India, that is Bharat: What the Constituent Assembly debates say

It is said that ‘Bharat’ was thought to be too Hindu by the drafters of the Constitution. ‘India’ was introduced as a guarantee to the minorities that they would not be Hinduised.
The Constituent Assembly
The Constituent Assembly
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Speculations that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Union government will remove the word ‘India’ from the Constitution in the upcoming special session of Parliament gained momentum on Tuesday, September 5. This was after the Rashtrapati Bhavan sent out invites for a G20 dinner to be held on September 9, in the name of the ‘President of Bharat’ instead of the ‘President of India’. This has stirred a political row in the country, with the Opposition accusing the government of attempting to “distort history and divide India, that is Bharat”. 

Article 1 of the Constitution says, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States” and goes on to talk about what constitutes Indian territory. This means that the Constitution recognises both ‘India’ and ‘Bharat’ as the official names of the country. How were both these names added in the Constitution and what did the makers of the Constitution feel about the names? 

The discussion on the “Name and territory of the Union” was taken up by the Constituent Assembly on September 18, 1949. Incidentally, it is on September 18, 2023 that the special session of the Parliament has been convened. 

During the Constituent Assembly discussions, BR Ambedkar moved an amendment to Article 1, which said, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States”. This was received with differing opinions by the members of the house, most of whom were in support of ‘Bharat’ but had doubts regarding ‘India’ or with the way the sentence was framed. 

In the research paper titled ‘India, that is Bharat: One Country, Two Names”, scholar Catherine Clementine-Ojha  cites what retired IAS officer V Sundaram had to say about the nation’s name: “According to V Sundaram, it is because ‘Bharat’ was thought to be too Hindu by the drafters of the Constitution that they introduced ‘India’ as a guarantee to the minorities that they would not be Hinduised.” This acquires significance when one considers the political context in which the Constitution was drafted. “[The Indian] Constitution was drafted under the extremely difficult circumstances of the immediate post-Partition period, just two years after horrendous chaos and bloodshed”. She refers to the period after Partition as a time “when the unity and stability of the newborn country were in doubt.”

Points raised by the Constituent Assembly members

Hari V Kamath, a member of the Constituent Assembly from the Central Provinces and Berar, suggested that Article 1 be read as, “ "Bharat, or, in the English language, India, shall, be and such" instead of “India, that is Bharat …”. 

Seth Govind Das, also a member from the Central Provinces, felt that the drafting committee was not declaring the name of the country as beautifully as 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,” said Seth Govind. 

Meanwhile, Harigovind Pant, a member from the United Provinces, moved an amendment to change the name of the country as ‘Bharat’ or ‘Bharat Varsha’ instead of ‘India’. “I am gratified to see that some change in the name has at last been accepted. I, however, fail to understand why the word 'Bharat Varsha' is not acceptable to the House when the importance and glory of this word is being admitted by all here,” said Pant. 

He went on to say, “So far as the word ‘India’ is concerned, the members seem to have, and really I fail to understand why, some attachment for it. We must know that this name was given to our country by foreigners who, having heard of the riches of this land, were tempted towards it and had robbed us of our freedom in order to acquire the wealth of our country. If we, even then, cling to the word ‘India’, it would only show that we are not ashamed of having this insulting word which has been imposed on us by alien rulers.”

On the other hand, members like Pandit Thakur Das Bhargava were in support of naming the country ‘India’. “I have no serious objection to it. It is a fact that we cannot live in isolation from the rest of the world; we have centuries old connections with England and the rest of the world. The world will always know us by the name of India. But so far as we are concerned, in our hearts and souls our country shall always remain as Bharat,” he said.

However, when the then Indian President put the amendments to vote, it was decided to go ahead with “India, that is Bharat” in Article 1 of the Constitution. 

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