Even as the political war on India vs Bharat intensifies, the Supreme Court on at least three occasions—in 2014, 2016 and 2020—entertained pleas seeking a change in the country’s name.
Twice, the top court directed the petitioner to submit their representation to the ministry, while on one occasion the Supreme Court observed that one could call the country whatever they liked—India or Bharat.
BOOM recaps the pleas and the top court’s reaction to the same.
Call it whatever you like – India or Bharat: Supreme Court in 2016
Industrialist Niranjan Bhatwal filed two pleas in the Supreme Court seeking to change the country’s name from India to Bharat. The first time, in November 2014 the top court advised Bhatwal to withdraw his plea and approach the ministry with his representation.
In response to Bhatwal’s plea, the Home Ministry in its February 2, 2015 reply said there was no change in the circumstance that would warrant consideration of any change in Article 1 which says “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States”.
After the Centre’s reply, Bhatwal approached the top court once more in 2016. This time, TS Thakur, the CJI at the time, heard Bhatwal who reiterated his plea for a name change. Bhatwal’s advocate Ajay Majithia argued that the word ‘India’ was not a literal translation of ‘Bharata.’
Referring to mythological texts, Majithia argued that historically and in scriptures the country was referred to as ‘Bharata’. It was the Britishers who coined the word India, Majithia alleged.
However, this claim may not be entirely correct.
In his plea, Bhatwal refers to the 1949 constituent assembly to submit that the name ‘Bharata’ finds its roots in the epic Mahabharata.
However, an Indian Express report suggests that ‘Hindustan’ is thought to have come from ‘Hindu’, the Persian version of the Sanskrit ‘Sindhu’ (Indus). it was the Greeks who later transliterated ‘Hind’ to ‘Indus’ so that by the time of Macedonian king Alexander's invasion in the 3rd century BC, the region beyond the Indus came to be identified as ‘India’.
In his article ‘From Hindustan to India: Naming Change in Changing Names’, historian Ian Barrow said the British started using India and Hindustan in their maps. Barrow wrote, “Part of the appeal of the term India may have been its Graeco-Roman associations, its long history of use in Europe, and its adoption by scientific and bureaucratic organisations such as the Survey of India.”
Coming back to the present plea, Majithia said that even the 1949 constituent assembly debated on several names for the new republic including “Bharat, Hindustan, Hind and Bharatbhumi or Bharatvarsh and names of that kind”.
However, Bhatwal’s plea was dismissed. “If you want to call this country ‘Bharat’, go right ahead and call it Bharat. If somebody chooses to call this country India, let him call it India. We will not interfere,” ex-CJI Thakur had said in 2016.
Speaking to BOOM in light of the renewed debate, Majithia said, “There is an inadvertence in the language employed in Article 1 of the Constitution of India.”
“Careful reading of the Constituent Assembly debates is clear as a bell that the intention was to name the country as Bharat; however, the excerpts of the same were not appended by the Drafting Committee and the motion was hurriedly passed which led to the enactment of Article 1, which says that India that is Bharat shall be the Union of States, Majithia added.
Send representation to government: Supreme Court in 2020
In 2020, the Supreme Court was faced with another plea on the identical issue of the country’s name change. Delhi resident Namaha said the time was “ripe to recognize the country by its original and authentic name i.e. BHARAT; especially when our cities have been renamed to identify with the Indian ethos”.
Namaha, a politician with the BJP, said by continuing to call our country India, the public was losing its “identity and ethos as inheritors of the hard-won freedom from foreign rule”.
CJI Bobde, who was the top judge at the time, however, pointed out: “Bharat and India are both names given in the Constitution. India is already called ‘Bharat’ in the Constitution”. CJI Bobde then ruled that the petition “is directed to be treated as a representation and may be considered by the appropriate Ministries.”
BOOM spoke to Namaha who followed up with the government on the status of his petition. Namaha, who was an MLA candidate with Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) from East Delhi’s Laxmi Nagar constituency, also filed an RTI in this regard.
Namaha, who goes by his first name only, said his RTI has passed several departments and has finally been transferred to the CPIO Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha for final adjudication. The CPIO’s response is still pending by the Parliament,” he added.
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