The media is in a frenzy over the speculation of India being renamed ‘Bharat’ in the near future. The excitement is more because the G20 Summit is round the corner, invitations sent out by the President read Bharat (not India) and agenda for the Special Session of Parliament called for (September 18-22 – shifting to New Parliament Building on second day) is a guarded secret more than the CIA operations in Ukraine.

The Constitution caters for both names of India and Bharat. Over the years many cities and places have been renamed. Cawnpore to Kanpur, Indhur to Indore, Panjim to Panaji, Poona to Pune, Simla to Shimla, Trichinapoly to Tiruchirapalli, Benares to Varanasi,  Waltair to Visakhapatnam, Tanjore to Thanjavur,  Jubbulpore to Jabalpur, Ootacamund to Udhagamandalam, Calicut to Kozhikode, Cochin to Kochi, Trivandrum to Tirivanthapuram, Baroda to Vadodra, Bombay to Mumbai, Madras to Chennai, Calcutta to Kolkatta, Gauhati to Guwahati, Allepey to Alappuzha, Mysore to Mysuru, Mangalore to Mangaluru,   Pondicherry to Puducherry, Gurgaon to Gurugram, and Allahabad to Prayagraj. These are only few examples.   

The government could have appointed a Committee to decide on renaming cities and places holistically once for all. Not doing so was perhaps because exciting the voters before individual elections was considered the better option.

By the 9th century, Old English literature mentioned “India”, and by the 17th century, the term had comfortably nestled into Modern English. Ceylon shed its colonial name in 1972 and became Sri Lanka. Myanmar followed suit in 1989, changing from its colonial name of Burma to Myanmar. So why have we not changed the colonial name of India to Bharat or Hindustan, especially when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Iran in May 2016, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani referred to India as “Hindustan”?

One reason could be that according to mythologist the word India comes from the Sanskrit word Sindhu, specifically Indus River that passes from India into Pakistan – from Sindhu comes the name Sindhudesha. In 5th Century BCE, Greeks began using this nomenclature for referring to the land beyond the river. The second reason could be Pakistani claims they are the “true India” because: the cradle of sub-continental civilization sprang from Mohenjo Daro and Harappa which is in Pakistan; percentage of the Indus River basin in Pakistan is larger than in India; Pakistan has a Province of Sindh synonymous with Sindhudesh.

At the same time, if we maintain that India is of colonial origin and Bharat signifies our ancient mythological roots, then why not go back to the same roots and rename Delhi (old or new)? Delhi was named after Raja Dhilu who reigned in the region in 1st Century BCE. So, why not put up posters to greet the G20 delegates reading: “Welcome to New Dhilu”.

Many theories are circulating about why the call for ‘Bharat’ now. One reason given is the opposition getting together under the banner of I.N.D.I.A. But this appears illogical because Bharat versus I.N.D.I.A. should not make much of a difference to the existing situation. Another theory is that since both India and Bharat can be used in official language, the commotion is deliberate to divert attention from the cover-ups in Ladakh and Manipur. And, for the same reason the PM’s advisers recommended he goes vocal on China and Pakistan not participating in the G20 meets in Srinagar and Itanagar although these events were held in March 25 and September 10 respectively and non-participation of China in Itanagar and Pak-China in Srinagar mentioned prominently in media. 

A third theory is that the government is using a combination of the 36 stratagems of ancient China to scare the opposition in conjunction with One Nation One Poll (ONOP), like: make a sound in the east, then strike in the west; create something from nothing; stomp the grass to scare the snake; disturb the water and catch a fish.  

Then there is also speculation that the dictum for ‘Bharat’ has been issued by Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief who supposedly has the remote control to run the present dispensation. He is believed to be having a hold on the prime minister – similar to what a MP of the ruling party tweeted saying Chinese President Xi Jinping is using to blackmail Prime Minister Narendra Modi

In fact, in the backdrop of Modi’s repeated calls of ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’, the same MP has gone on record to say that Modi can’t go much after the Gandhi family because he fears similar expose in retaliation. His tweet reproduced here:

These days there is plenty of talk in the media about the Global South.  But with the ruling party at the Centre not having much sway in the south, the present discussion over ‘Bharat’ appears to have increased the north-south exchange of barbs within India, The report of the 16-member committee set by the Ministry of Culture in 2000 to study the origin of our civilization going back 12,000 years has not been made public. But this is being viewed by the south as an attempt to down the Dravidians. The south doesn’t appear comfortable with India being renamed Bharat and that origin of the name Bharat came from King Bharat in the Mahabharata era.

One view these days is that dropping the name India and adopting Bharat is about reclaiming our civilization heritage as against India ascribed as the colonial heritage. The counterview is that India portrays a secular country without excessive cultural baggage and is appropriate in the 21st century.

Religion has become centre stage for elections in India in recent years. It is a crescendo as the 2024 General Elections are approaching – what with Stalin’s nonsensical statement and a seer announcing Rs 10 crore for Stalin’s head. But with the intensity and vehement focus about Sanatan Dharma, fears are being expressed that, forget non-Hindus, even Hindus following Arya Samaj may be eventually rated third rate citizens who should be exterminated – just like the Ahmediya are being targeted in Pakistan.

The controversy has ushered a series of jokes sprouting on a daily basis. In addition are musings about the heavy expenses that would be incurred if such a name change is affected. But expenses are a redundant issue in India when it comes to winning elections given the lakhs of crores of rupees expended on elections, not to talk of the politicians grinning at you from every page of the newspapers. Americans needlessly lament over donor-based elections in their country. They should learn from India how to make donations “automatic”.

Finally, all this may be just a nautanki, of the many that the public has become used to. But if the government is serious and since name-change would need a constitutional amendment, why not take a cue from how Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greeted Prime Minister Modi in 2016 – take the name “Hindustan”. It goes well with the propagation of “Hindutva” also.

The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal.

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