In an interview where he raises several serious issues that are at the centre of the present debate over whether our country’s name should be India or Bharat, Vivek Katju, a former Ambassador to Afghanistan and Myanmar, has asked the question: “What strategic purpose is served by changing our country’s name to Bharat?”
In answering his own question, Katju points out that we run the risk of disturbing a happy equilibrium established over the last 75 years of using the name India in English and Bharat in Hindi. Using Bharat as the only name hereafter may well be acceptable to the Hindi-speaking states of north India but it could be objected to by states such as Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra because they do not use the word Bharat but Bharatam.
Katju points out that language is an emotive issue and we have, in the past, seen political and social divisions over the politics of language. Those years or decades are happily behind us, so why run the risk of stirring trouble again and needlessly?
In an interview to The Wire, Katju also explained that there were very good reasons why the founding fathers of the Indian constitution embraced India. It wasn’t because they were fond of the name. It was because they wanted India to be recognised as the successor state to British India. As Katju said: “Even as a colony India had an international personality and the leaders of our freedom movement wanted to retain that.”
India, as the successor state, could immediately inherit membership of the UN (which had been obtained in 1945) and all the agreements and treaties signed by the Government of India in the days when it was under British rule. That would not have been the case if our country had called itself Hindustan or Bharat. We would then not have been recognised as the successor state.
An equally important point, Katju said, was that Muhammad Ali Jinnah was opposed to our country retaining the name India and insistent that we should be known as either Hindustan or Bharat. Had we called ourselves Bharat or Hindustan that, Katju adds, would have legitimised Jinnah’s two-nation theory. Instead, by retaining the name India we ensured that Pakistan is viewed as the seceding state. It, therefore, had to apply for the membership of the UN which, incidentally, Afghanistan opposed.
As Katju put it: “The tradition of using India in English and Bharat in Hindi is wise and constitutionally correct. Should its change be a priority now?” Quite clearly his answer is no. We have many other challenges to contend with. We don’t need to unnecessarily add to them by disturbing the happy equilibrium of almost eight decades.