Home History ‘India that is Bharat…’ – One Country, Two Names (Part-III)

‘India that is Bharat…’ – One Country, Two Names (Part-III)

‘India that is Bharat…’ – One Country, Two Names (Part-III)
Image Courtesy: Arunachal Observer

When Nehru’s book ‘The Discovery of India’ was published, these names, Hindustan, Bharat (also Bharata), India, coexisted in the subcontinent.

Catherine Clémentin-Ojha

The Constitutional debates on the naming of the nation

On 14 August 1947 at midnight, India became independent. Two weeks later, on 29 August 1947, the Constituent Assembly, that had been meeting since December 1946, set up a Drafting Committee under the Chairmanship of B.R. Ambedkar. From February 1948 to November 1949, the members of the Constituent Assembly examined the draft, moving and discussing in the process almost 2,500 amendments. On 26 November 1949, they finally adopted the Constitution of India and signed it on 24 January 1950. On 26 January 1950, the Constitution of India officially came into force, and the Constituent Assembly became the Provisional Parliament of India until the first general elections of 1952.

As we know, the Constitution was drafted under the extremely difficult circumstances of the immediate post-partition period, just two years after horrendous chaos and bloodshed. It was a time, then, when the unity and stability of the new born country were in doubt. Was it because it was linked to its identity or for another reason that the question of its naming is found to have come relatively late in the long process of the adoption of the Constitution? Whatever the case, the section ‘Name and territory of the Union’ was examined only on 17 September 1949. The very touchy nature of its first article was immediately perceptible. It read: ‘India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States’. A division arose among the delegates between those who, like B.R. Ambedkar, wanted it to be adopted within the half an hour that was left for the meeting of the day and those who wished that it be discussed at length the next day. At the risk of taxing the patience of the main author of the Draft Constitution, there followed the next day a thorough examination of the implications of the first article. It bore on two points: 1) the relationship between the two words ‘India’ and ‘Bharat’, 2) the political and administrative implications of the terms ‘Union’ and ‘States’. The second point was by far the most hotly debated one (not only during that particular session but throughout the long Constitutional proceedings). Here I will deal only with the arguments exchanged about the first point. As we can expect, they illustrated contrasting visions of the budding nation.

The main speakers (recorded) were Seth Govind Das (‘C.P. [Central Province]’ & Berar: General’) and Kamalapati Tripathi, two Congress leaders, Shri Ram Sahai (‘representing Madhya Bharat’), Hargovind Pant (‘United Provinces’), and Hari Vishnu Kamath, a leader of the All India Forward Block, a party then situated to the left of the Congress Party. Introducing the first amendment, P.V. Kamath proposed that the sentence ‘India, that is Bharat shall be a Union of States’ be replaced by ‘Bharat, or, in the English language, India, shall, be and such’. He explained that he had been inspired by the Constitution of ‘the Irish Free State’ (1937), Article 4 of which read: ‘The name of the State is Eire, or, in the English language, Ireland.’ A while later, Seth Govind Das proposed: ‘Bharat known as India also in foreign countries…’. He was followed by Kamalapati Tripathi who wanted ‘Bharat, that is India’ (instead of ‘India, that is Bharat’), and by Hargovind Pant according to whom the people ‘of the Northern part of India’ that he represented ‘wanted Bharatvarsha and nothing else’. None of these proposals were accepted by the Assembly. The above named delegates nonetheless made their point, which was to dwell at length on their ‘satisfaction’ that the word Bharat had been at all retained by the drafters. As Ram Sahai observed: it had ‘been felt that this name may lead to some difficulties’ and it was therefore ‘a matter for pleasure that we are going to accept the name Bharat without any opposition [emphasis added by the speaker]’.

The ‘opposition’, it is safe to guess, would have been to a vision of the new India that could not be shared by most delegates of the Constitutional Assembly because it clashed with their understanding of what the emerging secular state ought to be. Kamalapati Tripathi’s declaration of ‘satisfaction’ left little doubt that Bharata could indeed be associated with a conception of the nation that was potentially divisive:

When a country is in bondage, it loses its soul. During its slavery for one thousand years, our country too lost its everything. We lost our culture, we lost our history, we lost our prestige, we lost our humanity, we lost our self-respect, we lost our soul and indeed we lost our form and name. Today after remaining in bondage for a thousand years, this free country will regain its name and we do hope that after regaining its lost name it will regain its inner consciousness and external form and will begin to act under the inspiration of its soul which had been so far in a sort of sleep. It will indeed regain its prestige in the world.

