India or Bharat? Why the G20 is causing a row over country’s name

India or Bharat? Why the G20 is causing a row over country’s name

India is preparing to host the G20 summit this weekend, having sent state-issued invitations to leaders across the globe.

The invitations referred to the country as Bharat, further igniting rumours that Narendra Modi’s nationalist government is planning to phase out the English name, India, for the nation.

While some have welcomed the move, seeing it as an unshackling of the colonial chains forced on the nation, others have seen it as unnecessary controversy and the prime minister trying to make a name for himself.

Many people across the world have found themselves wondering what the actual, formal name of the country is. Here is a look at the centuries-long debate about whether the nation should be referred to as India or Bharat.

Should it be India or Bharat?

When British rule was overthrown in 1947, the country was known by three different names, each with its own legitimacy and history. These were India, Hindustan, and Bharat.

India, a word that is thought to have Sanskrit origins, referred to the Indus River that runs through the north of the state.

The name was used by the Persians, the ancient Greeks, and Romans more than 2,000 years ago. And, in the 18th century, it was the name adopted by the British and used on their maps.

Hindustan was also a name used by the Persians and the Greeks. Mughal and Delhi sultans used the name to refer to the north and centre of the subcontinent as well.

Bharat, a name with ancient Sanskrit origins, comes from the ancient text Rig Veda, which was written around 1,500BC and referred to a Bharata clan as one of the main tribes occupying what is now north India.

Bharat is also a nod to the legendary king that Hindus claim as the father of the Indian race, who appears in the text Mahabharata.

When India elected its first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, he was of the opinion that all three names were equally legitimate and acceptable. In his book The Discovery of India, he explained: “Often, as I wandered from meeting to meeting, I spoke to my audiences of this India of ours, of Hindustan and of Bharata, the old Sanskrit name derived from the mythical founders of the race.”

Later, in 1949, when the country was drafting its constitution, the committee had to decide what the nation’s formal name should be. Eventually, they decided that Hindustan was to be dropped entirely, while India and Bharat would remain.

The opening line of the country’s constitution still reads: “India, that is Bharat, shall be a union of states.”

While both names are used domestically, India is used in English interactions, while Bharat remains the go-to name when speaking in Indian languages.

Citizens’ passports include both names of the country.

Why is India’s name being disputed?

Some locals believe that calling the nation by the name India has colonial connotations and should, thus, be removed.

When the constitution draft from 1949 was read to the parliament, MP Hargovind Pant famously said: “We must know that this name was given to our country by foreigners who, having heard of the riches of this land, were tempted towards it and had robbed us of our freedom in order to acquire the wealth of our country.”

Over the years, numerous legal and parliamentary petitions have made the same point, asking Bharat to be the only legitimate name of the country. However, so far, they have all been dismissed.

Thus, it was surprising for many when the G20 invitations referred to the country’s leader as the President of Bharat, and the English G20 booklet for the foreign delegates informed them that “Bharat is the official name of the country”. Plus, Indian officials will be wearing tags that say “Bharat — Official”.