Fact Check

India Is Changing Its Name to 'Bharat'?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, BJP, has described India as a “colonial-era” name.

Published Sept. 7, 2023

Updated Sept. 8, 2023
 (Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs (India)/Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs (India)/Wikimedia Commons
Claim:
India is officially changing its name to "Bharat," an ancient Sanskrit word that historians believe dates back to early Hindu texts.
What's True

The ruling BJP party used “Bharat” in official invitations for the G20 Summit — a shift from the usual use of “India” on the international stage. India and Bharat are used interchangeably officially and by the public, and are both mentioned in the Indian Constitution. Previously, the BJP has changed the names of Indian cities that originated in colonial rule, but also with Muslim heritage, as part of a right-wing Hindu nationalist effort.

What's False

The name of the country has not been officially changed in any way. However ...

What's Undetermined

... Indian news outlets have reported speculation that there may be a parliamentary resolution introduced in late September 2023 to officially rename India to Bharat. This is unconfirmed as of this writing.

In early September 2023, invitations sent to world leaders for a dinner hosted at the G20 New Delhi Summit raised eyebrows for its use of "Bharat" in place of the name "India." The invitations referred to "The President of Bharat" and not India. 

On Sept. 5, 2023, a tweet from a spokesperson for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as "Prime Minister of Bharat" on an official card referencing his Sept. 7 visit to Indonesia.  

This led to speculation that the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP party was planning to officially change the name of the country of India to Bharat, an ancient Sanskrit word that historians believe dates back to early Hindu texts. 

While there is speculation of a parliamentary resolution to change the name of the country, India is still the official name, and it has not been changed. The BJP, however, has a record of changing names of places linked to colonial-era history, as well as to Muslim history. Thus, government efforts to rename India to Bharat are possible. 

The government's use of Bharat in official invitations on the international stage is indeed unusual, but it is not uncommon to hear the name Bharat used to refer to the country. India is the name best known around the world, but it is also referred to interchangeably as Bharat and Hindustan, both officially in the country and by the public. 

Why the BJP's Effort is Controversial

"Bharat" is drawn from the words "Bharata" or "Bharatvarsha." It is believed to originate from Puranic literature (a class of Hindu sacred writings from around 2,000 years ago) and from the epic Mahabharata. The Puranas describe Bharat as the land between the "sea in the south and the abode of snow in the north." Social scientists have referred to Bharata as a religious and socio-cultural entity and not a political or geographic region, and Bharata is also the name of an ancient king from legend who was the ancestor of a Rig Vedic tribe, and who were considered to be progenitors of all people in the subcontinent.

While the BJP argues that India was a name imposed by the British, historians say that the name predates colonial rule. The name India came from the river Indus, which was also referred to as Sindhu in Sanskrit. And while Bharat is considered an even older name, travelers from regions as far as Greece referred to the land as India even before the arrival of Alexander the Great's armies in the 3rd century BCE.

Part 1 of the English-language version of the Constitution of India begins with "India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States." The English text largely refers to the country as India. However, the Constitution is also available in all of India's numerous official languages, and "Bharat" is used to refer to the country in other languages, too, including Hindi. In Hindi, Bharat replaces India across the entire text except the part in the beginning, which states "Bharat, that is India, shall be a Union of States."

Modi often refers to India as Bharat in his speeches. His party, the BJP, has argued that the name India was imposed by British colonizers who ran the country for around two centuries before independence in 1947, and is a "symbol of slavery." 

However, the BJP has also been responsible for changing the names of numerous cities and sites with ties to Muslim and Mughal heritage. In 2022, the presidential palace's Mughal Gardens was renamed Amrit Udyan. In 2018, the city of Allahabad, founded by Mughal emperor Akbar, was renamed Prayagraj, while Mughalsarai, a historic railway junction nearby, was renamed Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Junction, after a Hindu nationalist leader. 

The efforts to use Bharat over India have thus led to accusations that this is part of BJP efforts to erase heritage and evoke a solely Hindu past in a nation that has long been regarded as an example of secularism. 

