Name change for nation: Jinnah also opposed use of India name after Partition

The use of the word India is not a colonial legacy in any way; the word was there much before the British East India Company came here for trade and plunder. This word also was used by anti-colonial movements. This is how the country was known in the world.

Dr Ram Puniyani Sep 25, 2023

Coincidentally after the opposition parties came together to form INDIA (Indian National Democratic Inclusive Alliance), India's ruling BJP is desisting from the use of the word India in official communiqués and its parent organizations RSS has issued a directive that only the word Bharat should be used as the name of the country. While inviting the representatives of G20 at the recent summit in New Delhi, President Droupaid Murmu issued the invitation in the name of ‘Rashtrapati of Bharat’. Since then BJP has been on the track of avoiding the use of the word India in all its pronouncements, saying this word smacks of colonial legacy since this word was ostensibly given to the country by British colonial rulers. Assam Chief Minister Hemant Biswa Sarma of the BJP said that the word India is part of the colonial legacy and should be removed.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and other functionaries have intensified this message. Speaking at a function at Guwahati,  Bhagwat, stated “We must stop using the word India and start using Bharat. At times we use India to make those who speak English understand. This comes as the flow however we must stop using this.” There are attempts to show as if India and Bharat represent different streams of culture and parts of the country. Sometimes these worthies have also been seeing the country in two contrasting components like an earlier statement of Bhagwat that "Rape takes place in India not in Bharat”. As per his totally false notion, Bhagwat claimed that rapes and gang rapes are restricted to "urban India" with its Western culture and that such "things" do not happen in rural India, where traditional values hold sway. The debate has been propped up again in the context of very pertinent and effective use of the word INDIA for its coalition by opposition parties.

Diverse sources of country's name

As such the sources of the name of India are multifarious. As civilizations are not static and things change with time and situation, even the names of continents, kingdoms and countries have transformed. There are many sources of the two major names of the country. One is Bharat, which is rooted in the holy scriptures sources; in some sources, one finds other names like Jambudweep. This is found in the edicts of Ashoka also. Jambudweep stands for the southern of the four continents around Meru, the centre of these land masses. This is ratified by the cosmological understanding also.  This Jambudweep (after the jamun (berry) tree,) included what are now Maldives, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Similarly, Aryavarta was also used for the Ganga basin where the Aryans primarily settled after arrival here.

Reference to Bharat is mostly after the Bharat tribe and the great ancient and righteous king Bharat. In Rig-Veda (18th hymn, seventh book) there is a mention of Dasrajan’s battle against King Sudasa, the king from the Bharat tribe. The epic Mahabharata mentions Bharat 'chakravarty' (winning emperor) of the Bharat dynasty as the ancestor of the Kauravas and Pandavas.  Vishnu Purana mentions Bharat Vansham, Bharat’s empire, which includes today’s Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran among others. In Jain literature, Bharat Chakravarty is the eldest son of the first Jain Tirthankar (founder).

The other names are generally around the river Sindhu. Avesta mentions it as Haptahindu. Similarly, Vedas at places mention it as Saptasindhu. Achaemenid (Persian) sources mention it as Hindush. Even before this; 4th century BCE, Megathanese, the ancient Greek historian, diplomat, and explorer in the Hellenistic period, described India in his book Indica. This was the source of India in the times to come. Those saying that it is a colonial legacy are unaware of the complex history of the genesis of the term India and have political motives now in refusing to use the Constitution of India’s nomenclature ‘India that is Bharat’.

'India' name not a colonial legacy

Human civilizations are not static. Rather static civilizations cannot prosper and flourish. This was seen by those who were struggling against the colonial forces. That’s how Surendranath Bannerjee used the term, "India: Nation in the Making", Mahatma Gandhi began his paper ''Young India '', Ambedkar formed his Indian Labor Party and later laid the foundation of the Republican Party of India. The use of the word India is not a colonial legacy in any way; the word was there much before the British East India Company came here for trade and plunder. This word also was used by anti-colonial movements. This is how the country was known in the world.

On the pretext of colonial legacy and Western influence, those wanting to stop the usage of this word are deeply opposed to the values of the transition towards democratic values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.  Interestingly till a while ago, the same forces used the word India in abundant measure, campaigns like ‘Made in India’, ‘Skill India’, and ‘My Clean India’ being a few among them. In earlier election rallies also Modi talked of ‘Vote for India’ times and over again.

‘India that is Bharat’ was a beautiful elaboration of continuity and change. While it retains the glorious aspects of traditions, it opens its arms to the changes that are in tune with the times and which lay the foundation for the modernization of India.

Nation's name not a binary

Those formulating the Indian Constitution had no allergy to the word Bharat. It was heartily accepted as the new nation's soul. They did not think of a binary but conceptualized the reality of the country in modern times. This is very well reflected in the acceptance of the Anthem ‘Jan Gan Man’ by  Rabindranath Tagore, which mentions, Bharat Bhagya Vidhata (controller of India’s destiny). In continuation with this Rajiv Gandhi, while dreaming of India of the 21st century, also gave the slogan of ‘Mera Bharat Mahan’ (My Great India, Bharat).

India is also how the world has been recognizing the country. Interestingly the first person to oppose the use of India was Pakistan's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Four weeks after independence he wrote to the Governor General of India; Lord Mountbatten, objecting to the usage of India for the country. “It is a pity that for some mysterious reason Hindustan has adopted the word ‘India’ which is certainly misleading and is intended to create confusion.”, As per him India was a joint entity and after Partition it ceased to exist. Can one not say the present opponents of the usage of the nomenclature 'India' are toeing Jinnah’s line on this matter?

(The writer, a former IIT Bombay professor, is Chairman, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai. Views are personal.) 

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