph and a step towards what it considers to be liberation from the colonial past.
References to the country as “Bharat”, with its roots in Sanskrit and Prakrit, are commonplace in south Indian languages also and this is expected to be a buffer against any “Hindi imposition” charge. “The country that lies north of the ocean and south of the Himalayas is called Bharatam; there dwell the descendants of Bharata,” minister of state for external affairs and also culture Meenakshi Lekhi wrote on X, quoting the reference from Vishnu Purana.
Confirming that Bharat has been used as the country’s name in some of the documents relating to G20, sources said it was a conscious decision. “Bharat is the official name of the country. It is mentioned in the Constitution as also in the discussions of 1946-48,” a booklet prepared for G20 delegates said.
The booklet titled “Bharat The Mother of Democracy” also said, “In Bharat that is India, taking the consent of the people in governance has been part of life since earliest recorded history.”