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'President of Bharat' dinner invite leads to speculation India will change its name

It all stems from a simple invite sent out for a dinner on the sidelines of the G20 summit, which referred to India's President Droupadi Murmu as the "President of Bharat".

So, what is Bharat and why has this invite led to suspicions India will soon change its name?

The president of Bharat

By convention, invitations issued by Indian constitutional bodies have always mentioned the name India when the text is in English, and the name Bharat when the text is in Hindi.

However, the invites — in English – for the G20 dinner called Mr Murmu the President of Bharat.

An official at the president's office said they didn't want to comment on the issue when asked by Reuters.

Given the Hindu-nationalist ideology of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government and its push for increased use of Hindi, critics responded to the use of Bharat in the invites by suggesting the government was pushing for the name to be officially changed.

Over the years, Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has been changing colonial names of towns and cities claiming to help India move past what it has termed a mentality of slavery.

In English, the South Asian giant is called India, while in Indian languages it is also called Bharat, Bharata and Hindustan.

The preamble to the English version of the constitution starts with the words "We, the people of India…," and then in Part One of the document it states "India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States".

In Hindi, the constitution replaces India with Bharat everywhere, except the part defining the country's names, which says in Hindi, "Bharat, that is India, shall be a Union of States".

Both names have existed for more than two millennia.

While some supporters of the name Bharat say "India" was given by British colonisers, historians say the name predates colonial rule by centuries.

India comes from the river Indus, which was called Sindhu in Sanskrit. Travellers from as far away as Greece would identify the region southeast of the Indus River as India even before Alexander the Great's Indian campaign in 3rd century BC.

The name Bharat is even older, occurring in ancient Indian scriptures. But according to some experts it was used as a term of socio-cultural identity rather than geography.

Moving away from a 'colonial mindset'

Since India gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1947, the country has changed the names of cities, streets and buildings to better reflect the Hindi pronunciation of those places.

For example, the city of Bombay become Mumbai in 1995, and Calcutta has been known as Kolkata since 2001.

But Mr Modi's government has intensified its work to remove lingering symbols of British rule from India's urban landscape, political institutions and history books.

Mr Modi himself typically refers to India as "Bharat", one of two official names for the country under its constitution.

His administration renovated the capital New Delhi's parliamentary precinct, originally designed by the British, to replace colonial-era structures, and he has in public speeches stressed the need for India to abandon traces of a "colonial mindset".

Members of his party have previously campaigned against using the country's better-known moniker, India.

Is the name change likely to happen?

The government has called a special session of parliament for later in the month while remaining tight-lipped about its legislative agenda.

But local broadcaster News18 said unnamed government sources had told it that BJP politicians would put forward a special resolution to give precedence to the name Bharat.

Changing India's name to only Bharat would require an amendment to the constitution which would need to be passed by a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament.

Rumours of the plan were enough to spark a mix of opposition from MPs and enthusiastic support from other quarters.

"I hope the government will not be so foolish as to completely dispense with 'India'," Shashi Tharoor of the opposition Congress party said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Former Test cricketer Virender Sehwag said he welcomed the prospect of a name change and urged India's cricket board to begin using "Bharat" on team uniforms.

"India is a name given by the British (and) it has been long overdue to get our original name 'Bharat' back," he wrote.

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