By: Dipak Kurmi
The central government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has proposed the elimination of the colonial-era moniker ‘INDIA’ in favour of the historically rooted ‘Bharat’ as the official name for our nation. This initiative has already resulted in the rechristening of the presidential title, now referred to as the ‘President of Bharat.’ However, it is worth noting that this endeavour entails a multitude of challenges, particularly in the context of numerous government agencies and institutions that currently incorporate the term ‘INDIA’ in their names. Notably, the venerable institution known as the Reserve Bank of India, prominently featured on our currency notes, also bears the term ‘INDIA’ in its title. The prospect of altering these nomenclatures is fraught with the potential to incite a contentious and polarizing discourse within the country, akin to a modern-day Kurukshetra.
A contentious debate has erupted in the nation surrounding the call to discontinue the usage of the term ‘INDIA.’ Notably, leaders within the opposition coalition known as the Indian National Democratic Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) have asserted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may be hesitant to embrace this change, as they have been closely associated with the existing nomenclature. The opposition coalition leaders have raised a pertinent question: if they were to initiate the transition from ‘INDIA’ to ‘Bharat,’ would the Modi government reciprocate by altering ‘Bharat’? They have levied allegations against Prime Minister Modi himself, citing his previous use of the term ‘INDIA’ in high-profile initiatives like ‘Make in India’ and various government schemes. The crux of the matter, as they argue, is that while they advocate for a single, unified ‘India,’ the motivation behind this endeavour is purportedly rooted in their opposition coalition’s name, ‘INDIA.’
The primary catalyst behind the nation’s movement to disengage from the usage of the term ‘INDIA’ lies deeply entrenched within the political landscape, particularly within the ambit of the opposition coalition’s acronym, I.N.D.I.A. While the surface discourse might suggest a mere linguistic transition, a closer examination reveals a more profound motive animating the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government’s stance. The BJP seeks to foster a unifying vision for our country, striving to transform it into a singular Indian nation-state. It is crucial to recognize that the term ‘INDIA,’ having been bestowed by the British colonial legacy, carries with it a connotation of pluralism and diversity. This association resonates significantly with the myriad nations to our South and the hill regions of our Northeast, where linguistic and cultural diversity holds prominence.
In the South, particularly, a pronounced inclination toward anti-Hindi sentiments prevails, and English is often preferred over Hindi as the national language. Consequently, the name ‘INDIA’ is not merely a label; it serves as a psychological anchor, invoking sentiments of distinct ethnic security and safeguarding separate identities. This sentiment does not align seamlessly with the BJP’s vision of a homogenized, one-language, one-nation, one-country paradigm. The BJP’s overarching objective is to reshape the narrative around the coexistence of India’s diverse populace, necessitating the cultivation of a unified national psyche.
The coexistence of the names ‘Bharat’ and ‘India’ in parallel signifies the coexistence of two divergent psychologies within the nation. To achieve its goal of fostering a singular national mindset, the BJP has embarked on a journey to dismantle this duality, beginning with the elimination of one of these symbols. This endeavour represents a pivotal step in redefining the collective consciousness and forging a new narrative that is more aligned with the BJP’s vision of a unified Indian nation.
The historical context of British colonial rule in India sheds light on a significant aspect of this debate. It was indeed the British who, through political annexation, incorporated the entire Northeastern region, including Assam, into what was known as ‘INDIA.’ During the British colonial era, ‘INDIA’ represented the administrative entity that engendered economic and political ties, strengthening and expanding its influence throughout the Northeast. Prior to the British arrival, Assam had longstanding economic and cultural connections with the broader Indian subcontinent, albeit somewhat sporadic. However, it’s crucial to recognize that this ‘India’ was, for the people of Assam and the Northeast, a foreign entity, not their own homeland.
In effect, it was under the aegis of British rule that the region began to coalesce with ‘INDIA,’ not ‘India.’ The alternative identity for ‘India’ was not ‘INDIA’ for the residents of Assam and the Northeast; rather, it was ‘India.’ Therefore, the question arises: if the BJP were to disavow the British-imposed ‘INDIA’ nomenclature for the country, could this potentially extend to a reconsideration of the Northeast’s status? This region, acquired and annexed by the British as part of their colonial inheritance, might be perceived as a foreign addition to ‘INDIA.’ The notion of liberation, or at least a reevaluation of the region’s integration, could emerge as a subject of discussion within the broader context of redefining national identity and historical legacies.
Chief Minister of Assam, Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma, recently put forth an argument suggesting that the revered saint and scholar, Sankardev, used the term ‘Bharat’ rather than ‘INDIA.’ This argument, however, may appear somewhat perplexing when scrutinized in historical context. It’s essential to recognize that during Sankardev’s era, the British colonial presence had not yet cast its shadow over India, and Assam did not constitute a political component of the Indian subcontinent.
Consequently, if we were to transpose the India of Sankardev’s time onto the contemporary map, it would necessitate the exclusion of Assam and the Northeast from its political boundaries. This raises a critical question: Is the Honorable Chief Minister prepared to advocate for such a radical realignment? It is important to acknowledge that while considering this hypothetical scenario, cultural ties between India and Assam would ideally endure undisturbed. Nevertheless, the realignment of political boundaries would carry profound implications for the regional and national dynamics, warranting thoughtful deliberation and extensive dialogue.
