One Country, Many Names: What The Architects Of Our Nation Said About ‘India, That Is, Bharat’ In Constituent Assembly

Awstika Das

6 Sep 2023 3:26 AM GMT

  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
    • Whatsapp
    • Linkedin
    • Whatsapp
    • Linkedin
    • Whatsapp
    • Linkedin
  • One Country, Many Names: What The Architects Of Our Nation Said About ‘India, That Is, Bharat’ In Constituent Assembly

    Hundreds of years ago, famous English playwright William Shakespeare wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” This is what Juliet says to herself, as she ponders over the meaning of a name. Hundreds of years later, we ponder over the same thing, against the backdrop of rumours of a name change to be proposed for the country in...

    Hundreds of years ago, famous English playwright William Shakespeare wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” This is what Juliet says to herself, as she ponders over the meaning of a name. Hundreds of years later, we ponder over the same thing, against the backdrop of rumours of a name change to be proposed for the country in the upcoming 'special session' of the Parliament. 

    What did the Constituent Assembly say about this?

    Article 1 of the Constitution says, India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States. Little known is the fact that the original draft did not contain any mention of the name ‘Bharat’. The draft constitution was prepared by a committee headed by Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar – fondly remembered as the father of the Indian Constitution – and presented to the constituent assembly on November 4, 1948. Almost a year later, on September 17, 1949, Ambedkar proposed an amendment including the name ‘Bharat’ in the first sub-clause, besides suggesting minor changes in the second sub-clause dealing with the constituent states.

    The deliberations in the constituent assembly over the opening provision centred on two main issues: first, the relationship between ‘India’ and ‘Bharat’; and second, the administrative and socio-political implications of the quasi-federal structure envisioned by Ambedkar. Admittedly, the second point was more contentious, leading to verbal skirmishes on the floor of the assembly, but much was also said - mostly on September 18, 1949 - about the proposal to give the newly independent country two names, instead of one.

    Several amendments were suggested by other assembly members, although none were accepted. After Ambedkar, All India Forward Block leader HV Kamath moved the first amendment proposing to replace the relevant portion of the first sub-clause with ‘Bharat, or in the English language, India’, drawing inspiration from the Irish Constitution. He said:

    “The Irish Free State was one of the few countries in the modern world which changed its name on achieving freedom; and the fourth article of its Constitution refers to the change in the name of the land. That article of the Constitution of the Irish Free State reads as follows: ‘The name of the State is Eire, or, in the English language, Ireland.’ I think that this is a much happier expression that 'Bharat, or, in the English language, India, shall, be and such'. I say specifically the English language. Why? Because Members might ask me, why do you say 'the English language'? Is it not the same in all European languages? No, it is not. The German word is ‘Indian’ and in many parts of Europe, the country is still referred to as in the olden days as 'Hindustan' and all natives of this country are referred to as Hindus, whatever their religion may be. It is quite common in many parts of Europe. It must have come from the ancient name Hindu, derived from the river Sindhu.”

    Next, Seth Govind Das, a Congress leader from Central Province and Berar, suggested that the name ‘India’ be categorically designated as one in prevalence only in foreign countries, arguing that 'India', unlike 'Bharat' did not find mention in the most ancient of the region's texts –

    “Naming has always been and is even today of great significance in our country. We always try to give a name under auspicious stars and also try to give the most beautiful name, I am glad to find that we are giving the most ancient name to our country but, Dr Ambedkar will excuse me, we are not giving it in as beautiful a way as it was necessary. ‘India, that is, Bharat’ are not beautiful words for, the name of a country. We should have put the words ‘Bharat known as India also in foreign countries’. That would have been much more appropriate than the former expression. We should, however, at least have the satisfaction that we are today giving to our country the name of Bharat. The word India does not occur in our ancient books. it began to be used when the Greeks came to India. They named our Sindhu river as Indus and India was derived from Indus. There is a mention of this in Encyclopaedia Britannica. On the contrary, if we look up the Vedas, the Upanishads the Brahmanas and our great and ancient book the Mahabharat, we find a mention of the name Bharat.”

    Another member of the Indian National Congress, Kamalapati Tripathi stressed the precedence ‘Bharat’ should enjoy over ‘India’, saying –

    “If an expression other than ‘India, that is, Bharat’ had been used, I think, Sir, that would have been more in accord with the prestige and the traditions of this country and indeed that would have done greater honour to this Constituent Assembly also. If the words, ‘that is’ are necessary, it would have been more proper to use the words ‘Bharat, that is, India’ in the resolution that has been presented to us. When a country is in bondage, it loses its soul. During its slavery for one thousand years, our country too lost its everything. We lost our culture, we lost our history, we lost our prestige, we lost our humanity, we lost our self-respect, we lost our soul and indeed we lost our form and name. Today after remaining in bondage for a thousand years, this free country will regain its name and we do hope that after regaining its lost name it will regain its inner consciousness and external form and will begin to act under the inspiration of its soul which had been so far in a sort of sleep. it will indeed regain its prestige in the world...I am enamoured of the historic name of “Bharat”. Even the mere uttering of this word, conjures before us by a stroke of magic the picture of cultured life of the centuries that have gone by...Even after thousands of years our country is still known as ‘Bharat’. Since Vedic times, this name has been appearing in our literature. Our Puranas have all through eulogised the name of Bharat. The gods have been remembering the name of this country in the heavens...”

