"There’s a feeling of estrangement"
During a surprising turn of events at the 2023 G20 Summit in New Delhi, Narendra Modi addressed the global leaders with the country’s name displayed as ‘Bharat’ instead of ‘India.’
This shift sparked speculations and debates about a potential rebranding of the nation.
The rumours gained momentum when the official invite for the summit referred to the “President of Bharat”.
Whilst Praveen Chakravarty of the National Congress Party emphasised a preference for using both names, as stipulated in the constitution, members of the BJP celebrated the change.
However, there has been a lull in the conversation.
Debates resurfaced in October 2023 when Bollywood multi-hyphenate changed the name of his movie from The Great Indian Rescue to Mission Raniganj: The Great Bharat Rescue.
Similarly, there is an increasing trend of cricket fans actively using “Bharat” in their chants and slogans, ditching “India”.
Overall, the question, of whether India is truly changing its name to Bharat, is still up in the air.
The seeds of a rebrand have been sown, and when and if it will come to fruition, are the next questions.
Some people may think the change is pointless like Karan, aged 48:
“I don’t see the point. I hope they don’t [laughs] I’d have to change the name of my restaurant!
“But honestly, India has international recognition…Bharat doesn’t.”
Other people think it’s a good idea. Yusuf, aged 52 said:
“In Pakistan, we always refer to India as Bharat or Hindustan so far us, it’s nothing new or some kind of shocking change.”
DESIblitz seeks to investigate this proposal, considering the history behind both names, the wider implications of such a change, and the positive and negative ramifications of this rebrand.
A look into Etymology: Why India and Why Bharat?
A country having numerous names is not a phenomenon unique to India.
For example, China, known as Zhongguo by the Chinese people, has different names in other languages.
In English, it is China, in Hindi, it is Cheen, and in Russian, it is called Kitay. Similarly, the Japanese refer to their country as Nippon.
In Europe, a notable example comes from Germany.
In Finnish, it is called Saska. This derives from Sachsen (or Saxon in English), who were one of the Teutonic tribes that became Germany.
Danish speakers know Germany as Tyskland whilst the French know their neighbour as Allemagne. This is similar to the Arabic and Spanish name for Germany which is Alemania.
The name is thought to reference the Alemanni, a German tribe based near modern-day Switzerland. This name is thought to have meant “neighbour” or “men of the forest.”
Germans themselves refer to their nation as Deutschland.
The term “Deutsch” originates from the Old High German word “diutisc”, signifying “of the people”.
Therefore, Deutschland can be understood as conveying the essence of “the people’s land”.
What we hope to convey with these examples is that the variety of names for countries is extensive and reflects the linguistic richness of our global community.
Shifting our focus back to India, it is also known by numerous names.
In Hindi, it is referred to as Bharat. Meanwhile, in Urdu and Persian, it is known as Hindustan – the “land of the Hindus”.
Moreover, in Arabic, it is called Alhind.
In French, it is referred to as Inde; in German, it is known as Indien; and in Chinese, it is called Yindu.
The term “India” has its origins in the ancient Persian word “Hindu”, which was used to refer to the people who lived across the Indus River.
The Greeks, who encountered the region through Persian explorations, adopted the term “Indoi”, and this eventually found its way into Latin as “India”.
The Indus River, which flows through modern-day Pakistan, was historically known as the “Sindhu” in Sanskrit.
The Persians, when referring to the people and the land beyond the Indus River, used the term “Hindu” or “Sindhu”, and this led to the Greeks embracing the name “Indoi”.
Over time, as trade and cultural interactions increased, the term “India” became a general designation for the entire subcontinent.
It encompassed the region around the Indus River and the broader South Asian landmass.
The association with the Indus River and the historical region of Sindh in modern-day Pakistan is crucial in understanding the etymology of “India”.
Many in favour of the name change argue that “India” and its variations were never intended for the land of the Gangetic plains, coined by Aitzaz Ahsan in his book The Indus Saga: And The Making of Pakistan.
Instead, they assert that it was only used to refer to the subcontinent.
“Bharata” was selected as the alternate name in the Constitution of India, adopted in 1950 and may now become India’s official name.
Bharata originates from the designation of the Vedic group known as the Bharatas, referenced in the Rigveda as one of the foundational communities in Aryavarta (a term for the Northern Indian Subcontinent).
It is also associated with Bharat, the Ramayana King.
“India” as a Remnant of Imperialism?
Those in favour of the rebrand often regard it as a much-welcomed departure from a name they believe was imposed by colonialists.
