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Controversy and Constitutional Duality: The ‘Bharat’ vs. ‘India’ Debate
Opposition figures have been circulating images of an official invitation to a G20 dinner, a departure from the usual “President of India” to “The President of Bharat.” This has fueled speculation about a potential name change for the country, switching from India to Bharat. Interestingly, Article 1 of the Constitution already uses both names interchangeably, stating, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.” Furthermore, certain entities such as the Reserve Bank of India and the Indian Railways already incorporate Hindi variants like “Bharatiya.”
In June 2020, the Supreme Court dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that aimed to remove “India” from the Constitution and exclusively retain “Bharat” to help the nation move beyond its colonial past. The Court argued that “India is already called Bharat in the Constitution itself.”
Unveiling the Origin of ‘Bharat’: A Journey Through Time
The historical roots of “Bharat,” “Bharata,” or “Bharatvarsha” can be traced back to Puranic literature and the epic Mahabharata. These sources describe Bharata as the land between the southern sea and the northern abode of snow.
Social scientist Catherine Clémentin-Ojha offers a unique perspective on Bharata as a religious and socio-cultural entity, rather than a purely political or geographical one. In her 2014 article, ‘India, that is Bharat…’: One Country, Two Names (South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal), she highlights that ‘Bharata’ represents a “supraregional and subcontinental territory where the Brahmanical system of society prevails.”
Additionally, Bharata is the name of an ancient legendary king, considered the ancestor of the Rig Vedic tribe of the Bharatas and, by extension, the progenitor of all peoples of the subcontinent.
Diving into ‘India’ and ‘Hindustan’: Names Shaping a Subcontinent
Historical references shed light on the evolution of names in the region. “Hindustan” is believed to have originated from ‘Hindu,’ the Persian cognate form of the Sanskrit ‘Sindhu’ (Indus). This term gained currency with the Achaemenid Persian conquest of the Indus valley around the 6th century BC, coinciding with the time of The Buddha in the Gangetic basin. The Achaemenids used this term to identify the lower Indus basin. Subsequently, the suffix “stan” was added to create “Hindustan.”
The Greeks, influenced by the Achaemenids, transliterated this name as ‘Indus.’ By the time of Alexander the Great’s invasion in the 3rd century BC, ‘India’ had become associated with the region beyond the Indus.
During the early Mughal era in the 16th century, the name ‘Hindustan’ described the entire Indo-Gangetic plain. However, in the late 18th century, British maps began favoring the term ‘India,’ gradually dissociating ‘Hindustan’ from South Asia. This shift may have been influenced by the term’s Graeco-Roman associations and its adoption by scientific and bureaucratic organizations like the Survey of India.
Inscribed in History: The Inclusion of ‘Bharat’ and ‘India’ in the Constitution
Jawaharlal Nehru, in his monumental work ‘Discovery of India,’ frequently referred to the country as “India,” “Bharata,” and “Hindustan.” However, when the Constituent Assembly deliberated on naming the country in the Constitution in 1949, ‘Hindustan’ was discarded, and both ‘Bharat’ and ‘India’ were retained.
During the Constituent Assembly debates, held on September 17, 1949, members were divided on the issue of the country’s name. Some members suggested variations, such as “Bharat, or in the English language, India,” while others advocated for “Bharat known as India also in foreign countries.” There was a sentiment among some members, particularly in Northern India, that “Bharatvarsha” should be the sole name.
Hargovind Pant, representing the hill districts of the United Provinces, argued against the use of ‘India’ due to its association with colonial history. He emphasized that clinging to the word ‘India’ would signify a lack of shame regarding the insulting term imposed on the country by foreign rulers.
Ultimately, none of the suggestions put forth during the Constituent Assembly debates were accepted, underscoring the contrasting visions of the emerging nation. As Catherine Clémentin-Ojha pointed out in her article, these debates reflected the diverse perspectives and aspirations of the budding nation.