    United Provinces representative Govind Ballabh Pant, representing the northern part of India, wanted ‘Bharatvarsha and nothing else’. This was in line with what another United Provinces representative, Professor Shibban Lal Saksena, had demanded in November 1948: that the name ‘Bharat’ be exclusively used. Pant said –

    “‘Bharat’ or ‘Bharat Varsha’ is and has been the name of our country for ages according to our ancient history and tradition and in fact this word inspires enthusiasm and courage in its; I would, therefore, submit that we should have no hesitation at all in accepting this word. It will be a matter of great shame for us if we do not accept this word and have some other word for the name of our country. I represent the people of the Northern part of India where sacred places like Shri Badrinath, Shri Kedarnath, Shri Bageshwar and Manasarovar are situated. I am placing before you the wishes of the people of this part. I may be permitted to state, Sir, that the people of this area want that the name of our country should be ‘Bharat Varsha’ and nothing else.”

    None of these proposed amendments, however, found favour with the constituent assembly and consequently failed. Interestingly, Ambedkar expressed his disinclination to enter into a debate over the ancient etymological roots of the suggested names, pointing to the limitations of time. During the discussion on the name that ought to be conferred on the newly independent republic, Kamath sought to trace the origins of the alternatives that some of the constituent assembly members had proposed. He began –

    “Now, those who argue for Bharat or Bharatvarsh or Bharatbhumi, take their stand on the fact that this is the most ancient name of this land. Historians and philologists have delved deep into this matter of the name of this country, especially the origin of this name Bharat. All of them are not agreed as to the genesis of this name Bharat. Some ascribe it to the son of Dushyant and Shakuntala who was also known as ‘Sarvadamana’ or all-conqueror and who established his suzerainty and kingdom in this ancient land. After him this land came to be known as Bharat. Another school of research scholars hold that Bharat dates back to Vedic…”

    Ambedkar interjected at this point. He asked

    “Is it necessary to trace all this? I do not understand the purpose of it. It may be well interesting in some other place. My Friend accepts the word ‘Bharat’. The only thing is that he has got an alternative. I am very sorry but there ought to be some sense of proportion, in view of the limited time before the House.”

    In the end, Kamath proposed to change the name of the country to ‘Bharat’, but did not find much support. Another interesting suggestion was made by Naziruddin Ahmad, a member of the constituent assembly representing West Bengal. Ahmad, who also famously lobbied for the inclusion of interplanetary travel in the Constitution, suggested that the country be renamed as ‘United States of India’.

    While Kamath agreed with his colleague insofar as interplanetary travel was concerned, he found the suggestion to fashion the country’s name after the United States of America outlandish. He said

    “He said something to the effect that there should be a meeting of East and West or some words to that effect. I certainly stand for harmony, a synthesis of the East and West, but I certainly do not want any hybrid development. The amendment which my friend has moved before the House seeks to bring about such a hybrid development between the East and West and we do not want to be suspected at this stage when we are pursuing or supposed to be pursuing a neutral foreign policy. We do not want the faintest indication to be made here in this House that we are going to copy either the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the United States of America As regards USSR, there is no effect or influence in this constitution and as regards USA, precisely because this will smack of copying the United State of America’s Constitution, I oppose this amendment which seeks to add ‘shall be known as the United States of India’.”

    At one point, when Kishore Mani Tripathi elaborated on the importance of 'Bharat', Ambedkar said, "Is this all necessary sir?...There is a lot of work to be done".

    Ultimately, the Assembly rejected all amendments to the draft Article 1, except those introduced by the drafting committee chairman BR Ambedkar. Article 1, as it stands today, was adopted by the assembly on 18 September 1949.

    What happens now?

    India, that is Bharat, has been called by many names at various points in history. The name ‘India’ can etymologically be traced back to ancient Greek and Latin text referring to the land beyond the ‘Sindhu’ river. ‘Bharat’ or ‘Bharatvarsh’ finds mention in many ancient Hindu religious scriptures and despite scholarly differences over their actual origin and use, these have informed our religious and cultural imagination. ‘Hind’, and ‘Hindustan’, with their Persian roots, have been inherited from the Sultans and Mughals and it has eventually become a part of the common parlance in other languages as well.  There have been other names, depending on the language, the historical context, and the idea sought to be conveyed.

    Each of these monikers is not only steeped in the resonance of a storied past, but carries with it a vision for the present and the future of the ‘imagined community’ that is this nation-state. Language is not passive, but an active vehicle of transcendental thoughts and ideas. The politics of naming has been an integral part of our nation-building project, as evidenced by our constituent assembly electing to give the country two names – India and Bharat – arguably in an effort to recognise its past glory while charting out a path of pluralism for the present and the future.

    At the inception of our independent country, our forefathers and mothers who fought to grant constitutional recognition to both names emerged victorious. Around seven decades later, this old debate has seen a revival and the air is rife with speculation over an impending 'name change' for the country. With the general elections just around the corner, the timing of this is also suspect, prompting one to ask: Should the name of a country, which is so deep-rooted in the shared consciousness of more than 140 crore people, be subjected to political expediencies?

    Next Story