This one-sided history, containing a distinctly anti-Muslim tone, came from an important North Indian leader of the Indian National Congress: a reminder of the fact that this party was not of one mind regarding India’s past and future. K. Tripathi’s vision of the new India did demonstrate the presence of near-communalist concerns. Such an understanding of Bharat was likely to be seen as undermining national unity. What seems to have been at work with the other delegates equally keen on the name Bharat was the Hindu rhetoric of the more traditionalist sort. See, for example, the statement of Seth Govind Das, a Congress fellow of Kamalapati Tripathi. The name Bharat, he said, was ‘befitting our history and our culture’, because it was found in the old Hindu literature, whereas the ‘word India does not occur in our ancient books’, adding, to stress his point: ‘We fought the battle of freedom under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi by raising the slogan of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’.’ A statement like that could be said to be parochial perhaps, but was it necessarily divisive or potentially detrimental to the interests of non-Hindus? In any case, it was not completely without political acumen:

We should indeed give such a name to our country as may be befitting our history and our culture. It is a matter of great pleasure that we are today naming our country as Bharat. I said many a time before too that if we do not arrive at correct decisions in regard to these matters the people of this country will not understand the significance of self-government.

A point of view shared by Hargovind Pant

So far as the word ‘India’ is concerned, the Members seem to have, and really I fail to understand why, some attachment for it. 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. If we, even then, cling to the word ‘India’, it would only show that we are not ashamed of having this insulting word which has been imposed on us by alien rulers. Really, I do not understand why we are accepting this word.

Pritam Singh has recently argued that ‘the symbolic significance of ‘Bharat’ in the opening article [of the Constitution] was meant to suggest a sense of Hindu ownership of the new India—the India which was perceived to have achieved self-rule after many centuries of foreign rule. The name Bharat signified the birth of a new India, with whose government and state the Hindus felt a sense of identification.’ The basic question at stake here is how to separate religion from culture when one speaks from within one’s own tradition, as had been the case for most Hindus during the national struggle. It had been the case even for Gandhi, as his use of the expression Bhārata mātā kī jaya testified. Smith raised this very question when he wrote that:

Nationalism inevitably drew part of its inspiration from India’s ancient cultural traditions, and these were mainly Hindu. India was the only home of the Hindus, and whatever patriotic demands were made in the name of the majority would naturally appear to be expressions of Indian nationalism.

This was never more obvious than at the time of choosing the name of the nation despite the fact (but also thanks to the fact) that the delegates whose words I have quoted functioned within the secular framework of politics.

At this point, the reader who has not forgotten that Iqbal’s Sare jahāṃ se acchā Hindustāṃ hamarā was sung on 15 August 1947 may well wonder about the whereabouts of the name ‘Hindustan!’ ‘Hindustan’ received different treatments during the Constituent Assembly. Let us start by quoting the observation that Mohammad Tahir (‘Bihar, Muslim’) made on 24 November 1949, two days before the final adoption of the Constitution:

I would like to submit that it is a matter of shame that our Constitution could not fix a name for our country. This is a proof of the intelligence of Dr. Ambedkar that he suggested a hotchpotch sort of name and got it accepted. Well, if somebody would have asked Doctor Saheb about his home land, he could have replied with pride that he belonged to Bharat or India or Hindustan. But now the Honorable Dr. will have to reply in these words: ‘I belong to India that is Bharat’. Now, Sir, it is for you to see what a beautiful reply it is.

Here was a subtle way of saying that three names had been at the start of the race, but at the end two had been placed on equal footing and one dropped. And the absentee was staring them in the face. But the very next day, ‘Hindustan’ reappeared. At that point of time, however, the discussion did not bear on the name of the whole country but on the demand made by certain Provinces (such as Orissa) to change their own particular names.


Courtesy: Open Edition Journal – Ideas of South Asia (Published 2014)

Click here for Part-I, Part-II 


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