Bharat vs India? Prime Minister of Bharat, is it serious or is it a joke? 

Did Jinnah want the name ‘India’ because territory around the Indus was in Pakistan? Did Indonesia want Indian Ocean renamed as 'Indonesian' Ocean?  

Prime Minister of Bharat Narendra Modi? (photo: Getty Images)
Prime Minister of Bharat Narendra Modi? (photo: Getty Images)

AJ Prabal

The childish controversy over ‘India vs Bharat’, fuelled by a breathless media and clueless ministers, has entertained the nation for the past 48 hours. BJP ministers have typically reacted like college boys in asking petulantly, "Who is opposed to Bharat? What is wrong with Bharat? Are we not citizens of Bharat and are we not ministers of Bharat sarkar?" Some with intellectual pretensions have advised questioners to look up the Constitution or to read up history. 

To put the record straight, the controversy was not triggered by the name. It was sparked by the juvenile departure from convention. Not only the very first article in the Constitution which says, “India, that is Bharat, is a union of states” but throughout the Constitution it is ‘India’ not Bharat that is used. Even the Hindi version of the Constitution, authenticated by the Constituent Assembly, reads, “Bharat arthat India”, signifying that the two names are interchangeable in translation. 

So where was the need for Rashtrapati Bhavan to issue a dinner invitation in English on behalf of the ‘Rashtrapati of Bharat instead of the conventional ‘President of the Republic of India? In Hindi, the President has always been addressed as “Bharat ke rashtrapati”, and most Indians are comfortable using India in English and Bharat in Hindi.  

To add to the comedy of errors, the Prime Minister of Bharat left on Wednesday to attend the ‘ASEAN-INDIA Summit’, announced a government booklet in English. The crux of the controversy lies not so much in the name as in the timing and the abrupt departure from convention with no convincing reason. 

One suspects the union ministers themselves are completely clueless. Even external affairs minister S. Jaishankar, interviewed by Asia News Network (ANI) editor-in-chief Smita Prakash on Wednesday, could only mumble, “India, that is Bharat — it is there in the Constitution. I would invite everybody to read it... When you say Bharat, in a sense, a meaning and an understanding and a connotation that comes with it and I think that is reflected in our Constitution as well." 

Made complete sense? The question to ask Mr Jaishankar was, why the present invitation in English has departed from past invitations in English, and why the break from a seven-decade-old convention. One does not know if the question was asked and if so, what the answer was. The other obvious question would have been if the name INDIA conveyed a different ‘meaning, understanding or connotation’.  

Mr Jaishankar could also have been asked to comment on reports that Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was opposed to the name ‘India’ being appropriated by the Congress. Jinnah apparently felt that India referred to the territory around the Indus river, which largely went to Pakistan.  

Forced to defend the sudden switch, BJP leaders and the IT cell went overboard, trying to find fault with ‘India’. BJP MP Harnath Singh Yadav told PTI, “Oxford dictionary describes 'India' as inhabited by poor, uneducated people. The Britishers deliberately linked people of 'slave' countries with the word 'Ind' or 'India'.”   

Conspiracy theories suggest that the government is planning to jettison the ‘colonial’ name of the country. Such speculation has been fuelled by the mysterious five-day special session of Parliament convened on 18 September, the same day on which, in 1949, the Constituent Assembly had adopted article 1 of the Constitution after considerable deliberation.

The post on X (formerly Twitter) by parliamentary affairs minister Prahlad Joshi announcing the special session ended with the phrase ‘Amrit Kaal’ and significantly, the invitation from Rashtrapati Bhavan was issued barely two days after RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat called upon Indians to switch to ‘Bharat’.

The union government, however, had told the Supreme Court in 2015 that it had no plans to change the country's name. The country is known as both India and Bharat, the court was told, and article 1 of the Constitution said as much. A similar PIL in 2020 was junked by the Supreme Court.  

Changing the name of the country will require a Constitutional amendment and possible ratification by states. A resolution in Parliament is not enough.  

Admiral Arun Prakash (retd) reacted to the controversy by recalling that in the 1960s, President Sukarno of Indonesia took exception to the name Indian Ocean and decided to rename it as 'Indonesian Ocean'. The idea was eventually dropped but more recently, Beijing declared that 'Indian Ocean is not an ocean of Indians'. "Do we then yield our claim to the only ocean in the world named after a country: the Indian Ocean?” wondered the admiral. 

A change of name from India to Bharat would unleash chaos and put an end to the enormous brand value that India enjoys across the world, warn commentators. But will a Prime Minister who demonetised 83 per cent of the currency in circulation and imposed a harsh and hasty lockdown shy away from a similarly senseless decision is the question.

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