India given ancient name 'Bharat' on G20 dinner invitations by Modi's government

Ancient Sanskrit word believed to date back to early Hindu texts, move comes ahead of this week's summit

The flags of participating countries fly outside the Bharat Mandappam at ITPO Convention Centre, Pragati Maidan, the venue of the upcoming G20 summit in New Delhi on Monday. EPA
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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has replaced the country's more common name with a Sanskrit word in dinner invitations sent to guests ahead of this week's G20 summit in India.

On the invitations, Indian President Droupadi Murmu is referred to as “President of Bharat”.

The nation of more than 1.4 billion is officially known by two names, India and Bharat, but the former is most commonly used, both domestically and internationally.

Bharat is an ancient Sanskrit word that it is believed to date back to early Hindu texts. The word also means India in Hindi.

The move is seen as the latest effort of Mr Modi's Hindu nationalist party to eliminate colonial-era names.

Officials from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party have said the name India was introduced by British colonials and is a “symbol of slavery”. The British ruled India for about 200 years until the country gained independence in 1947.

“Another blow to slavery mentality,” the top elected official of Uttarakhand state, Pushkar Singh Dhami, said on X, formerly known as Twitter. Mr Dhami, who is a leader of Modi's governing party, shared the dinner invitation sent to G20 guests in his post.

In Saudi Arabia, the hashtag Hind — Arabic for India — and Bharat were trending topics on X.

Users of the platform in the kingdom were using the hashtag to discuss Bharat's meaning and origin as it is a Hindi term, while Saudi Press Agency reported that India is "heading towards changing its name to "Bharat", quoting CNBC.

People on Arabic media platforms were discussing the Indian government's proposal to Parliament to change the country's name to Bharat permanently. A special session will be held in parliament on September 18.

Sources told The National that leaders of the G20 countries have requested for meetings with the Saudi Crown Prince on the sidelines of the summit.

Mr Modi’s party has long tried to erase names related to India’s Mughal and colonial past.

A name with 'incalculable brand value'

In 2015, New Delhi’s famous Aurangzeb Road, named after a Mughal king, was changed to Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Road after protests from Modi’s party leaders. Last year, the government also renamed a colonial-era avenue in the heart of New Delhi that is used for ceremonial military parades.

India’s opposition parties criticised the move.

“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,” opposition lawmaker Shashi Tharoor said on X.

He said Indians should continue to use both words rather than "relinquish our claim to a name redolent of history, a name that is recognized around the world”.

Disputes over “India” versus “Bharat” have gained ground since opposition parties in July announced a new alliance — called INDIA — to unseat Mr Modi and defeat his party ahead of national elections in 2024. The acronym stands for Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance.

Since then, some officials in Modi’s party have demanded that the country be called Bharat instead of India.

With additional reporting from Mariam Nihal

Updated: September 05, 2023, 3:20 PM