Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared at the G20 meetings sat behind a country tag that said Bharat, not India. Is the country set for a rebrand?
Monday 11 September 2023 14:22, UK
Get ready to trade in your globes and take a red pen to the atlas, India could be changing its name to Bharat.
Eyebrows were raised at a recent G20 meeting when India’s President was referred to on a dinner invitation as “President of Bharat”.
Suddenly, in many circles, the question was everywhere: Would the country of more than 1.4 billion people now be called by its ancient Sanskrit name?
Since then, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ministers, his Hindu nationalist supporters, Bollywood stars and cricketers have made similar public proclamations: India should officially be rebranded as Bharat.
The discussion has not been without controversy either, with opposition leader Rahul Ghandi branding the idea “absurd”.
What does Bharat mean?
So what does Bharat mean and why do some people in India want to officially rename their country?
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The name Bharat is an ancient Sanskrit word that many historians believe dates back to early Hindu scriptures.
It has been used to refer to a part of the country that lies between the mountains and the sea, where the descendants of – it is believed – King Bharata lived.
Together with India, it is one of two names by which the country has traditionally been known worldwide.
India has etymological roots in the Indus River, which was called “Sindhu” in Sanskrit.
Another popular but not legally recognised name for the country is Hindustan, which means “land of the Indus” in Persian. All three names were in use long before British rule.
But Mr Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has long believed that “India” is tied to colonialism and slavery.
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Will the name change happen?
Officially, the Indian government has made no decision and issued no statement, and one senior leader dismissed the speculations of a name change as “just rumours.” But India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, seemed to advocate the increased use of Bharat last week.
“‘India, that is Bharat’ – it is there in the constitution. Please, I would invite everybody to read it,” Mr Jaishankar said on Wednesday.
The name-changing exercise is fraught with a political motivation that is an essential ingredient of the ruling government’s revisionist agenda and has, under Mr Modi’s rule, come amid increasing attacks by Hindu nationalists against minorities, particularly Muslims.
Efforts to change India’s name have been made in the past through court cases, but judges have so far steered away from the issue.
However, an upcoming session of the federal Parliament – a surprise announcement made by the Modi government without disclosing any agenda – has prompted speculation. Opposition parties say an official rebranding could very well be in the cards.
“He (Modi) wants to change the name of the country, which is absurd…,” opposition leader Mr Gandhi told Al Jazeera.