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

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

‘India that is Bharat…’ – One Country, Two Names (Part-IV)
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 name Hindustan popped up again when from there the discussion shifted to the naming of the United Provinces. At some point, R. K. Sidhva (‘C.P. [Central Province] & Berar, General’) recalled that there had been a serious objection when ‘the U.P. [United Provinces] Government and U.P. Assembly decided that the name should be changed into Aryavarta.’ But now, since Aryavarta had not been accepted, he feared that they might take the name Hindustan, as he recalled that in 1938: ‘when the Indian National Congress held its session in Cawnpore in the All-India Congress Committee my friends from U.P. brought a resolution that the name of the U.P. Congress Committee should be changed into Hindustan Congress Committee.’ So the prudent R. K. Sidhva had another suggestion:

Why not U.P. be called Samyukt Pradesh? If that is not acceptable there are other very fine names like Avadh, Ayodhya, Ganga, etc. Why should they usurp the name of the whole of India and tell us they are the people who are the only custodians of India? I strongly resent their monopolizing the name of India.

Mohan Lal Gautam (‘United Provinces, General’) equally strongly objected to this:

I assure you that U.P. has a gift and it is perhaps the only province in the country which can claim that it has no provincialism. This function of Brahmins—of giving names ought to have some background. You say why not give it the name of Avadh. Avadh is one of the very important parts of U.P. but it is only a part. Avadh has a tradition of Nawabs and feudal lords which we do not want. The solution is that the Provinces must be consulted and it must be acceptable to all-India authority and the all-India authority is the President and the President means the President and the Cabinet.

But for Shri R.K. Sidhva, this solution was no guarantee:

The purpose of consulting the legislature also will not be served because the majority of the Members there would say, ‘Have it Aryavarta or Hindustan’. Supposing they change it to Hindustan, what will be the remedy if the Provincial Legislature also says that U.P. will be known as Hindustan? India in future will be called Bharat but that does not mean that we discard the name Hindustan. Therefore you must tell me Sir, how to safeguard the interests of the country in seeing that this word Hindustan is not adopted by the U.P. as they did make a venture in the past unofficially to introduce it in the Congress Committee but in which they failed?

Pandit Balkrishna Sharma (‘United Provinces, General’) had the last word when he said: ‘If it will satisfy my honorable friend, I may say I hate the word ‘Hindustan’.

What was the gist of this exchange about the proper naming of U.P.? Was it that Hindustan is ‘the name of India’? This was known already. No, what was said here with force was that it is not because the Constituent Assembly had decided to name India ‘Bharat’ that Indians were going to discard the name Hindustan.

Now anyone who reads carefully the proceedings of the Constitutional debates will come to the conclusion that ‘India’ and in second position ‘Hindustan’ were the two names that came most naturally to the delegates when speaking about their country as long as they were not debating the issue of its name. These two names kept reappearing throughout the debates for the simple reason that the country whose Constitution was being written had to be constantly referred to in one way or another. But when it came to the naming question, Bharat was the first name to appear. Bharatvarsh, Aryavarta and Hind were but marginally mentioned. Hindustan was never considered in this context.

On 24 January 1950, the Constituent Assembly held its last meeting. The delegates rose to sing solemnly Jana Gana Mana, Tagore’s hymn to Bharat. Then instead of singing Iqbal’s Sāre jahāṃ se acchā Hindustāṃ hamarā, as they had done two-and-a-half years earlier, they chanted Vande Mātaram, ‘Mother I bow to thee’ written by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (1882) in honor of the Mother land identified with the Goddess. On that same day, Tagore’s composition was chosen as new India’s ‘national anthem’ and Bankim’s song was given an ‘equal status’ because it had ‘played a historic part in the struggle for Indian freedom’. Meanwhile Iqbal had been (posthumously) declared the national poet of Pakistan.

Naming the nation: a complex and sensitive issue to this day

The processes of construction and reconstruction of the meanings of the nation’s names have been uninterrupted since the adoption of the first article of the Constitution. The task of describing them is enormous in scope and would require consulting an immense variety of sources. In this final section I merely look at some of the prevailing demands and statements at the time of writing this article. I do so on the basis of information found on internet (blogs, personal pages and also printed materials appearing on the net such as newspapers, all in English).

A first type of demand one comes across is to altogether do away with ‘India’ in the Constitution. As one would expect, the most likely place where this occurs is the Hindu nationalist milieu. A case in point is the article published in July 2005 by V. Sundaram, a retired member of the IAS and a freelance journalist known for his Hindutva leanings. According to V. Sundaram, it is because ‘Bharat’ was thought to be too Hindu by the drafters of the Constitution that they introduced ‘India’ as a guarantee to the minorities that they would not be Hinduized. But, he argued, this was a misconception: the word Bharat carries no communalist overtones and therefore it should be the sole official name of the country. However, this Hindutva sympathizer also wants to keep ‘India’, for which he has in mind a usage presently given to ‘South Asia’:

It will not be historically or culturally or geographically correct to call our country by the general name India. Pakistan is also India, Bangladesh is also India, our country India is also India—all these three Indias together can legitimately be called India in the larger geographical sense. It is quite possible that in the future countries like Pakistan, Ceylon, Bangladesh, India and Burma may get together and form themselves into an Indian Federation. We can possibly think of the name India as being appropriate for such a Federation if and ever it becomes relevant in the future.

According to Hindu nationalists there is a basic philosophical difference between India and Bharat.

