India vs Bharat: How the Modi government invited controversy

Leaders from the ruling front and the opposition accuse the other of trying to exploit the situation after a G20 Summit dinner invitation by the Rashtrapati Bhavan referred to President Droupadi Murmu as 'President of Bharat'


Nithin Belle

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Published: Tue 5 Sep 2023, 7:20 PM

Last updated: Tue 5 Sep 2023, 7:21 PM

An invitation for a G20 Summit dinner sent by the Rashtrapati Bhavan in the name of the ‘President of Bharat’ has stirred a huge controversy, with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) crossing swords with the opposition over the use of the word ‘Bharat’ instead of ‘India’.

Leaders from the ruling front and the opposition were embroiled in a running battle on Tuesday, with both sides accusing the other of trying to exploit the situation. Referring to the invitation by Droupadi Murmu, described as the ‘President of Bharat’, the Congress – which is part of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), representing more than two-dozen parties – said it reflected the government was ‘scared’ of the new alliance.

“(Narendra) Modi can continue to distort history and divide India, that is Bharat, that is a Union of States. But we will not be deterred,” said Jairam Ramesh, the Congress general secretary. “After all, what is the objective of INDIA parties? It is BHARAT Bring Harmony, Amity, Reconciliation And Trust. Judega BHARAT Jeetega INDIA!” He pointed out that it was the BJP which came up with Digital India, Start Up India, New India, and so on, “to which the Congress’ response was the Bharat Jodo Yatra, the first anniversary of whose launch is day after tomorrow,” he added.

Other opposition leaders including West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, DMK president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, People’s Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also hit out at the BJP for using ‘Bharat’ instead of ‘India’.

Asked Banerjee: “We call the country Bharat, what is new in this? In English, we say India... There’s nothing new to be done. The world knows us as India. What happened suddenly that the name of the country needs to be changed?”

Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor pointed out that while there is no constitutional objection to calling India “Bharat”, which is one of the country’s two official names, “I hope the government will not be so foolish as to completely dispense with “India”, which has incalculable brand value built up over centuries. We should continue to use both words rather than relinquish our claim to a name redolent of history, a name that is recognised around the world.”

Kejriwal wondered whether the government would change the name of the country if someone sets up a party with the same term. “This is a country of 1.4 billion people. What if the INDIA bloc decides to change its name to Bharat after holding a meeting tomorrow? Will they then change the name of Bharat to BJP?” he asked.

Sharad Pawar said he did not understand “why the ruling party is perturbed over a name related to the country.” Congress leader K.C. Venugopal accused the BJP of “creating a rift between Indians and Bharatiyas. This is petty politics because they are scared of INDIA. Try what you will, Modi ji. Judega Bharat, Jeetega INDIA!”

BJP leaders and ministers, however, defended the move of the president to use ‘Bharat’ instead of ‘India’ on the official G20 invitation. Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said he was proud of the fact that the president had given priority to ‘Bharat’. “This is the biggest statement to come out of the colonial mindset,” he added.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology asserted that the country was Bharat and will always remain so. Referring to the Congress opposition, he said “they have a problem with everything and I do not want to say anything for them. I am a 'Bharatwaasi', the name of my country was 'Bharat' and will remain 'Bharat' always. If Congress has a problem with this, they should find a cure for it themselves.”

Earlier, during the monsoon session of the Indian parliament, Naresh Bansal, a BJP MP in the upper house, had also demanded the removal of ‘India’ from the constitution, claiming it symbolised ‘colonial slavery’. Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) had also urged people to refer to the country as ‘Bharat,’ a name that has been used for centuries.

Interestingly, Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan took to social media, posting on ‘X’ (formerly Twitter): “Bharat Mata Ki Jai.”

There is also speculation that the government, which has called for a special session of parliament later this month, may introduce a constitutional amendment bill to rename the country as ‘Bharat’. The Indian constitution refers to the country as ‘India that is Bharat.’

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