At the beginning of September 2023, the world was hit by unexpected news. It was reported that India was going to change its official name. To change the familiar for all India to Bharat. This should happen at a special session of Parliament, which will take place from September 12 to 18, and this issue is already officially on the agenda.
And there is even confirmation that a decision will be taken – Prime Minister Modi is declared for the G20 summit as “Bharat’s head of government” and the country’s president has already referred to his country several times in an official document as “Bharat”.
This is an interesting development. But let us understand where the name Bharat comes from. And why it is so necessary to change the familiar India.
India’s colonial past. Bharat – a free future
There are hundreds of nations and nationalities, hundreds of languages and dialects living in what is still India, and each of them calls the country that is their home in their own way.
And when the British completed their conquest of these territories on the Indian peninsula, they designated them as their colony of India, which literally means “Indus Land” – after the river that flows there and is sacred to the locals. This name still exists to this day – because when India became independent parliament did not change the name. Although the constitution states both India in English and Bharat in Sanskrit.
“India, in other words Bharat, is established as a Union of States” – so says Article 1 of the Constitution of India.
And even now both names are used without any hesitation. And they want to do away with the first one completely.
Also, apart from changing the official name from India to Bharat, it will be necessary to change the name of the country at the UN. This may also take a long time. And, most importantly, it is a change in memory, because most people in the country and the world may use the old name for a long time.
Bharat, on the other hand, is the original name of the country, in the most common language here, Hindi (भारत गणराज्य Bhārat Gaṇarājya). This word originates from the ancient Indian epic, Bharatavarsha (The country, the kingdom of the Bharatas). This was the name of India in ancient times. The word Bharata in Sanskrit also means the land that grows and provides.
Therefore, the motivation of lawmakers is understandable, they want to get rid of the colonial legacy in their name and develop the country as a truly independent state. Although, opposition parties link this to the increased nationalism of the ruling party and the desire not only to rewrite history to suit the political conjuncture, but also to win elections in 2024 on the nationalist rise. The opposition does not want the renaming and calls the decision a mistake.
Now India is indeed growing rapidly and is already number one in terms of population, but there are still many problems related to poverty and it is unlikely that renaming India as Bharat will solve these problems.
Not just India – Bharat
There are many examples in the world when a country has one official name, but in fact inside the country the inhabitants call themselves differently. This is due not only to the peculiarities of the language, but also to political reasons.
For example, Finns call themselves “Suomi” and their country “Suomi”. But for the whole world, they live in Finland, and that is the official name of the country. And Germans do not live in Germany, but in “Deutschland”, but only they call their country that.