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Bharat or India

From India Today

Name-changing is one of the hobbies of India’s present Prime Minister. I wrote about it a few days back too though rather facetiously: see India, Bharat, Hindustan. The latest issue of India Today has devoted page after page to the PM’s present rechristening. I wish to bring here a few interesting observations from some of those eminent writers in the weekly.

1. Shashi Tharoor

Tharoor argues that “In English, and therefore internationally, our country was referred to as ‘India’; in Hindi and other Indian languages, ‘Bharat’ was our country’s name.” For example: We, the people of India / Bharat ke log. Or The President of India / Bharat ke Rashtrapati.

Tharoor gives us an interesting parallel from Germany. “’Germany’ is Deutschland at home and to all who speak Deutsch (the language we refer to as ‘German’).” Tharoor dismantles the argument that India is a name given by the British colonialists. The “name India has nothing to do with British colonialism: it predates the British presence in India by nearly two millennia. The ancient Greeks and Persians used the term ‘India’ for the land beyond the river Sindhu…”

Towards the end of his essay, Tharoor thrusts “the final clincher: Since our neighbours, the Arabs and the Persians, pronounced ‘s’ as ‘h’, it is also they who called the people across the Sindhu the ‘Hindus’. So if the BJP rejects the name India, they will have to reject the name ‘Hindu’ by the same logic, since that is equally of foreign origin.”

2. Arvind P Datar

Like Tharoor’s example of Germany, Datar (senior advocate in the Supreme Court) gives the example of Japan. Japan is the English name for ‘Nihon’ or ‘Nippon’. “It will be strange and improper if an invitation in English is issued by the Emperor of Nippon or the Chancellor of Deutschland. Indeed, India is the name that has to be used when the communication is in English and in in international meetings.”

Datar’s final paragraph is: “India rightly aspires to be a great economic power and changing our identity to Bharat will not in the least help us become a five trillion-dollar economy or resolve major problems facing the nation. The cost of replacing India with Bharat will be huge with no corresponding benefit. Sadly, replacing India with Bharat only symbolises a special type of nationalism that may pay political dividends but will cost the country dear.”

3. Pavan K Varma

The futility and fatuity of this name-changing is summed up thus by Pavan K Varma, author and former diplomat. “Interestingly, in 2004, when the Mulayam Singh Yadav government in the Uttar Pradesh assembly passed a resolution to rename India as Bharat, the BJP walked out in protest. Is it now reversing its stand because the opposition alliance is called INDIA [The Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance]? Or is it a symbol of cultural reclamation, at the cost of eliminating another equally valid and indigenous narrative of history? Either way, Ananthamurthy’s logic was right: ordinary Indians have long happily accepted both Bharat and India, and also, incidentally, Hindustan. Why reopen this matter?

4. Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd

“The name Bharat stemmed from the Sanatan heritage in post-Vedic times and has caste / racial connotations,” says Shepherd. “The name of the subcontinent, India, is more acceptable as it mirrors our most ancient advancement. It unites all under a common identity – Dravidian, Aryan and Mongoloid races and the teeming agrarian productive masses. Most such productive masses exist now in social categories like Shudra (OBC), Dalit and Adivasis. The name of this country must reflect their contribution too. ‘Bharat’ has no such civilisational significance; it does not encompass the long-existing productive civilisation of this subcontinent.”

As Tharoor pointed out, Shepherd too argues that “The use of ‘Hinduism’ should … be relinquished by the RSS/BJP forces to oppose both Muslims and British rule. An ideal nationalist name for their religion could be ‘Sanatan’. Then the Shudras / Dalits / Adivasis can draw a clear line between them and Sanatans. The concept of Sanatan stands for varna dharma.” 

From India Today

Concluding remark

India Today has many more essays on this topic, written by supporters of Modi’s christening exercise. I chose to highlight a few points that struck me as interesting.


  1. Modi should expend his energy and the country's resources on worthwhile causes.

  2. All sane voices will be drowned in the raucous cries of (faux?) nationalism.

  3. Creative and informative blogs have been posted. Thanks for sharing.
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