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India is hosting the G20 Summit, New Delhi meeting this year (2023).

In a reception invitation issued yesterday for Saturday Sept 9th to the leaders of the G-20 countries Indian President Droupadi Murmu's reference to herself as the "President of Bharat" rather than the President of India. This has sparked political controversy inside of India.

My understanding is Bharat is a common pre-colonial names for India, and India's constitution refers to India as Bharat.

Part 1 Article 1

  1. Name and territory of the Union.—(1) India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.

I don't understand the dispute? How common is the use of the term Bharat? What are the two sides to this controversy?

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    This has sparked political protests inside of India. I didn't find references for it. Anyways my guess is the opposition is opposing everything of the ruling Government. What's new?
    – Gary 2
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 17:41
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    As @Gary2 said, "protests" seems a bit strong. That would imply to me that there are people marching in the streets about this, but the most I can find is opposition members voicing their displeasure.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 17:55
  • @F1Krazy and Gary 2 I think you guys are right. I change it from protests to controversy.
    – user47010
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 19:24
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    Is there a reason you ask here rather than reading the many newspaper articles recently published on the issue? Politics SE seems to have fewer rules than most SE boards, but there's a general rule that you should do research prior to asking a question, and set out what you've already learnt.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 7, 2023 at 10:35

2 Answers 2

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The term has become controversial because of who is using it. There is a major political divide in India over the type of state it should be. This BBC news story has some of the background:

Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) - the ideological mentor of the BJP - said that the country should be called Bharat instead of India

The RSS is a Hindu nationalist organisation, which wants to transform India into a Hindu state. Many Indian citizens of other religions and traditions, and many Hindus, are opposed to this. The constitution of India says that it is to be a secular democratic state; the RSS and its related organisations wish to change this.

As a loose analogy in US political terms, some politically active Christians in the US are accused of subscribing to Dominionism, which they generally deny. The RSS openly wishes to do the Hindu equivalent in India.

The controversy was triggered when the president of India used the term Bharat in their official capacity, in extending invitations to the G20. It's a very loaded term, and the president of India has the primary duty to "preserve, protect and defend the constitution and the law of India." They swear to do this when they take office.

Unlike a US president, the powers of the Indian executive are exercised through the Prime Minister of India. The president, like the heads of state of most Westminster-influenced governments, is not supposed to be actively political. Using "Bharat" raises suspicion that the president favours the transformation of India into a Hindu state.

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    While this is all true, I think it's kind of interesting that this is the case. "India" is actually etymologically closely related to "Hindu," being that both come from सिन्धु (Sindhu in Sanskrit). A priori, one would likely expect the Hindu nationalists to use a name that was close to that of their religion, whereas other people would adopt a name (Bharat) that referred to a tribe of possible non-Indo-Aryan origin that was mentioned in the same sentence as foreigners and haters of the gods, as a means of showing opposition to the idea of the equation of Hinduism with India's history.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 16:22
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    @Obie2.0: Understanding just why particular words acquire political connotations in a multi-lingual state is beyond me. Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 16:30
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    Minor nitpick - Many Indian citizens of other religions... - It is not just the minorities that oppose a theocratic nation but also the majority indian Hindus. In fact if the opposition was only from the 30% minorities India would be a theocratic country today. The partition of India happened amidst large scale religious riots between fundamentalist Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. As Pakistan declared itself a muslim nation, many right-wing Hindus also demanded that the India be a Hindu country. They even fought the first indian election on this plank but all of them only got 6% of the votes. 1/2
    – sfxedit
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 16:55
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    Another political factor behind this gimmick is that nearly all the opposition parties have allied together to fight the BJP in the upcoming Parliamentary elections in the next few months. There alliance is called Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance abbreviated to I.N.D.I.A. Since the opposition now says this is a fight between Modi vs I.N.D.I.A, Modi is trying to claim that he and his party represent the real "Bharath" vs the "colonial brainwashed" INDIA. (2/2)
    – sfxedit
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 17:00
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    Feels like the term dog whistle, which is very common when discussing politics in the U.S., could be applied here.
    – JonathanZ
    Commented Sep 7, 2023 at 16:47
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It adds to India's north-south divide. (I think John Dalman's answer--Hindu nationalism--is the main reason why the possible name change is controversial. Here I just want to add another important reason why the name change might be controversial.)

In Hindi, India is simply Bharat. So, Bharat is already commonly used in north Indians to refer to India.

In contrast, while south Indians do use Bharat (or variants) to refer to India, they do so less often. Tamil speakers might instead use இந்தியா (Intiya) and Malayalam speakers might instead use ഇന്ത്യ (Inthya).


According to one writer Devdutta Pattanaik (India Today, Business Today):

The word ‘Bharat’ refers to certain parts of North India. It’s a name given by Brahmins ... So, whenever people say Bharat, Bharatavarsha, Bharatakhanda, these are coming from Brahmin sources, like Vedas, Puranas, Dharmashastras. It is a very North Indian, Brahminical word that emerges.

Now Rig Veda happens only in the Kurukshetra region. You have the Mahabharata epic, again talking about the Bharata clan…and it happens only in the northern part of India. Kuru-Panchala region is what is today roughly Delhi, Mathura, up to Prayagraj. First, the word Bharatvarsh was carved in stone about 2100 years ago in Odisha in the Hathigumpha caves. You find this word Bharatvarsh but it is referring only to the Gangetic region, not to the entire India. So, the word Bharatvarsh refers to a certain part of North India…and it is a name given by Brahmins. So, when people say Bharat, Bharatkhand, Bharatvarsh, these are coming from Brahmin sources…something like an Aryadesh, the land of Aryans. Bharata is a victorious king of the Aryans. So, it is a very North Indian Brahminical word that emerges

The News Minute:

Social scientist R. Raghuram while speaking to IANS said: “The name change from India to Bharat will be difficult to accept in south India and the DMK will capitalize on it. As a political front who fans Tamil feelings, this issue will be used across the state for tremendous political gain. The BJP, if it intends to change the name, will have to face the backlash in Tamil Nadu and it is certain that the alliance with the AIADMK will not be of any help as the name Bharat is difficult to resonate here.”

The DMK, with its Dravidian identity of social equality and promotion of Tamil, has seized upon the name change issue and will actively speak against it in the state. There is a possibility of a move like the anti-Hindi agitation being revived up by the party in the state.

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