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A Sudden Change

Can India change its name to Bharat?

16 November 2023

The debate over rebranding India began with the political theatrics of September 9th and 10th in 2023, during the G20 summit hosted in New Delhi. Indian PM, Narendra Modi, during the summit, sat behind a nameplate bearing the term ‘Bharat’ instead of India, naturally sparking controversy. In preparation for this, the nomenclature of the G20 banquet invitation referred to Indian President, Droupadi Murmu, as ‘President of Bharat.’ Additionally, a booklet, titled “Bharat: The Mother of Democracy”, was distributed during the summit. The venue for the G20 summit also carried the name ‘Bharat Mandapam’ (cultural corridor) or International Exhibition-cum-convention-centre, inaugurated by PM Modi on July 26 of that year. 

A Sudden Name-Change!

For PM Modi’s party, Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), a resolution a with two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Indian Bicameral parliament) is required before officially changing the name. However, there are various debates on this matter as outlined below:

1. Amendments needed in the constitution of India:

Prior to the G20 summit, there was no political discourse on renaming India by the administration’s power echelons, catching the nation off-guard.

According to article 1 of the Constitution, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States,” but it does not specify whether both terms can be used interchangeably for official purposes. Furthermore, article 368 of the Indian Constitution empowers the Parliament to amend any provision of Article 1, including the name of the country, following deliberations in the Parliament,  while Article 52 states, ‘there shall be a President of India’, not Bharat. Therefore, unless this and other articles are amended/deliberated upon, this sudden clamor for a name change with the chosen timing, would naturally stir controversy. Although ‘India’ and ‘Bharat’ cannot be used interchangeably, the Hindi edition of the Constitution, published under Article 394A includes the term “Bharat” as a translation, as explained by P. D. Thankappan Achary, former Secretary General of Lok Sabha.[1] The ruling party BJP has proposed a resolution for the name change during a Special Session of the Parliament from September 18 to 22, but the methodology to be adopted remains ambiguous. 

2. What significant do Bharat and India hold for BJP?

The term “India” is an internationally-recognized and constitutional name, while “Bharat” carries ideological and historical significance.

The term “Bharat” originates from the Vedic tribes of Bharatas mentioned in the Rigveda- one of the four sacred canonical texts of Hinduism- who inhabited Aryavarta  in the northern Indian sub-continent.[2]

In his book, ‘India that is Bharat: Coloniality, Civilisation and Constitution’, Indian Lawyer J.Sai.Deepak advocates for India’s need to break free from the universalized fictions and illusions created by colonialism. He believes that adopting the term “Bharat” would serve as a de-colonial approach to help the country confront its past and make sense of its own journey, instead of using colonial frameworks.[3]

The Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) views the adoption of “Bharat” as a way to instill national pride and connect citizens to the country’s rich cultural heritage, as expressed by Mohan Bhagwat, the Chief of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and the ideological backbone organization of BJP. On the other hand, “India” represents the colonial name bestowed upon the country at independence, symbolizing modernisation, global recognition and a mandated territory with its own legislature, constitution and judiciary. Some scholars view the BJP’s decolonization as exclusionary and a potential target for resentment among minority religions in India. [4] Indian academician, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, for example has called this ‘de-colonisation’ attempt by the ruling party as a loose ideological framework which frames the intellectual discourse in many vernacular languages, especially Hindi (spoken mostly in Northern India), and suggests that Islam, Christianity and other minority religions in India would be the target of this so-called decolonial project.[5]

3. The India-Vs.-Bharat debate: A political maneuver:

In July 2023, the opposition alliance comprising 26 parties (2 national and 24 regional parties) strategically named themselves as the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, which conveniently forms the acronym INDIA, in preparation for the 2024 General Elections. 

The naming of this alliance was not coincidental, but it was a political manoeuvre and calculated move. The use of the term “Bharat” immediately sparked debate, with the Opposition seizing the opportunity to make it a fundamental issue of debate. The electoral and political concerns are therefore the driving forces of of the India-Versus- Bharat issue, with the Opposition cleverly framing it as a ‘Modi versus INDIA debate.’

It is worth noting that on 11 March, 2016, the Supreme Court of India had dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Niranjan Bhatwal from Maharashtra, who had sought direction for calling India as Bharat. The Bench headed by Chief Justice T.S. Thakur and Justice U.U. Lalit, unequivocally stated, “Bharat or India? You want to call it Bharat, go right ahead. Someone wants to call it India, let him call it India.”[6] A similar PIL was filed in 2020 by a Delhi-based businessman, which was once again dismissed by the Supreme Court.

