Can ‘India’ afford to go back to ‘Bharat’?

When the President of ‘The Republic of India’ invites G20 delegates as ‘President of Bharat’, there is bound to be a controversy. The debates in the Constituent Assembly started  on 29th August 1947 and concluded on 26th Nov. 1949, now celebrated as “Constitution Day”. During the debates, no one referred to the country as ‘Bharat’ except during the discussion on naming the country. The country was referred to as India and by some as Hindustan. Since 1950, Bharat  in Hindi and India in English are interchanging names. 

The founding fathers were for  modernity based on science & technology and for a new country in the global setting. Those who rooted for ‘Bharat’ stood by ancient values. For them  ‘Bharat’ instilled a sense of national pride and reinforced rich cultural heritage. ‘India’ accepted by the world got constitutional imprimatur 77 years back and formal approval on the first Republic Day.  

Some  countries have been renamed after independence: Ceylon to Sri Lanka, Dutch Guyana to Surinam, Gold Coast to Ghana, Nyasaland to Malawi, Northern and Southern Rhodesia to Zambia and Zimbabwe respectively, Congo to Zaire, East Pakistan to Bangladesh, Zanzibar to Tanzania, Persia to Iran, Mesopotamia to Iraq, Formosa to Taiwan, Sian to Thailand, Burma to Myanmar, Holland to Netherlands, South West Africa to Namibia.

 Should we follow the thinking of these countries and go back to ‘Bharat’, mainly driven by Vishnu Purana and Brahma Purana? Bharat was mentioned in the Rig Veda as one of the principal kingdoms of Aryavarta. Bharata comes from the mythical Chaktravati Samrat Bharata-son of King Dushyanta and Queen Shakuntala, ancestors of Pandavas and the Kauravas. It is believed that the great emperor conquered and reigned over the Bharat Varsh – Sea in the South and the abode of snow in the North (ocean to the Himalayas). That ‘Varsh’–part of earth includes Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal, Tibet Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Iran, China and Indonesia. 

The river ‘Indus’, earlier known as Sindhu which the Persians referred to as ‘Hindu’ and Greeks as ‘Indu’, gave the current name India. The First reference to India is  to be found in King Alfred’s translation of Orosius – a history of world events written in Latin in the 5th century. The Mughals, who ruled this sub-continent for nearly three centuries, called this country ‘Hindoostan’ – land of Indus, but it is the East India Company that popularized the name India. Hence the belief that  the name India is the vestige of the colonial past. The British parliament enacted the Government of India Act 1858 for transferring power from the East India Company to the King in England. India continued thereafter with the Government of India Act 1919– the Government of India Act 1935, and the India Independence Act 1947. It is believed that Bharat lost out to India due to the colonial rule. Bringing Bharat back would be a dethronement of the colonial past.

In the constituent assembly, there were initial deliberations on 17/11/1948 over the name. Initially, it was ‘India shall be a union of states’. At the instance of G. B. Pant, the debate over the name was deferred. B.R. Ambedkar presented a draft of Article 1, keeping in view the sentiment behind the pride and rich cultural heritage of  Bharat. It read as India that is Bharat shall be a union of States. Babasaheb was clear in his mind that continuity and familiarity among foreign countries needed to be retained. He said India has been known as India throughout history and throughout all these past years. 

A heated debate, which started on 17th September 1949 over the name of the country, took place on 18th September 1949 amidst the pangs of partition. In the post-partition period, Hindustani as a language lost out to Hindi and it was obvious that ‘Hindustan’, which became popular during the Moghul period, would have no place.  H.V. Kamat moved a resolution for Bharat. He claimed Article 1 was clumsily drafted. He said that in many countries India was known as Hindustan and its inhabitants were referred to as Hindus, irrespective of religion. Shet Govind Das said that we should indeed name our country befitting our history and culture. For him, India is of recent origin. Kallur Subharao pitched for Sindhu, Kamlapati Tripati, wanted Bharat that is India. Har Govind Pant stated that people from North India wanted Bharatvarsha and nothing else. Ram Sahai was happy that Bharat would be accepted without any opposition. Seth Govind Das wanted Bharat as befitting our history and culture because it was found in the old Hindu literature. Hargovind Pant went a bit further  “…If we, even then, claim to the word ‘India’ it would only show that we are not shamed of having this insulting world which was imposed on us…”. Those rooting for Bharat brought a clear parochial tinge to the drafting table. 

After a long and heated debate, H.V. Kamat’s resolution was defeated with 38 votes and Ambedkar’s version got 61 votes.  The Ambedkar-led brigade with Jawaharlal Nehru on its side, stood their ground amidst an extremely emotive appeal of the ‘Idea of Bharat’. They would not accept an understanding of Bharat as propounded, which bordered on near communal views undermining the national unity so required in the post-partition period.   They were all preparing for an all-inclusive architecture and the slightest exclusivist overtones could derail the entire exercise. The duality was the outcome of the freedom movement. Article one of the constitution was a clear compromise between forward vision and cultural sentiments. 

The RSS chief wants the country to go back to Bharat.  In Dec. 2012, in the wake of an extremely heinous rape cum murder he said  such crimes hardly take place in Bharat but they frequently occur in India. Perhaps he was referring to Delhi’s Cosmopolitan culture. The Indian Council of Educational Research and Training which prepares school textbooks have proposed the next set of books printed with Bharat.  India is being weaponised as Bharat for a narrow political vision.

Catherine Clementine  Ojha, a world-renowned anthropologist, scholar and author tells us that the reference to Bharat does not refer to a country in the modern sense.  She states that it was a puranic memory of a naturally bounded (sea, mountains). According to her choice of ‘India’ for juridico-political purposes the duality in names was a necessity of that time. 

Change disrupts and brings in chaos. What is the cost of a change of name?   We have not calculated how much it costs to change the Mughal names of Aurangabad and Osmanabad to Sambaji Nagar and Darashiv respectively.   The cost of  Allahabad to Prayagraj in 2018   was about 300 crores Rupees.  Swaziland to Esvantini cost about 60 m US $. Derran Olivier, a South African intellectual property lawyer claims that changing India to Bharat would be about Rs. 14,000 crore. An amount which is equivalent to our country’s spending on food security monthly.  The government of India may have to spend further amounts in building the new brand. Additional amounts would have to be spent by corporate houses and other private individuals for publicity. Why spend to lose a brand value over a symbolic move? 

Hundred of years ago –Shakespeare wrote: “what is in name?” That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet! 

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