Their stance is that India was never a name the nation chose for itself.
Successive waves of invaders forced the name on them, the Mughals and the British alike as examples.
Internationally, we are still in a phase of decolonisation.
There has been a recent pushback, particularly after the Black Lives Matter movement, against failing to acknowledge Europe’s colonial history.
For example, many countries are asking for reparations from their past colonisers.
During his 2015 visit to Jamaica, David Cameron ruled out making reparations for the slave trade and urged Caribbean countries to “move on”.
It is incredibly easy to move on when you are the benefactor of such tyranny but less so when you still experience the negative ramifications of being exploited and enslaved.
The need many feel to forge a truly post-colonial world has manifested in previous national rebrands.
For example, Rhodesia, a colonial name for the nation, was changed to Zimbabwe, the historical name.
A similar story is found in South Asia.
Sri Lanka changed its name in 1972. Previously, it was called Ceylon, a name that had been used during the period of British colonial rule.
Both name changes were a broader move towards asserting a national identity distinct from its colonial past.
India tangles the identity of the modern Indian to a river in their neighbouring country, Pakistan.
We recommend Empires of the Indus by Alice Albinia to learn more about the mythology and history behind the Indus River.
Following this line of argument, Bharat(a) is the favourable option as a name chosen by the Indigenous people of India for themselves.
It has a rich history, divorced from foreign empires, appearing in religious texts and mythological sagas alike.
But, with that said, the name India derives from the Indus River which was known to the ancient Indians in Sanskrit as Sindhu.
The root word appears in the same ancient texts as Bharata. It is just as indigenous to the land as Bharat, to act like it was imposed by imperialists is a disservice.
The Indus River was known as the ‘border river’ by Persians and Ancient Indians alike. Geographically, it separated the land of modern-day Pakistan, from plains to the East.
To reduce to being an entirely imperial export may be an overstatement.
However, it cannot be denied that with what we have discussed, it may not be the most logical name for modern India.
It refers to a river that isn’t in the country and it pays homage to an ancient civilisation (the Indus Valley civilisation) which didn’t encompass a big amount of the land that makes up India.
If these arguments are truly considered, India does come across as an ill-fitting choice for the nation’s name.
Salma, aged 24 and PhD student, has an Indian-Punjabi mother and a Turkish father. When discussing India’s potential rebrand, she said:
“It’s interesting. Turkey, or Turkiye I should say, recently underwent a similar change, but I feel like the reasons are different.
“Turkey’s decision was more about wanting to take control of how the outside world perceives the nation.
“Whereas I think the demand for India is coming from its people.”
“It’s about how they perceive themselves and their history. There’s a feeling of estrangement and a clear identity crisis that they’re amid.
“I think this rebrand is being considered only to serve a political purpose.”
It is, perhaps, better suited as being exclusively the name for the subcontinent and not the nation.
This is already part of the international lexis. For example, Indian cuisine refers to food from all over the Indian subcontinent and not exclusively the nation of India.
How to Rebrand a Nation?
If India were to officially change its name to Bharat, several legal implications would arise.
Domestically, constitutional amendments may be necessary.
Internationally, the country would need to secure recognition for the new name, updating records in various agreements, treaties, and international organisations.
Turkiye went through the same process which they had to do through the UN.
The change could also impact citizenship and legal documents, necessitating updates to passports and identification cards. This will be a costly process.
There will also be economic implications for businesses adapting to the new name.
Moreover, the cultural and social consequences within the country would involve discussions on the symbolic and historical significance of such a change.
Overall, a name change of this magnitude would require careful consideration and management of various legal, political, and diplomatic factors both domestically and internationally.
Should India be Renamed?
Public reception to the potential rebrand has been mixed.
Those who support Modi welcome the change, just as they have welcomed his previous decision to rename Indian landmarks and cities.
Allahbad became Prayajarag. On January 28, 2023, the celebrated Mughal Garden at Rashtrapati Bhavan was renamed “Amrit Udyan”.
Concurrently, the Mughal Garden at Delhi University’s North Campus was rechristened the Gautam Buddha Centenary Garden.
The cities of Aurangabad and Osmanabad in the state of Maharashtra have been changed to Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar and Dharashiv, respectively.
Similarly, Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium became Arun Jaitley Stadium
There is a clear pattern here. History is being revised and minorities are being erased.
Whether the change from India to Bharat is part of this pattern is up for debate, but it is a valid concern.
For all the support it is getting, from big Bollywood stars and cricket fans alike, there is no reason why such a big decision should not be subject to a national referendum.