Sep 20, 2023 Letters
Speculation is rife in international and Indian media that the Indian parliament could change the name of the country ‘Bharat’ in a special parliamentary session that is being held this week in the new Parliament that was inaugurated last May. The first session in the new parliament will take place on Wednesday.
The last session in the old parliament was held on Monday September 18 with Prime Minister Modi delivering a lengthy presentation with interruptions of applause recounting the history of the parliament over the last seventy-six years with memorable snippets of every Prime Minister going back to Pandit Nehru, the first PM. The ruling BJP has been tight lipped on any name change.
The new parliament lies next to the old parliament which will be converted into office space and a museum (archive) for past parliamentary proceedings. India’s parliament is divided into the Lok Sabha or lower house (543 MPs elected by popular votes in first past the post) and the Rajya Sabha or upper house (245 MPs of who 233 are elected by the legislatures of the various states and union territories; the other 12 are luminaries nominated by the President). The new Lok Sabha can accommodate 888 MPs and Rajya Sabha 384. The size of the parliament could be expanded after the 2024 elections likely in May and June.
If appellation Bharat replaces India in the parliament, it is not really a name change as the very first line in India’s constitution, both India and Bharat are used. India is the English name while Bharat is the Sanskrit name. Sanskrit is the mother of almost all Indian languages and dialects, numbering hundreds, as well as several of the European languages. Sanskrit is also the language of computers. It is a language of specificity – a word has only one meaning unlike English or other languages where a word could have multiple meanings. Computers require specificity.
At last week’s G20 conference in India’s capital, New Delhi, an invitation from President Droupadi Murmu to visiting guests and delegations and Indian VIPs was sent on a stationery that was headlined “Bharat”. India was not on the invitation as in the past. The invitation came from the President of Bharat. Also, when guests and others arrived at the airport, signs made reference to Bharat with India removed from most public places. At the opening summit of the conference, TV coverage showed Prime Minister Modi seated behind a sign that said ‘Bharat’.
India’s ruling party and the President are in favour of changing the name to Bharat. Several sports personalities also are supportive. Cricket icon Virender Sehwag came out publicly calling for the name change. India, he is reported to have stated, connotes British imperialist thinking. Bharat, he said, conjures up pride on “who we are as a people”, adding “it is time that the name is changed”.
Bharat was invaded multiple times with the invaders changing her name. Muslim invaders referred to Bharat as Hindustan – land of Hindus. Nationalists want to reassert the original Sanskrit name. It will not be a name change but dropping India and using only Bharat as was being displayed at airports and the capital at the start of this month.
Many Guyanese used Bharat instead of India in their conversation when referring to India. When the indentured (girmityas) came to Guyana and other parts of the Caribbean, they used Bharat and Hindustan. In Fiji and Mauritius, Bharat is commonly used by Indians. Surinamese Indians still used Hindustan and Bharat. Those appellations were used by second and third generation Indian Guyanese and Trinis who communicated in Bhojpuri, Hindi, and Tamil, the languages of the indentureds or girmityas.
A name change is political and cultural as people want to reassert their identity. The BJP senses political gains with nationalist sentiments. The opposition Congress Party (of the Nehru/Gandhi clan) is opposed to dropping India from the official name to capitalize on gaining support from those opposed to it especially in the Southern states. Shashi Tharoor of the Congress said India “had incalculable brand value built up over centuries.” He urged that the country continues to use both names. Other party members also spoke out against dropping India. A large majority of the MPs in both houses of the legislature support the name change and any bill will sail through parliament. Name change is also resonating among Indians or Bharatiyas in Bharat and the diaspora including among Indo-Caribbeans in America. They feel that India should officially be rebranded as Bharat as does popular opinion in India and Indian Americans and almost every Caribbean Indian person I engaged on the subject. It would reverse a legacy imposed under colonial rule and undo an injustice while also asserting nationalism and true sovereignty.
Names of cities and streets have been changed in India over the last couple decades removing English and Arabic names with Sanskrit or Tamil ones. Name change will impact sporting events. It is expected that if there is only one appellation, then the uniform of the cricket team would be changed for the World Cup that starts at the end of this month. At the just concluded Asia Cup that India won, India uniform was used by the players.
Name change of countries is not unprecedented. Several countries changed their names including Burma, Macedonia, Turkey, Swaziland, and Czech Republic, among others. Also, Iran was previously called Persia. Burkina Faso was Upper Volta. Zimbabwe was Rhodesia. Democratic Republic of Congo was Zaire. Ethiopia was Abyssinia. Botswana was Bechuanaland. Benin was Dahomey. Ghana was Gold Coast. Malawi was Nyasaland.
By the end of the special session this week, the world will know if India will officially be known only as Bharat.
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