Modi's meltdown over I.N.D.I.A.

Let us allow the prime minister and his minions their little storm in a teacup over the name—it’s a small victory that smells sweet to some of us

I.N.D.I.A alliance (photo: DW)
I.N.D.I.A alliance (photo: DW)

Sujata Anandan

It has been somewhat of fun watching the meltdown of the right-wing ecosystem, including Narendra Modi, over just a name. The Bard once said, “What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

I both agree and disagree: it would indeed smell as sweet, but then it would be just another sweet-smelling flower (of which there are many); it wouldn't be a rose, though, would it?

So, I can well understand the continuing outrage of the Bharatiya Janata Party over the acronym of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance. INDIA now is not so much an acronym as an ethos, and whether you write it as one word or dot the alphabets, ultimately it is India, isn’t it?

The best style guides in the world say names that can be phonetically easily pronounced—like Unicef or Unesco or Who—need not be dotted or capitalised. They should be written as continuous text.

I am sure Modi and his cronies are now afraid that someone in the godi media will soon come upon one of these stylesheets and, sooner rather than later, wish to begin talking of I.N.D.I.A as India—which they cannot for S.T.R.E.A.N.H and strength, however hard all of us may have tried ever since Modi hit upon that new spelling for a very old-fashioned word in the English dictionary.

And do not dismiss the fear, for it is real. Look at the name ‘Sonia Gandhi’, which bothers the BJP so much. How Indian it is, how many Indian women (including some celebrities) go by that name! Then, it is easily articulated, which perhaps many Indian names too are not.

Now, I think that’s why the BJP is so mad at Sonia Gandhi—for not having been named Bianca or Isabella or Chiara or some other equally typically European name that could have helped them to easily set her apart from the rest of us Indians. But 'Sonia’? Oh, god, that’s such an Indian name, so how does one even begin to deny her Indianness when her name, her attire (you see, Modi believes clothes make the person), the customs and traditions she follows all amply demonstrate her Indianness?

Very difficult to convince even the ignorant masses of her non-Indianness then, no?

But it’s not just foreign personal names that are such a bother. Take the name Gandhi, for that matter. The right-wing ecosystem has been trying to convince us for ages that Rahul Gandhi’s grandfather Feroze Gandhi, because of his first name) was actually a Muslim and no Parsi (among whom the Gandhi surname is as common as among Gujarati Hindus).

Of course, the greatest of Gujarati Hindus by the name Gandhi was also the greatest of Indians, indeed the Father of the Nation, and so far no Modi, whether Narendra or Nirav, has been able to surpass the universal appeal of the Gandhi surname.

So one should really understand and forgive one Narendra Modi, prime minister of India, for being peeved that the descendants of Jawaharlal Nehru, his bète noire, chose not to discard the name Gandhi and adopt Nehru instead as their surname.

Of course, Nehru is a unique surname, given to the Kaul family by their neighbours in Kashmir to distinguish them from the hundreds of other Kauls in the country. Jawaharlal Nehru’s grandfather lived in a house beside a canal, and so his descendants became known as 'neher-wale Kaul', eventually shortened to Nehru.

And while that name is distinguished enough, I think Modi is now highly upset that Rahul Gandhi—who in spirit is more Mahatma Gandhi than Jawaharlal Nehru—is being accepted as such by the masses.

A hundred years ago, in 1921, Mahatma Gandhi gave up his western clothes to don just a ‘loin cloth’ (in point of fact, merely a dhoti, but not worn quite the bourgeois way) in solidarity with the poorest of the poor in this country, and even met the King at Buckingham Palace dressed as a fakir.

Now Modi, who tried his best to pass himself off as a fakir (remember the scripted line of 'ek fakiri toh hai aap mein’ at a stage-managed interview before the Indian diaspora?), has simply not been able to shed his Maybach sunglasses, Gucci shoes and Movado watches, let alone his monogrammed suit and designer clothes, to transform thus convincingly.

Yet Rahul Gandhi easily managed that with one white T-shirt and one pair of ordinary khaki trousers—the 21st century equivalent of living like the masses—throughout the Bharat Jodo Yatra, and has been seen many times after in the same garb. So do you blame Modi for being so mad at people saying “Just like Mahatma Gandhi!” when they learn of Rahul Gandhi’s simple tastes and many of them mistake Rahul for being a descendant of the Father of the Nation?

Of course, the BJP IT Cell would have been better equipped to set him apart had he been a ‘Nehru’; but while he is a Nehru by blood, he is also legitimately a Gandhi by birth. No wonder, Modi is so mad about those names.

And so we come to I.N.D.I.A.—or INDIA, or India, as you wish. Many spokespersons of the alliance partners in the early days were stumbling over the full form of the name, but INDIA was easier on everybody’s tongues, not least because Modi himself had popularised it with his Skill India, Digital India, Make in India, etc.

Of course, India is also Bharat, but Bharat now has been deeply associated with the Bharat Jodo Yatra, leaving the BJP to do as they will with Hindustan alone. Remember the RSS cry of ‘Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan’? But they are afraid, are they not, of how soon they might be inundated with reminders that Hindustan is a Persian, perhaps even a Mughal nomenclature for the land beyond the Sindhu river (which now runs through Pakistan). So where does that leave the BJP with its ownership?

I notice that many BJP leaders are struggling to distance themselves from ‘India’, not quite succeeding in appropriating Bharat either. So no wonder Modi equates INDIA with the Indian Mujahideen. But, oh, what about the Indian Institute of Management, Indian Institute of Technology or even the Indian Military Academy? The Indian Navy, the Indian Air Force and the Indian Army? Are these all too, by that yardstick, terrorist organisations? One would really want to know.

So I would like to tell Shakespeare whenever I meet him next: there’s a lot in a name. A character, an ethos, a spirit, a soul, a psyche and, yes, a scent. In the context of India, the nation, that is the scent of unity in diversity, and with respect to INDIA, the alliance, it is the whiff of a defeat for the right-wing forces.

So let us allow Modi his meltdown, please. We have waited nearly a decade for this, after all!

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