Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

India or Bharat: What's in a name

A typical change of country name has a way of dividing associations and loyalties. And India the country as we are, cannot afford that

Published: Sep 6, 2023 04:06:04 PM IST
Updated: Sep 6, 2023 04:16:32 PM IST

India or Bharat: What's in a nameIndia is Bharat. And Bharat is India. The country really has two names. Either can be used interchangeably Image: Shutterstock
An invitation sent out by President Droupadi Murmu to the heads of states and governments and the chief ministers of Indian states for an official G20 summit banquet in New Delhi has created a tizzy in many a heart. The name ‘Bharat’ has replaced ‘India’ in the invite.

This in turn has set the cat among the pigeons. The cat in this case is Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ruling party, and the pigeons are a whole bunch of everyone else; the entire Opposition collective of parties that have come under the banner of an INDIA coalition included. Every letter of this INDIA coalition has carefully orchestrated intent of unity in the Opposition. And now, this seamless transition of usage from an ‘India’ to a ‘Bharat’ in an invite has caused a big flutter.

While the Opposition parties scream malintent of the ruling party, the BJP has a story of its own that is solid. Article 1 of the Constitution of India states clearly: “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.”  And this seamless transition in use-terms means nothing really. The thought at play seems a simple one. India is Bharat. And Bharat is India. The country really has two names. Owns two names. Either can be used interchangeably. It’s a different matter though that the country by and large has in the past used more of India and less of Bharat. India, to that extent, is the more popular name of the country we live in.

Look at government usage for one. Firstly, we are the ‘Government Of India’ and not ever the ‘Government of Bharat’. Our central bank is the ‘Reserve Bank of India’. And not yet the ‘Reserve Bank of Bharat’. The Government of India has forever perpetuated a proud country name called India. We wear this name and sentiment on our sleeve and in our proud hearts. A sudden change cannot happen. And I do believe it will not happen either. This is but a clever and seamless use of the ‘other name’ of India that is Bharat. A move possibly at play just to even showcase the power of clout and the power of naughty niftiness of the ruling party in Bharat (and now I am using the two names seamlessly. Ouch)! All this in response to the solid intent and attempt of the Opposition coalition of parties to appropriate the acronym INDIA for themselves.

Also read: India or Bharat? Check out the Central government's PSU list for answers

Let's remember, elections to the Lok Sabha are round the corner, and each of the two major coalitions, the ruling NDA at one end and the Opposition’s INDIA at the other, want to look ahead of the race. This is a race to establish image. A race of one-upmanship even.

Look keenly at the quasi-private and private sector usage of the country name as well. It is dominated by an overt and proud use of ‘India’ as opposed to ‘Bharat’. And you have other country associations as well. There is the ‘Hindustan Unilever Limited’ for one. Is the future ‘Bharat Unilever Limited’? There is the ‘Indian Institute of Technology’ just as there is the ‘Indian School of Business’.

A typical change of country name has a way of dividing associations and loyalties. And India the country as we are, cannot afford that. We need a unity of purpose at the country name level. And that's the reason I insist that there is no plan for a change of name of country at all. If at all, there sure is a plan to gradually use more of Bharat and less of India. Possibly a gradual move to shift India- passion into a Bharat-passion. One name associated to be English and colonial and the other to be more of local origin and decolonised in mindset. An attempt for sure. An attempt that might as well take decades to transition into completeness. This is still not a re-naming of India. I may be wrong on this. But I don't know that as yet!

Let's therefore not get into a flutter of regret or for that matter into a flutter of positive excitement as well. Not yet.

Re-naming a brand is a very difficult exercise. It takes a lot of time, positive energy (which could otherwise be diverted to other positive and important work), and money. Renaming a country is an ever more difficult task. In the case of a country name, there is a lot of patriotism, love, experience and passion associated. A sudden or even an ostensibly gradual shift is difficult. At times hurtful even.

Therefore, at the end of it all, if you ask for my completely unsolicited advice, the answer is a no. Do not change a name we own today in our hearts and in our very being.

Yes, India is an English name in language articulation terms. But let's remember one big thing. We are possibly the world's biggest English-speaking nation. And who does a language belong to? Possibly to those have the largest numbers of people speaking it! I would of course be happiest to hear an Englishman or an American speak with my completely unique Indian accent in the future use of the language. Touche!

And if that be the case, India the name and most certainly India the country belongs to all of us more than it belongs to anyone else.

English belongs to India for sure, along with all the languages we speak and own with passion and gusto. Let me stretch the analogy a bit into sport. Hockey is India's national sport. Cricket is not. Cricket inalienably belongs to India though. We are the largest nation of cricket-watchers; far larger than our involvement with hockey for sure. And we do make for a lot of eyeballs and a lot of money from cricket today. The sport belongs to us.

As I rest this column in peace, a bit of lexical semantics troubles me for now. Must the seamless other name in use be ‘Bhaarat’ and not ‘Bharat’?!

The writer is a business and brand-strategy specialist and founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc