NEW DELHI: The Modi government on Tuesday appeared to have made an unannounced move towards changing the country’s name from the internationally recognised ‘India’ to the Hindi variant, ‘Bharat’.

The Constitution describes the country in the preamble as India and Bharat. There has been a longstanding quest for the Hindu right to drop India as the country’s official name.

An official Indian invitation to the heads of state for the G20 dinner on Sept 9 was sent out in the name of the ‘President of Bharat’, an unusual representation for the President of India.

The BJP tweeted the programme of Prime Minister of Bharat Narendra Modi’s short visit to a regional meet in Indonesia starting Wednesday.

Opposition says govt diverting attention from its ‘diplomatic failures’ over G20 summit

News portal The Wire confirmed that the invitation card is genuine and such wording has been used for the second time. During PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Greece last month, all protocol material put out referred to the “Prime Minister of Bharat”, it is believed.

The unusual presidential invitation came on the heels of a public demand by the head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh at the weekend, calling for the name of India to be changed in favour of Bharat.

Opposition groups charged the government with seeking to divert attention from its alleged diplomatic failures signified by the absence of the Chinese and Russian presidents from the G20 summit.

Mr Modi has projected the summit as the crowning glory for India, but opposition parties say India had seen more heads of states at a major event when Indira Gandhi hosted the 129-member non-aligned movement’s summit in 1983.

The government has scheduled a special Sept 18-22 session of parliament, but has not so far said what it wants to discuss. This has set off speculation it would try to formalise its preferred name through a constitutional amendment.

However, Mr Modi may not have the numbers needed for the major change, in which case it could become another string in his electoral bow for the general elections due in May next year.

The name India has another reason to offend the Hindu right. Ever since a block of 27 opposition parties got together and opted to call themselves INDIA, standing for Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, the BJP has been confused about the pitch it must adopt.

“A week later, Modi was still thinking and talking about the alliance’s name — going as far as to say that even Indian Mujahideen and East India Company had India in their name,” The Wire said.

Branding experts have said that the alliance’s name, INDIA, had created significant interest. Other members of the opposition, including parliamentarians from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Congress and Rashtriya Janata Dal, also subsequently lashed out at the government, saying the change of name showed it was rattled by the joint opposition INDIA alliance.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin said in a statement the move comes after the opposition alliance named itself INDIA and added that while the BJP had promised “transform India, but all we got is a name change after 9 years!”

Delhi CM and AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal told a press conference that the move stems from the BJP being “upset with the INDIA alliance”.

No official statement has been made by the Rashtrapati Bhawan or the Ministry of External Affairs, which is coordinating the G20 events. When asked about the authenticity of the invitation doing the rounds on social media, Rashtrapati Bhawan sources conveyed that G20 events are being coordinated by the MEA and only they can respond on this.

Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi said both Bharat and India were accepted names of the country, yet the BJP was presenting them in opposition to each other.

“The ‘I’ in ISRO (space agency) is India, the “I” in IITs (technology institutes founded by Jawaharlal Nehru)) is India, the ‘I’ in IPS is India. The BJP’s politics has stooped so low because they are afraid of the INDIA (opposition) alliance.”

Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2023

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