Recently, there has been a lot of excitement over the fact that India may change the country’s name to “Bharat”. In September 2023, Indian President Murmu issued a dinner invitation to the leaders attending the Group of Twenty (G20) New Delhi Summit in the name of “Bharat President” instead of “President of India”. At the same time, during the summit, the seat sign of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also read “Bharat” instead of “India” as before. Although the idea of changing the country’s name has always existed in India, this “big move” has triggered widespread speculation from the outside world as to whether the Indian ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), intends to “get serious” about it. India’s “country name dispute” involves complex factors at multiple levels such as language, culture, and history. Some people believe that this is just a word game, but others believe that there is a more profound political intention hidden behind this attempt.
India is “Bharata”?
As the famous Indian scholar Chattopadhyay said, most contemporary Indians have been indoctrinated with the concept that their country is the “land of Bharat” since childhood. As early as the 19th century, the identity of “India” and “Bharata” had been established, both in Indian historical writing and social concepts. It is based on this understanding that the “Indian Constitution” promulgated in 1950 states at the beginning: “India is Bharat and will be composed of states.” For many Indians, “Bharat” means India, and India is “Bharat”, but generally when using English in international situations, the word “India” is used.
However, if these two terms are truly equivalent, then the statement “India is Bharat” in the Indian Constitution would be redundant. In fact, this statement was the result of a compromise between India’s founding Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the “Father of the Indian Constitution” Ambedkar after a fierce struggle with conservative forces at the Constituent Assembly. A widely circulated theory is that “India” and “Bharat” have different origins. This argument holds that the word “India” defines the country from an external perspective. It was first used by “foreigners” to refer to the land south and east of the Indus River (in today’s Pakistan). After modern times, it was used by the British and other Western countries. Colonists use it to define the South Asian subcontinent they rule, and it carries a mark of shame. The word “Bharata” comes from ancient Sanskrit documents and is India’s name for itself. It has no colonial overtones and better reflects India’s national self-esteem and long history. Tradition. Therefore, various Hindu nationalist organizations have long not only used “Bharat” to refer to India in external propaganda and internal documents, but have also been pushing for the word to completely replace “India” in official and international occasions. In both 2016 and 2020, the Supreme Court of India received petitions to change the country’s name. Although they were unsuccessful, the Bharatiya Janata Party government has increasingly used “Bharat” in public.
In fact, the renaming of place names and landmarks in India with obvious Muslim or British colonial overtones for the same reasons of “de-exoticization” and “decolonization” is a project that has been ongoing for a long time. For example, the landmark Victoria Railway Station in Mumbai, built at the end of the 19th century and named in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne, was renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Railway Station in 1996; in 2018, it was built by Mughal Allahabad, the southeastern city of Uttar Pradesh in India founded by Emperor Akbar of the Child Dynasty, was renamed “Bhalayaga” and so on. It is also worth mentioning that in July 2023, 26 major opposition parties, including the Indian National Congress (Congress), the Trinamool Congress, the Dravidian Progressive Alliance, and the Communist Party of India, formed the National Development and Inclusion Council of India. Alliance, referred to as INDIA. The alliance will challenge the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Indian Party in the new general election in India in 2024. Its special name not only symbolizes the strong legitimacy that the opposition party is trying to give itself, but also contains the relationship between “India” and the Indian people. The party means “a decisive battle”. Currently, the pre-election game between the two camps is in full swing. Therefore, this time the BJP government sent a signal to the outside world to use “Bharat” instead of “India” to refer to the country, which may also be an election strategy.
However, it is a relatively superficial approach to distinguish India and “Bharata” only by the “internal and external distinction” of the origin of words. From a geographical, cultural and political perspective, the biggest difference between the two terms is that India refers to a political entity under the modern world system and a bounded territory controlled by modern legal and political systems; while “Bharat” cannot completely Defined by constitutional provisions and geographical boundaries, it is an “eternal state” immune to political changes and is touted by Hindu nationalists as a great tradition that is independent of universal rules and able to exist and perpetuate itself.
There is also a philosophy behind the name “Bharata”, which is that India should define its borders based on its historical cultural scope. As the US Rand Corporation report put forward when evaluating India’s strategic thinking, when constructing self-identity, Indian nationalists hope to draw nourishment from history. However, due to the lack of a unified and large political entity in India’s history, India’s politics Military history is not as compelling and cohesive as its culture. Therefore, Indian nationalists had to turn to cultural nationalism. The name “Bharat” reflects this, that is, they believe that India’s continuity, greatness and uniqueness come first from culture. Therefore, “Bharat” is a more effective way to express India’s national unity than “India”. The Indian jurist Kanai once said that although the territory of India has been under the rule of different dynasties or regimes since ancient times, “since ancient times, the great kings and people have been eager to put the entire ‘Bharata Land’ under ‘Under the same umbrella'”. This means that India is inherently unified due to the same social norms and cultural atmosphere. This concept has also become one of the ideological cornerstones of India’s assertion of territorial integrity in its struggle for national independence in the 20th century.
It is worth noting that related to this concept of “Bharat”, which symbolizes cultural boundaries and unity, there is another concept – “Indivisible Bharat” (Akhand Bharat). This is a concept strongly advocated by Shavekar, the main theoretical contributor to Hindu nationalism, that is, “from Kashmir to Rameswaram (the southeastern island of Tamil Nadu in South India), from the Indus River to Assam , India must remain one and indivisible”. In other words, the cultural identity of the South Asian subcontinent itself means strategic and political unity, and the division of the subcontinent into different countries is an “abnormal” state under the influence of external forces. One of the supreme goals of Hindu nationalists is to restore “Bharat” to the way it was before “Partition”, so that Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and other countries can reunite to form a “Greater Bharat” The country, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the “parent organization” of the Bharatiya Janata Party, even defines August 14 every year as the “Indivisible Bharat” Day. The BJP government once downplayed the concept in elections and propaganda because it offended neighboring countries. However, on May 28 this year, the new Parliament Building of India was unveiled, and a mural depicting “Indivisible Bharat” openly appeared inside the building. Judging from the map depicted in the mural, it even involves part of China’s Tibetan territory. From this, we can see that behind the concept of supporting a country’s renaming on the grounds of “decolonization” and “de-exoticization”, there are actually deeper political motives and geopolitical ambitions hidden. Although senior officials of the Indian Party tried to clarify that the dispute over the name of the country was not on the agenda of the Indian government after causing an uproar during the G20 summit, at the same time, Indore, an important city in the northern Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, had passed the name of India in all official documents. The motion to change the name to “Bharat” is by no means an isolated case.
A country’s name often reflects its identity and the way it is conceived. The dispute over India’s name is the result of the intertwining of various complex factors at home and abroad. The dispute will continue to affect India’s domestic and foreign affairs. We still need to observe how India envisions itself today.