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Where does the name Bharat come from?

In most democratic countries, special parliamentary sessions are only called in times of crisis and are preceded by a vigorous national debate.

In India they are called for no previously declared reasons and are preceded by a vigorous national guessing game. 


One of the most notable features of the Modi regime is how secretive it can be. Nobody --- outside of a small, tight circle around the Prime Minister ---- knows what is happening at the highest levels of government or what is being planned. It is okay to keep the press guessing but the unique feature of this government is that even most ministers have no clue of what to expect. 
   So the call for a special parliamentary session has left so-called BJP insiders as puzzled as the rest of us. Political reporters who have never got a single thing about the Modi government right —not the timing of reshuffles, not demonetization; not the selection of Presidential candidates --- engage in feverish, if ignorant, speculation while the rest of us wait to see what is coming. 
   At present, the speculation is that the session will be used to pass bills calling for simultaneous elections at the Centre and the State, or for Women’s Reservation Or even that a Uniform Civil Code will be introduced. 
   Any of those things may still happen. But the latest bout of speculation now says that the government may use the session to change the name of India. 
   I am not sure how this would work. The Constitution provides for the use of both Bharat and India. So what can parliament do? Ban the use of India? That would require a two thirds majority in both houses and ratification by states. This is not easy to do. 
   And besides, would you need a special session if all you wanted was to declare that you preferred Bharat to India when the Constitution lets you use both? 
   The speculation has been fuelled by official invitations that refer to the “President of Bharat” rather than the “President of India” as is the normal practice. Similarly some documents now refer to the “Prime Minister of Bharat” rather than ‘Prime Minister of India’. Little things like this provoke a Pavlovian response from BJP leaders who rush to hail the switch to Bharat, though, given past precedent, it is not clear whether they have been asked to start tweeting this or whether they are merely anticipating what might happen. 
   The Bharat vs India discussion is not new. Till recently it has always been the BJP that celebrates the use of India over Bharat. LK Advani lost his party a General Election by telling us that India was shining. Narendra Modi has launched Make in India and a host of other programmes that used India rather than Bharat. 
   It is the Congress regime that started public sector corporations with Bharat in their names: BHEL, BEML, BPCL, BDL etc. When Rajiv Gandhi launched his predecessor to Advani’s ill-starred India Shining, he called it Mera Bharat Mahaan. And more recently, Rahul Gandhi went on a Bharat Jodo Yatra. 
   And yet, social media is full of halfwits telling us Bharat is the real name of our country and that India was a name given to us by the British. 
   Of course this is nonsense. The name India goes back to the times when the British were still living in the trees. It dates back thousands of years when the people of India were known as the people who lived near the Indus river which was called Sindhu, leading to our people being called Hindus. The same root gave us India. Thousands of years ago, Ptolemy’s map referred to our country as India and Alexander the Great had no doubt he was headed for India. 
 "We usually refer to India in English and Bharat when we speak Hindi. That way both names get equal respect." 
   So, why drag the British into it? If the RSS wants freedom from the legacy of Alexander the Great, and wants to end the pernicious influence of such Greek gods as Zeus, Apollo and Aphrodite over us then yes, the demand for Bharat may make a certain amount of sense. But otherwise, the name India is no affront to Hindu pride. 
   Where does the name Bharat come from? The word itself has ancient origins. In the Ramayana, Rama’s brother was called Bharat. The Rig Veda refers to the Bharat clan which won a historic battle in 1000 BC. There is also a Bharat in the Mahabharata from a clan which rules over a kingdom called Bharat Varsha. 
   As the writer Devdutt Pattanaik points out, there is also a Jain Bharat, the son of the first Tirthankara. Pattanaik suggests that the name Bharat for India is a Jain coinage because the name Bharat (as a descriptor for the country) was first inscribed in a cave in Odisha in 100 BC by the Jain King Kharavela. 
   Obviously, our country cannot have been named after all of these people. But yes, the name Bharat is ancient and has been used in various centuries to refer to different individuals, clans and regions. 
   When the Constituent Assembly met in 1948, some speakers (many of them learned Brahmins) asked that India be called Bharat. It was decided eventually that the Constitution would recognize both names by using ‘India that is Bharat’ which is how it has remained through the decades. 
   Attempts to use Bharat exclusively have been repeatedly rebuffed. In 2015, the BJP government, headed by Narendra Modi, told the Supreme Court that there was “no change in circumstances since the Constituent Assembly debated the issue to warrant a review”. In 2020, the Chief Justice SA Bobde dismissed a PIL seeking to prefer Bharat to India. 
    The way it has worked is that we use both names. We usually refer to India in English and Bharat when we speak Hindi. That way both names get equal respect. 
   That doesn’t stop votaries of Hindi from pressing the point. In 2004, UP Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav introduced a (rather pointless) resolution to change the Constitution to say, “Bharat which is India”. It was the BJP which walked out in protest and with the opposition out of the House, Mulayam got the resolution passed ---- though of course, it had no practical significance or purpose. 
   Given this background and given that there is no Constitutional bar to using Bharat in official communications, why are BJP supporters so excited about a theoretical name change? 
   Could it be, as the opposition has suggested, that the BJP is so annoyed by the opposition alliance naming itself India this is a knee-jerk response? I find that hard to believe, Narendra Modi is too shrewd and far-sighted to do that. Besides, all the opposition has to do is to call its front “India: A Bharat Alliance.” 
   Could it be, as some have also suggested, that by lying about ‘India’ being a British invention, some BJP supporters want to paint themselves as true Indians while portraying the Opposition as British lackeys? That makes even less sense because it is the Modi government that has been using India for its schemes while the Congress called its biggest recent initiative a Bharat Jodo Yatra. 
   Or could it just be that because the Uniform Civil Code proposal cannot happen so quickly and because One Nation One Election will take time to be implemented, the government just wanted a symbolic resolution for the session? 
   Frankly, nobody outside of the Prime Minister’s inner circle knows. But all of this reminds me of an exchange in the Constituent Assembly quoted by Apurva Vishwanath in the Indian Express. 
   Kamalapati Tripathi, the learned Brahmin leader from UP, went on and on about how Bharat reminded everyone of the past glory of India. 
   Dr BR Ambedkar who was even more learned than Tripathi but certainly no Upper caste leader, responded by asking if this discussion was necessary. “There is a lot of work to be done,” he pointed out. 
   As always Ambedkar said it best. 


  • Joson Manavalan 10 Sep 2023

    A very brilliant analysis. Sir, on the basis of deep historical insight you have distinguished Bharat and India. Constitution permits both Bharat and India. Let political administrators decide not to waste time on such matters, when serious issues like poverty alleviation are there to be sorted out.
    Asatoma Sad-Gamaya
    Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya
    Mrytyor-Maa Amritam Gamaya.

Posted On: 07 Sep 2023 10:40 AM
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