Will the Name be Changed?

Right now, any official name change is speculation. The government announced a special parliamentary session for Sept. 18-22, 2023, without an agenda in place, leading to rumors that a bill would be put forth to rename the country. 

Information Minister Arunag Thakur dismissed the idea as "just rumors" in response to questions from local newspaper The Indian Express.

He added, "All I want to say is that anyone who objects to the word Bharat clearly shows the mindset."

Some argue this renaming is the BJP's attempt to appeal to their hardline Hindu nationalist voting base, and is a dig at opposition parties who are uniting to challenge them in the 2024 elections. The opposing Indian National Congress had formed an alliance with other parties, aiming to unseat the BJP in the 2024 elections, calling it the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA). 

Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi and leader of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), also criticized the BJP: "I have no official information that this [name change] is happening. Just because many opposition parties have formed an alliance and called it INDIA, will the Centre change the name of the country? The country belongs to 140 crore people, not to one party. If the name of the alliance is changed to Bharat, will they change the name of Bharat to BJP?"

Shashi Tharoor, a politician in the Congress party, posted on Twitter, "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." 

One BJP parliamentarian, Parvesh Verma, prepared a private member's bill seeking to amend the Constitution's preamble to remove the word "India." However, a private member's bill is a legislative proposal introduced by a member of the House who is not a minister. While it was created for parliamentarians to draw attention to issues not raised in government bills (which are introduced by ministers), it is notoriously difficult to push through and very rarely becomes law. Furthermore, the government has not confirmed the special parliament session agenda, and it reportedly has no time demarcated for a private member's bill. 

Given that the BJP has renamed cities and historic sites and has pushed to use Bharat more in official communications on an international level, it is possible that it could plan to officially change the name of India to Bharat, even though the names are already used interchangeably in official capacities. However, there is presently no bill or proposal to do so. Until we learn more about any possible proposals to change the country's name, we rate this claim as a "Unproven." 

Sources

"Bharat G20 Invitation Fuels Rumours India May Change Name." The Guardian, 5 Sept. 2023. The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/sep/05/bharat-g20-invitation-fuels-rumours-india-may-change-name. Accessed 7 Sept. 2023.

"Constitution of India." Legislative Department | India. https://legislative.gov.in/constitution-of-india/. Accessed 7 Sept. 2023.

"Definition of PURANA." Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Purana. Accessed 7 Sept. 2023.

"Etymology of the Name India." World History Encyclopedia, https://www.worldhistory.org/article/203/etymology-of-the-name-india/. Accessed 8 Sept. 2023.

"G20 Invite Fuels Speculation about Legislation to Rename India as Bharat." Hindustan Times, 5 Sept. 2023, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/union-government-speculation-india-to-be-renamed-bharat-opposition-parties-question-bjp-s-motives-101693904144035.html. Accessed 7 Sept. 2023.

Ibrahim, Nur. "Was the 'Mahabharata' Real, Myth, or Both?" Snopes, 16 Sept. 2022, https://www.snopes.com/articles/452170/mahabharata-real-myth-or-both/. Accessed 7 Sept. 2023.

"'If We Call Alliance Bharat...': Arvind Kejriwal On 'Renaming' Row." NDTV.Com, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/if-we-name-alliance-bharat-will-they-call-country-bjp-arvind-kejriwal-4361334. Accessed 7 Sept. 2023.

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"India or Bharat: What's behind the Dispute over the Country's Name?" Al Jazeera English, Sept. 6, 2023. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/9/6/india-or-bharat-whats-behind-the-dispute-over-the-countrys-name. Accessed 7 Sept. 2023.

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Kaushik, Krishn. "Is India Changing Its Name to Bharat? G20 Invite Controversy Explained." Reuters, 6 Sept. 2023. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/world/india/is-india-changing-its-name-bharat-g20-invite-controversy-explained-2023-09-06/. Accessed Sept. 8. 2023.

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Updates

Sept 8, 2023: The article was amended to include more details about the Hindi-language constitution and the history and etymology of the word "India."

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.

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