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Is India changing its name to Bharat?

Rumours were swirling last week that the Indian government might be on the verge of abandoning the use of India's English name. This potential move signified a significant step in the government's ongoing efforts to distance itself from its colonial past and cater to its staunch Hindu nationalist base.

The rumours gained traction due to an official invitation for a dinner reception for world leaders at the G20 summit, which took place on September 9 and 10 in New Delhi, which referred to the country’s leader as the “President of Bharat,” the Hindi or Sanskrit rendition of the term “India.”

In the lead-up to the summit, the host city had been welcoming visitors with a vibrant logo that acknowledged the country’s dual official names, “Bharat” in Hindi or Sanskrit, and “India” in English. India’s constitution acknowledges both names, with “India” designated for English statements and “Bharat” for Hindi usage and some right-wing Hindu groups call for Hindustan to be the official name.

Ironically, all these names have historical roots predating the colonial era, with “India” tracing back to the Indus Valley in the northwestern region of the country.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office in 2014, his nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party government has been advocating for the renaming of streets and venues associated with the remnants of the colonial legacy, citing the need to move beyond a colonial mindset.

Supporters argue that the change in name is essentially symbolic, as the meaning remains the same whether it’s referred to as Bharat, Hindustan, or India. They take pride in using their native language for such references. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological progenitor of the BJP, has consistently advocated referring to the nation as “Bharat.”

However, the potential shift has raised questions about how to refer to a person from the country in English, as in Hindi, citizens are often called “Bharati” or “Bharatiyan.”

Critics argue that this move is another attempt by the government to promote Hindi as the national language and advance the agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Indian Constitution recognizes 22 existing languages, but none of them hold the status of the national language.

Two months ago, opposition parties formed an alliance named “INDIA,” which they claim stands for the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, with the aim of ousting the BJP from power in the upcoming elections.

The Indian government has convened a special parliamentary session scheduled for September 18-22. No official agenda has been announced, fuelling speculation that this session might be used to discuss the potential renaming of the country. Nevertheless, certain government figures have categorically rejected these notions, dismissing them as “rumours” propagated by the opposition. Changing India’s name to only Bharat would require an amendment to the constitution which would need to be passed by a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament.

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