As India prepares to host the Group of 20 summit this week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has raised eyebrows. after an official invitation sent on behalf of the president used a different name for the country: Bharat.
A dinner invitation sent to visiting G20 leaders on Tuesday described Draupadi Murmu as “President of Bharat” instead of “President of India”.
The move was hailed by many Hindu nationalist leaders of Mr Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, who said it represented a rejection of the country’s colonial heritage (although the term “India” was widely used before the British set foot on the subcontinent).
But opposition groups have questioned the motivation and timing of using Bharat, which appeals to the prime minister’s Hindu nationalist base.
There was no immediate comment from Mr Modi to suggest he would decide to officially change the country’s name to Bharat. But Indian media reported Wednesday evening that his party may propose the change at an upcoming session of the federal parliament.
Mr Modi’s penchant for sudden political moves to excite his supporters, including a blunt ban on the country’s largest banknotes, has made him more popular with his base.
Bharat, originally a Sanskrit word, is the official name of the nation in Hindi, but in all communication in English and with other countries the nomenclature is India. The country’s Constitution uses the term only once – “India, i.e. Bharat, shall be a Union of States”, says Article 1 – but that was enough for at least one government official.
“‘India is Bharat’ – it’s there in the Constitution,” Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s foreign minister, told a news agency on Wednesday. “Please, I would invite everyone to read it.”
However, the Constitution refers to the nominal head of the country as the President of India.
The controversy over the invitation came days after Mohan Bhagwat, the head of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an organization with strong influence on India’s Hindu right, said people should use the name Bharat instead of India. .
In recent years, leaders of Mr Modi’s party have changed other place names, including that of a bustling city in northern India, saying their aim was to erase remnants of the country’s colonial past . But critics from ruling Hindu nationalists have pointed out that many of these places have Muslim-sounding names; Muslims are increasingly under attack under Mr Modi’s regime.
Opposition political leaders have criticized the use of the name Bharat. Their newly formed alliance is known as INDIA – the Indian National Alliance for Inclusive Development – and it is working to prevent Mr Modi from winning a third consecutive term in the general election next year.
“It’s only been a few weeks since we named our alliance INDIA and the BJP has started sending out invitations with ‘Republic of Bharat’ instead of ‘Republic of India’,” one of the leaders said. opposition, Manoj Jha, on social networks.
“You can’t take India from us or take Bharat from us,” he said.