Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sparked a debate when he sat behind a sign that read “Bharat” (India in Hindi) during the inauguration of the G20 Summit in New Delhi on Saturday. India’s largest opposition party immediately criticized this move, fueling speculation that the Prime Minister might propose an official name change for India.
Some members of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been advocating for a name change from India to Bharat. Both names are mentioned in India’s constitution, with the interpretation that “India, that is Bharat” is used in practice primarily in the context of the Hindi language.
However, discussions about an official name change gained momentum this week when representatives were invited to a dinner on Saturday evening hosted by “President of India,” Draupadi Murmu, on the sidelines of the G20 Summit.
Modi’s BJP has called for a special session of Parliament from September 18, but they have not yet announced the agenda for the session.
India’s main opposition party criticized the idea of a name change. Speaking in Brussels this week, senior leader of the Indian National Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, labeled the debate as a “diversionary tactic” and a sign of the government’s “fear” ahead of the upcoming elections. Modi’s BJP is gearing up for elections for a third term at the beginning of next year.
A senior leader of the Congress party, Praveen Chakravarti, told the Financial Times, “Our position is absolutely clear: we prefer using both names, which says ‘India, that is Bharat.’ We don’t think it should be one or the other.”
Chakravarti claimed that this is all a “diversion from the Adani story,” referring to Modi’s criticism over his alleged close ties to Gautam Adani, the founder of the Adani Group, which is currently under regulatory and political scrutiny in India, some of it based on recent investigations by the FT’s Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.”
Since coming to power in 2014, Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has undertaken changes in place names and the removal of symbols associated with India’s Muslim and British colonial past.