4. Speculating the consequence of name-change:

If India is rebranded as “Bharat”, extensive documentation and administrative procedures would be required. 

Firstly, this would involve changing the names of several prominent Indian institutions and laws across country, making it a massive undertaking for a country that has not conducted a census since 2011. Secondly, notifications to fellow nations and international organisations, such as United Nations, would be necessary, similar to the process followed by Turkey when it officially changed its name to Türkiye. Thirdly, India would also lose its unique status of having an Ocean named after it. And while China has made previous claims that the ‘Indian Ocean is not India’s Ocean,’ Beijing has no objections to the East China Sea and South China Sea being named after it- which raises questions about the geo-political repurcussions. Lastly,  and perhaps most importantly, what would happen to the decades of emotional, patriotic and visceral belonging of Indians and the diaspora to the name and identity of India?

5. Loopholes in BJP’s name-changing agenda:

The adoption of the name “India” in 1950 after deliberate discussion in the Constituent Assembly, was based on widespread global recognition.

As India celebrates 75 years of its independence, the proposed rebranding of India raises a number of concerns. For example, the “Make in India” campaign launched by PM Modi himself to attract foreign direct investments seems contradictory to the idea of rebranding. Morevoer, India’s recent co-chairing of a meeting with the US for a new corridor in West Asia (Middle East and Europe), – on the side-lines of G20 summit –should have been referred to as the “Bharat – Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor”, and not the “India – Middle East – Economic Corridor”, if the name change was intended. Lastly, while India is the largest democracy, it is not the originator of the term, which appeared first in Ancient Athens in the 5th century BC. (Original text: Lastly, India – the largest democracy – is not the mother of democracy, a term that appeared first in 5th century Greek city-state Athens.)


“It is not spaces which ground identifications, but places. How then does a space become a place? By being named.”[7]

Therefore, the name of a nation is of essential importance. Several nations in the past have changed their names in the past: Siam to Thailand (1939), East Pakistan to Bangladesh (1971), Burma to Myanmar (1989), Zaire to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1997), and Turkey to Türkiye (2022). Studies in the field of cultural toponymy delve deeper into the changes of interactions, identifications and belonging, especially for indigenous communities, with such sociological experiments of name-swapping.[8] Benedict Anderson, the Anglo-Irish political scientist in his much-coveted book ‘Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism’ published in 1983, explained the concept of nation as socially-ideologically created construct, imagined by the natives who inhabit it and perceive themselves as part of the group.[9] Therefore, the adoption of the name ‘Bharat’ and utter abandonment of the term ‘India’ would sever the subjective umbilical cord for millions of Indians. Both names can co-exist, as always, with the Indians themselves reserving the right over their identity and belonging, instead of becoming a part of political chutzpah of the upcoming General Elections. 

[1] P.D.T. Achary (2023), “In diverse India, name change demands consensus,” The Hindu. [Online]. URL: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/in-diverse-india-name-change-demands-consensus/article67312626.ece, Retrieved on 16thSeptember 2023

[2] Sharma, J. K. (1993). Punya Bhoomi Bharat. Suruchi Prakashan.

[3] Deepak, J. S. (2021). India, that is Bharat: Coloniality, civilisation, constitution. Bloomsbury Publishing.

[4] Mehta, P.B. (2023), “The current talk of decolonisation is about an exclusionary political agenda,” The Indian Express. [Online]. URL: https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/current-talk-of-decolonisation-is-about-an-exclusionary-political-agenda-8918137/, Retrieved on 18th September 2023

[5] Mehta, P.B. (2023), “The current talk of decolonisation is about an exclusionary political agenda,” The Indian Express. [Online]. URL: https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/current-talk-of-decolonisation-is-about-an-exclusionary-political-agenda-8918137/, Retrieved on 18th September 2023

[6] The Wire Staff, (2023), “India or Bharat? In 2016, Modi Govt Told Supreme Court Name Change Not Warranted,” The Wire, [Online], URL: https://thewire.in/law/bharat-or-india-sc-had-said-in-2016-that-citizens-are-free-to-use-either, Retrieved on 15thSeptember 2023

[7] Carter, E., J. Donald and J. Squires (eds) 1993, Space and Place: Theories of Identity and Location, Lawrence & Wishart, London

[8] Kostanski, L. (2014). Duel-Names: How toponyms (placenames) can represent hegemonic histories and alternative narratives. In L. Kostanski, I. D. Clark, & L. Hercus (Eds.), Indigenous and Minority Placenames: Australian and International Perspectives (pp. 273–292). ANU Press. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13www5z.18

[9] Anderson, B. (2006). Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. Verso books.