Should India be renamed, Bharat?

William Shakespeare had his most celebrated heroine Juliet say in his Romeo and Juliet play, What’s in a name”. “That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.”

But most people wouldn’t agree with Shakespeare in their daily lives. For, a name is the most prominent identity of a person, a family, a caste, a religion or a country. Every name has a history. This was hotly debated in the constituent assembly when India got Independence from British rule. The British called India “India”. Before them, the Mughals, the biggest empire in India, called it Hindustan. After an intense debate, the Constitution accepted two names for the country, India and Bharat. Now, a petition had been filed in the Supreme Court seeking removal of ‘India’ as the name of the country and keeping just Bharat as the solitary identity of the nation.

In The Discovery of India, a book that Jawaharlal Nehru wrote during his years of captivity (1942-1946) and published in 1946 :

Often, as I walked from meeting to meeting, I spoke to my audiences of this India of ours, of Hindustan and of Bharata, the old Sanskrit name consequential from the mythical founders of the race.

When the book was published, these names, Hindustan, Bharat (also Bharata), India, coexisted in the subcontinent. Of the endless usage also was Hind, as in ‘Jai Hind’ (Victory to Hind), the battle-cry that Patel, Nehru other several other political leaders, liked to proclaim at the end of his speeches. To capture these innumerable meanings today is not an easy task. It demands to be conscious of the simple and yet too often forgotten fact that words have a past of their own; they do not maintain the same significance throughout time.

Naming the Nation and Constitutional debates

The constituent assembly debated Article 1 of the then draft constitution prepared under the chairmanship of BR Ambedkar. It was a heated debate that saw sharp exchanges among the members on November 18, 1949 – just eight days before the Constitution was adopted by “We, the people”. The debate opened with HV Kamath, a constituent assembly member from the Central Province and Berar. Kamath opposed the Ambedkar committee’s draft that had two names – India and Bharat.

Kamath projected amendments to Article 1 putting Bharat or alternatively Hind as the primary name for the country and voicing India only as the name in the English language. He listed names such as “Hindustan, Hind and Bharatbhumi or Bharatvarsh” to have been recommended by people.

When Kamath began explaining the origin of the name of Bharat, Bharatbhumi or Bharatvarsh dating it to ancient times. Kamath was strongly opposed to the language of Article 1(1) that says, “India that is Bharat”. Another prominent name to oppose the language was Seth Govind Das, who said, “India, that is, Bharat” are not beautiful words for the name of a country. We should have laid down the words “Bharat known as India also in foreign countries.” Das quoted the Vedas, the Mahabharat, some of the Puranas and the works of Chinese traveller Hiuen-Tsang to say that Bharat was the original name of the country, hence India should not be put as the principal name in the constitution post-independence. He also invoked Mahatma Gandhi saying that the country fought the battle of freedom raising the slogan of “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” asserting that Bharat could be the only plausible name for the country.

Among others who wanted India being named only as Bharat included KV Rao from Andhra Pradesh. Rao went to the extent of suggesting that on the basis of historical nomenclature, Pakistan could be named as Hindustan. Rao emphasized, “we can now call ‘Pakistan as Hindustan because the Indus river is there. Hind has replaced Sind : (Ha) in Prakrit is pronounced as (‘sa)’ in Sanskrit. Greeks pronounced Hind as Ind. Hereafter it is apt that we should refer to India as Bharat.”

At the end, when Rajendra Prasad put the amendments to vote, all fell. Article 1 remained intact as “India, that is Bharat”. However, the debate has continued.

Naming the nation: a sensitive and intricate issue to this day

In 2014, Yogi Adityanath – the current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh – had moved a Private Member’s Bill in the Lok Sabha, seeking substitution of word “India” in the Constitution with “Hindustan” proposing “Bharat” as the primary name of the country. His bill proposed to amend the language of Article 1 as, “Bharat, that is Hindustan, shall be a Union of States.

The Supreme Court wanted  the Centre and the states to comment on a plea demanding change in the name of the country from ‘India’ to ‘Bharat’, in April this year. A 2 judge bench of Chief Justice H L Dattu and Justice Arun Mishra had issued the notice to all state governments and union territories on the PIL which called for restricting the Centre from using the name of India in official papers and for any government purposes.

On June 1, 2020, Niranjan Bhatwal filed a petition, claiming to be a social activist from Maharashtra, said that even the NGO’s and corporates should be ordered to use ‘Bharat’ for all official and unofficial purposes. The PIL detailed that even in the Constituent Assembly, the leading suggestions for naming the country were “Hind, Hindustan, Bharat and Bharatbhumi or Bharatvarsh and names of that kind”.

Among the several questions raised in the PIL were whether the addition of India in Article 1 of the Constitution was just for reference, in order to repeal the Government of India Act 1935, and the Indian Independence Act 1947, where this country had been referred to as India and wanted it to be repealed by Article 395 of the Constitution. Further, it asked whether the addition of ‘India’ was simply referential for de-jure acknowledgement of the country by countries of other parts of the world for political purposes. The PIL also said whether Hindi language extracts of Article 1 Clause 1 of the Constitution signify the same meaning, as it signifies in the English language of the Constitution with respect to establishing the name of the country.

While the government has told the Supreme Court, there is no need to rename India as Bharat. Article 1 (1) of the Constitution lays down that “name and territory of the Union.—(1) India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States”. In its affidavit, the Ministry of Home Affairs has said issues concerning the country’s name have been reflected upon lengthily by the Constituent Assembly during the drafting of the Constitution and there was no requirement for a review.

The Supreme Court on 3rd June ordered that a plea to change India’s name specifically to ‘Bharat’ should be forwarded to the Centre for an appropriate decision.

“Bharat and India are both names given in the Constitution, says CJI.

The apex court had rejected a similar petition in 2016. Then CJI, T.S. Thakur emphasized that every Indian had the right to choose between calling his country ‘Bharat’ or ‘India’ and the Supreme Court had no business to either command or decide for a citizen what one should call his country.

Is there a solution?

The policymaking of naming is part of the societal production of the nation. Its processes are moulded by broad socio-political conditions and can be understood from several angles. The purpose has been to look at some of the inherited discourses on ‘Bhārata’ both prior to and at the time of its official equation with ‘India’ in the Constitution of 1950. In the 19th century, the name Bhārata was used to refer to the geographicalpolitical and administrative entity that the colonial power called ‘India’. That Bhārata—a cultural space whose unity was to be found in the social order of dharma—was a pre-national construction and not a national project.

 At the time of independence, India and Bhārata were equally worthy candidates to bless the newly-born nation, along with ‘Hindustan’. But the first article of the Constitution discarded Hindustan and listed the nation under a dual and bilingual identity: ‘India, that is Bharat’. One name was to be used as the translation of the other as exemplified on the cover of the national passport, where the English ‘Republic of India’ corresponds to the Hindi ‘Bhārata gaṇarājya’, or, possibly, even more, telling, on Indian postage stamps, where the two words Bhārata and India are located. It is possible that all these names will continue to be understood and interpreted with new circumstances, to give new connotations to India’s national identity, a constant, open-ended process.

What are we to make of the comparison of Bharat and India in the Constitution? How did such a double-name plan come about? This is the main question to be dealt with. In the end, we should realise that the Constituent assembly’s decision should be understood as the outcome of a long historical process with deep cultural roots.