According to Hindu nationalists there is a basic philosophical difference between India and Bharat. This point was never made so clear as in December 2012, when commenting on the appalling gang rape that had just occurred in Delhi Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief, said: ‘Such crimes hardly take place in Bharat, but they frequently occur in India’.

But Hindu nationalists are not alone in thinking that Bharat is the only legitimate name for the Republic of India. There is at least one Congress MP (Goa) who entertains the idea, if one is to judge by the Bill Shantaram Naik introduced on 9 August 2012 in the upper house of parliament (Rajya Sabha) to amend the first article. He proposed three main changes: 1) that in the Preamble to the Constitution the word ‘Bharat’ be substituted for the word ‘India’; 2) that for the phrase ‘India, that is Bharat’ the single word ‘Bharat’ be substituted; 3) that wherever the word ‘India’, occurs in the Constitution, the word ‘Bharat’ be substituted. Stating his reasons, the Member of Parliament declared:

‘India’ denotes a territorial concept, whereas ‘Bharat’ signifies much more than the mere territories of India. When we praise our country we say, ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and not ‘India ki Jai’. There are various grounds for changing the name of the country into simply ‘Bharat’. The name also generates the sense of patriotism and electrifies the people of this country. In this regard it is relevant [to recall] a popular song: ‘Jahan dal dal par sone ki chidiyan karatin hai basera wo Bharat Desh hai mera’ [‘where marvellous birds sit on every branch, this is Bharat my country’].

Finally, the argument that ‘India’ should be replaced by ‘Bharat’ is not encountered only within the political frame of ‘communalist versus secular’. It also finds its way in a context of anti-English or rather anti-Western crusades. For example in April 2004, the Samajwadi Party proposed to adopt the sole name ‘Bharat’ in the Constitution ‘as a step to protect the identity of the country’, to ‘ban the import of luxury goods’ and ‘to take other suitable economic and political measures to end the cultural degeneration being encouraged by the Western consumerist lifestyle.’ In October 2012, the Chief Minister of Karnataka, B. S. Yeddyurappa, proposed to amend the Constitution to rename India as ‘Bharat’, and announced that ‘programs will be launched to promote Kannada as a classical language, at a cost of Rs.50 crore.’54 Here the ethical dimension of the argument comes with a chauvinistic stance, the implication being that the domestic product is morally superior to anything that is imported.

Equally relevant to this section of our enquiry are arguments in favor of or against the use of the name Hindustan. Some reject ‘Hindustan’ as being too offensive to ‘minorities’ (read non-Hindus). ‘Bharat’, they argue, is to be preferred to ‘Hindustan’ because it is less divisive. Here ‘Hindustan’, even with the Persian suffix, is understood with Savarkar’s meaning of ‘land of the Hindus’—with Hindu receiving a religious signification. In contrast, ‘Bharat’ is associated with the capacity to generate and tolerate internal differences. Words do have a life of their own! Some argue that ‘Hindustan’ should be avoided by Indians because it is being used in Pakistan to refer to India. Some tribals from Gujarat have declared preferring ‘Bharat’ to ‘Hindustan’ because they are not Hindus.55 On the opposite side, there are those who argue that ‘Hindustan’ should be used precisely to stress the Hindu character of India. Thus in February 2003 the VHP demanded that India be renamed as Hindustan in order to restore ‘the honor of the Hindu rashtra (nation)’.56 And in July 2011, Dr. Subramanian Swamy, the president of the Janata Party who was then teaching economics at Harvard, made the same demand. He also recommended that a civil code be implemented, the learning of Sanskrit and singing Vande Mātaram be made mandatory, and non-Hindus be allowed to vote only if they acknowledged Hindu ancestry. These demands reflect the legacy of Savarkar, even though they overlook that he spoke of Hindusthan.


The politics of naming is part of the social production of the nation. Its processes are shaped by broad socio-political conditions and can be studied from several angles. In this paper I have adopted a cultural history perspective. My purpose has been to look at some of the inherited discourses on ‘Bhārata’ both prior to and at the time of its official equation with ‘India’ in the Constitution of 1950. To begin with I attempted to characterize the memory that was taken in by those who in the 19th century used the name Bhārata to refer to the geographical, political and administrative entity that the colonial power called ‘India’. The evidence presented shows that it was the Puranic memory of a naturally bounded (sea, mountains) and specifically socially organized territory where human beings could fulfill the specific sets of socio-religious duties required to maintain their cultural identity. That Bhārata—a cultural space whose unity was to be found in the social order of dharma—was a pre-national construction and not a national project. Then I argued that at the time of independence, India and Bhārata were equally worthy candidates to baptize the newly-born nation, along with ‘Hindustan’. But the opening article of the Constitution discarded Hindustan and registered the nation under a dual and bilingual identity: ‘India, that is Bharat’. One name was to be used as the equivalent or the translation of the other as exemplified on the cover of the national passport, where the English ‘Republic of India’ corresponds to the Hindi ‘Bhārata gaṇarājya’, or, perhaps even more telling, on India postage stamps, where the two words Bhārata and India are collocated. Pursuing the history of the reception of the Constitutional equation of Bharat and India in all its social and political complexities was beyond the scope of my enquiry. I have merely pointed to two contemporary phenomena: the name Hindustan has continued to be widely used in spite of, or may be thanks to, its plurality of meanings and the implication of the equivalence of Bharat with India has remained a subject of debate. It is likely that all these names will continue to be interpreted to fit new circumstances, to give new meanings to India’s national identity, an ongoing, open-ended process. (Concludes) 


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

Click here for Part-I, Part-II , Part-III 


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