The BJP staunchly adheres to a vision that refutes the notion of India as a conglomerate of diverse nationalities, instead emphasizing the cultivation of a singular, unified Indian national identity. This unwavering commitment seeks to fortify a cohesive and robust Indian nation-state by consciously eschewing all forms of regionalism or ‘casteism.’ While the BJP may engage in strategic alliances with regional-nationalist parties to attain power in certain states, it is important to discern that these collaborations primarily serve the purpose of diluting regional-nationalism, ultimately assimilating it into the overarching framework of Indian nationalism, rather than strengthening it. This approach remains a persistent endeavour.
In line with this perspective, Chief Minister Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma has openly articulated the imperative for Assamese individuals to broaden their perspective and consider fellow Indians from other regions as compatriots. This brand of Indianism, as championed by the BJP and the Dr. Sharma government, may contribute to the prominence of Hindi and Bengali speakers in Assam and the growing influence of North Indian Hindu culture. However, this trajectory also carries with it the potential peril of eroding the distinct cultural identity of the Assamese. The delicate balance between fostering a cohesive national identity and preserving the rich tapestry of regional cultures in India remains an ongoing challenge that demands nuanced consideration.
The BJP’s ambitious agenda of forging a unified Indian nation characterized by one country, one nation, one language, one culture, one education, and one mentality is fraught with uncertainties about its eventual realization. The formidable challenge lies in the enduring specter of India’s intrinsic pluralism and the diverse identities that define its people. This innate diversity, which has been integral to the fabric of India for centuries, may prove to be a formidable obstacle that resists the BJP’s journey toward a singular national identity. The intricate interplay between unity and diversity in India’s national narrative is likely to remain a complex and evolving dynamic, one that may not easily yield to the singular vision articulated by the ruling party.
There exists a compelling discourse in favour of disavowing the name ‘INDIA,’ underpinned by the laudable aim of shedding colonial symbols from the nation’s identity. The term ‘India,’ conversely, carries with it a profound sense of dignity and heritage intrinsic to the Indian populace. It is worth noting that our national anthem, a quintessential embodiment of our nation’s ethos, explicitly proclaims ‘India,’ not ‘INDIA.’ This anthem resonates as a cultural touchstone.
Moreover, political leaders have further underscored the polarity surrounding this debate. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, through various schemes labeled ‘INDIA,’ has laid claim to this nomenclature, while Congress leader Rahul Gandhi opted for ‘Bharat’ in his nationwide campaign, ‘Bharat Jodo,’ rather than ‘INDIA Jodo.’ This diversity of opinion generates a multifaceted discourse, leading to contentious deliberations over the prospect of boycotting ‘INDIA.’
The government’s steadfast adherence to altering English names remains a noteworthy aspect. However, the extent to which these changes can be effectively implemented remains to be seen. Should there be a change in government; reversals of the BJP’s renaming endeavors are not unlikely. Names like ‘President of India,’ ‘Government of India,’ and the ‘Reserve Bank of India,’ could conceivably revert to their prior designations. In essence, the heart of the matter lies in the nexus between power and politics, with both the government and opposition fervently engaging in this dialogue to advance their respective political agendas. The ongoing debate is thus likely to persist as an enduring feature of the Indian political landscape.
The haste with which the government is pursuing the removal of the name ‘INDIA’ appears somewhat perplexing to us, despite the articulate arguments and explanations presented by its representatives. Our approach, thus far, has not entailed an absolute renunciation or overhaul of the linguistic and infrastructural legacy left by the British colonial era. Rather, we have chosen to engage in the restoration and enhancement of these resources as necessary, whether they be factories, plantations, roads, bridges, houses, doors, railways, postal services, or banking facilities.
It is imperative to recognize that the contributions and innovations stemming from the talents and intellect of the British have evolved into shared assets of human civilization. The English language, the toponyms conferred by the British, and even the nations or territories delineated by them no longer remain exclusive dominions of British origin. Within this context, the notion that the name ‘India,’ as bestowed by the British somehow diminishes the dignity of our people becomes increasingly difficult to substantiate.
While remnants of colonialism do indeed persist, it remains a challenging proposition to implicate the name ‘INDIA’ as a contributing factor to this legacy. In our pursuit of acknowledging and addressing the vestiges of colonial rule, a more nuanced and comprehensive approach may be required, one that refrains from hasty alterations to nomenclature and instead focuses on addressing the substantive and enduring issues associated with colonialism.
The motivation behind the opposition coalition’s embrace of the country’s name appears to be rooted in electoral considerations, seeking to leverage it for political advantage. Their strategic adoption of the name ‘INDIA’ aims to convey a semblance of profound commitment to the nation. However, there is an undertone of deception, a calculated attempt to mislead the electorate by creating the impression that they inherently embody the essence of the nation, India. This stratagem draws parallels to the era of Indira Gandhi, where the slogan “Indira is India, India is Indira” pervaded the political landscape, raising concerns about the people’s sentiments and their perception of such claims.
The opposition coalition’s alignment with ‘INDIA’ may be interpreted as a modern-day manifestation of a similar tendency. This deliberate association with the nation’s name raises questions about the genuineness of their commitment and the underlying intentions. It is essential to scrutinize whether the coalition’s approach genuinely resonates with the core principles and values of the nation or if it predominantly serves as a political maneuver aimed at securing electoral support. (The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)