India’s potential name change to Bharat sparks speculation

Changing the country's name would need a constitutional amendment
India’s potential name change to Bharat sparks speculation
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India attending Independence Day celebrations in New Delhi last month. (Photo Credit: Reuters)

Invitations sent by Indian President Droupadi Murmu, referring to herself as the “President of Bharat,” for a dinner on the sidelines of the G20 summit have sparked speculation that the government may be considering changing the country’s name.

Traditionally, invitations issued by Indian constitutional bodies have mentioned the name “India” in English and “Bharat” in Hindi. However, the G20 dinner invites, in English, referred to Murmu as the President of Bharat.

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Emphasis on Hindi

Given the Hindu-nationalist ideology of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and its emphasis on promoting the use of Hindi, critics have interpreted the use of Bharat in the invites as a push for an official name change.

Over the years, Modi’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has been renaming towns and cities with colonial names.

Official name

In English, the South Asian nation is called India, while in Indian languages it is also referred to as Bharat, Bharata, and Hindustan.

The English version of the constitution’s preamble begins with “We, the people of India…”. In Part One, it states that “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.”

In Hindi, the constitution replaces India with Bharat in most instances. However, there is an exception in the part in Hindi that defines the country’s names. It states, “Bharat, that is India, shall be a Union of States.”

Will the government officially change the name?

Changing the country’s name to Bharat exclusively would necessitate a constitutional amendment. This would need to be approved by a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament.

While there has been no official confirmation of any name change plans, the timing raised suggestions.

The incident comes shortly after the government announced a surprise five-day special parliamentary session later this month, without disclosing the agenda. Speculation has emerged, albeit unconfirmed, that a name change could be discussed and approved during this session.

Historical origins

The names India and Bharat have both been in existence for over two millennia. India appears to originates from the river Indus, known as Sindhu in Sanskrit. Even before Alexander the Great’s Indian campaign in the 3rd century BCE, travelers from as far as Greece identified the region southeast of the Indus River as India.

On the other hand, the name Bharat is even older, appearing in ancient Indian scriptures. Some experts suggest that it was used more as a term of socio-cultural identity rather than strictly referring to geography.

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