A needless controversy over the country’s names has erupted days before the G20 summit being hosted by New Delhi. Invitations for a G20 dinner described Droupadi Murmu as the ‘President of Bharat’ instead of the usual title ‘President of India’, prompting the Opposition to allege that the BJP-led Union Government had decided on ‘Bharat’ as the country’s official name and was planning to do away with ‘India’. According to a booklet titled ‘Bharat: The Mother of Democracy’, brought out for G20 delegates, ‘Bharat is the official name of the country. It is mentioned in the Constitution, as also in the discussions of 1946-48.’ BJP leaders are rooting for ‘Bharat’, while asserting that there should be no quarrel with addressing the country’s constitutional head as the ‘President of Bharat’.
Article 1 of the Constitution says: ‘India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States’. ‘India’ and ‘Bharat’ have coexisted for a very long time, being used interchangeably without any visible contradiction or disagreement. In a classic example, both names appear equally prominently on India’s coins of various denominations.
The government’s move is, unfortunately, seen as a knee-jerk reaction to the Opposition alliance’s ploy of naming itself INDIA. However, the Modi dispensation would be well advised not to be rattled or provoked by the tactics of a group of disparate Opposition parties presenting a united front. The ongoing war of words is a bad advertisement for a country that is all set to showcase its potential for global leadership during the G20 summit. The senseless quibbling over names does not behove the world’s fastest-growing major economy. The country, which became a republic in 1950, has been largely comfortable with its dual, bilingual identity that seamlessly blends tradition with modernity. Any attempt to impose ‘Bharat’ on Indian citizens at the expense of ‘India’ would be a regressive step, fraught with disruptive consequences. Let there be space for both, as has always been the case.
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