India or Bharat?

Since this year’s G20 Summit invites read the ‘President of Bharat’, there has been debate regarding a possible renaming of India. This piece reports on the political context, diplomacy, and implications of the Indian government using ‘Bharat’.

Oct 15, 2023

![Image description: A blank political map of India with bouquets of flowers emerging from the nation borders, surrounded by the tricolor flag. End ID.]( Gilded Cages/Shahd Nigim-india.PNG)
In September, India hosted the 2023 G20 Summit with much pomp and show as G20 president. The invitations signed off the Indian President Droupadi Murmu as ‘President of Bharat’ instead of the usual ‘President of India’. This sparked a long debate on a possible renaming of the country, with both religious and politically motivated objections, and speculations on why the Indian government would choose to do so.
“No one should raise any objections if India is renamed Bharat,” said senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Salman Khurshid on Sep. 8, at a foot rally in Uttar Pradesh, India. BJP, India’s right-wing ruling party, argues that since both the words ‘Bharat’ and ‘India’ exist in the constitution, the two may be used interchangeably. Khurshid’s support, and that of other BJP leaders, came before the Indian Parliament hosted a Special Session from 18 to 22 Sep. There is still secrecy over what the agenda of the meeting was, with increased speculation about whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government brought the resolution to change India’s name to ‘Bharat’.
‘Bharat’, a Sanskrit word that is the country’s official name in Hindi, is mentioned in Article 1 of the Constitution. ‘Bharat’ is also used in India’s national anthem, the words of which — ‘Bharat bhagya vidhaata’ translating to ‘Thou dispenser of India's destiny’ — have been repeatedly quoted by many BJP leaders in support of renaming India. The decision is being hailed as a power move against the country’s 200 year-long history of British colonial rule.
However, the name is also notoriously Hindu-centric, in line with the BJP being India’s most prominent Hindutva or Hindu nationalist party. In 2018, PM Modi changed the name of ‘Allahabad’ – a prominent host city for the largest Hindu religious festival in the world, the Kumbh Mela — to ‘Prayagraj’. This reflected a growing trend in the Indian government’s Hindu-centric politics. Muslim citizens, the largest religious group in India after Hindus, have become increasingly concerned about these renamings being more about erasing Muslim heritage rather than overcoming a colonial past.
There are also other internal objections to the renaming. Shashi Tharoor, a prominent left-wing politician and diplomat, said on X on 5 Sep. that “While there is no constitutional objection to calling India “Bharat”, which is one of the country’s two official names, I hope the government will not be so foolish as to completely dispense with “India”, which has incalculable brand value built up over centuries.” Opposition parties have expressed disapproval at how the G20 summit’s success is being used to push Modi’s political agenda. It is being hailed as a geopolitical victory for his government, BJP. Still, internal opposition is strong — in July this year, 26 opposition parties formed the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) to defeat Modi’s government in the upcoming 2024 elections. ‘Bharat’ could be the BJP’s retaliation against the INDIA alliance.
This is not the first time PM Modi has made such a sudden political move. In 2016, Modi announced the famous 5 year long demonetisation movement in India, that dealt a shocking blow to the country’s corrupt systems. As for the renaming being a case of religion-motivated politics, those aren’t unfamiliar to the BJP government either. On 16 Sep., Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Indian government of abetting in the killing of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada. Although India has denied the allegations, tensions and speculations remain.
Whether India will be officially renamed to ‘Bharat’ will depend on Modi’s ability to overcome the rampant religious and political objections, and explain the real motive behind the government’s actions.
![Image description: The G20 invite sent by the 'President of Bharat', Narendra Modi. End ID.]( Gilded Cages/g20_bharatsummit.png)
Tiesta Dangwal is Senior Opinion Editor. Email them at
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