No identity crisis for Indians in UAE as Bharat name change debate rages

Indian residents say both India and Bharat are in common usage and argue controversy is needless distraction from more important issues

Is it India or Bharat or both? This question around G20 invite stirs controversy

Is it India or Bharat or both? This question around G20 invite stirs controversy
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Indians living in the UAE said they would continue to use India and Bharat when referring to their home country and that it would take years for any planned name change to actually stick.

The mention of Bharat in a G20 dinner reception invitation from Indian President Droupadi Murmu and in official information relating to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to an East Asian summit has sparked a row in India.

The official government communication referred to them as the President of Bharat and the Prime Minister of Bharat.

For me India is Bharat and Bharat is India
Bharat Chachara, chief executive of Dubai's India Club

The Indian constitution, drafted in 1949, uses both names and states “India, that is Bharat shall be a Union of States".

Indians refer to their country as India, Bharat or Hindustan in several regional languages, in regular conversation and official communication.

Change will not happen overnight

Indians living in the UAE are divided about the controversy at home.

Suddesh Agarwal, a businessman who was founding chairman of the India Trade and Exhibition Centre, backed the change but said it would take more than a generation for it to take effect.

“It’s a good beginning to come out of the legacy of a colonial mindset of names imposed by British rulers or the Mughals,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has over the years swapped the names of cities, roads, parks and railway stations to ones related to ancient scriptures or history as part of a move away from names imposed by Mughal and British colonial rulers.

The government said such moves were intended to help India overcome a "mentality of slavery".

Years before the BJP came to power, other political parties too renamed cities to erase colonial-era names.

But Mr Agarwal pointed out that people still refer to the country’s financial hub as Bombay, and not Mumbai, to the southern city as Bangalore instead of Bengaluru and Calcutta rather than Kolkata – all cities renamed years ago by previous governments.

“These changes don’t happen overnight, people still say Bombay and Bangalore. It takes a long time to get it into the system,” he said.

“It may be a slow process, but when the official machinery starts changing government records, then all communication and stationary will change to Bharat over a period of time.”

Many clubs and organisations in the UAE have India in the title and few have plans to switch to Bharat.

“We would stay with the name India Club,” said Bharat Chachara, chief executive of Dubai’s oldest community club.

“Our club turns 60 next year and the name India is really the identity of the club.

"Bharat Club headed by Bharat just does not sound right."

The Dubai resident also happens to be called Bharat, a popular name among Indians.

However, he was named after Bharata, a Hindu king in sacred Indian texts, and not after the country Bharat. Each is pronounced differently, but only Indian-language speakers would understand the inflection.

“This will be a good conversation starter as people will now think I’m Bharat, named after the country,” Mr Chachara said.

“When I'm talking about the country, I use both in conversation. For me India is Bharat and Bharat is India.

“But it will take a couple of generations for a new name to stick.

“People have grown up with a certain name, you cannot change what is in their mind.”

Wait for official announcement

Others said they would wait for a government announcement for official guidance on referring to India as Bharat.

“We will wait for clarity that we will get from the school board and this could come in the form of a notification from the government of India,” said Sheela Menon, principal of Ambassador School, Dubai that follows the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education or ICSE Indian curriculum.

“Students have not started asking us questions [about it] because it’s still early.

“People would have their personal preferences whether to keep to India or change to saying Bharat.”

Several expatriates described it as a ploy to distract people from inflation and high food prices before federal elections next year.

Bipin Jacob, general secretary of the Indian Youth Congress International, said the government should not change the names of age-old institutions such as India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India or the Indian Railways.

“The country has more important things to focus on and the government wants to deflect the attention of people,” he said.

“They don’t want people to think of inflation and the price of petrol.”

Punnakkan Muhammed Ali, a social worker from the southern state of Kerala, described it as an “unnecessary controversy and a conspiracy to divert our attention and divide the people”.

He said the discussion should be about the achievements and failures of the administration, but instead “this is just a controversy for political gain".

Updated: September 06, 2023, 2:31 PM