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Politics of Bharat Over India

Do we progress or recede as a nation when institutions, places, and languages are whimsically labelled as symbols of slavery?
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The Constitution refers to our country as “India” 926 times in its 448 Articles and 1.46 lakh words. If “India” is removed from it, the entire Constitution would have to be amended, an unimaginable task. Article 1(1) mentions “India that is Bharat”, the word “India” reflective of the spirit and ethos of this country as “Bharat”. Contrary to the recent claims about colonial undertones of “India”, the name certainly does not owe its inception to the British. It has existed since 326 BCE, when the Greeks arrived in India, whereas the British landed here in 1583 AD.

There are traces of the word “India” in the Greek philosopher Herodorus’s writings from 400 BCE and later in the book, Indica, by Megasthenes, who was sent to the court of Chandragupta Maurya by the Greek ruler Seleucus from 388 to 302 BCE.

India” is not a reminder of slavery either. It is derived from the Indus River, called “Sindhu” by Indo-Aryans. This argument, supported by historians, found a place in the debates on Article 1(1) of the Draft Constitution in the Constituent Assembly on 15 and 17 September 1948 and 17 and 18 September 1949. These debates extensively discussed whether the “Bharat” should follow “India”.

HV Kamat, member of the Constituent Assembly, said, “All natives of this country are referred to as Hindus, whatever their religion may be.” K Subba Rao agreed and advocated for “Bharat that is India” in Article 1(1). Despite strong disagreements with Dr BR Ambedkar on this issue, they were not against using the word “India”. This concurrence among people of dissenting views indicates how indispensable the word “India” is to the identity of this country. Further, it suggests the futility of re-opening this discussion based on frail assertions.

Furthermore, according to Dr Rajendra Prasad, the President of the Constituent Assembly, to select the name Bharat was only a question of language. Therefore, on 18 September 1949, the Constituent Assembly adopted Article 1(1) to read, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.”

The India versus Bharat debate is based on the politics of hate, a menace to the fundamental nature of the Constitution embodied in its Preamble as “We the People of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic, Republic and to secure to all its Citizens: Justice, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”. Contemporary politics seems nothing but an attempt of the distractive forces to change the Constitution while keeping such debates in the public domain.

Opinions expressed in the context of a new constitution by high-profile people, such as the top economic adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office, demonstrate the motivations behind such an attempt.

Slavery Propaganda

The propaganda that “India” symbolises slavery surfaced only recently when the Opposition parties, on 16 July, named their alliance INDIA RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat asserted that “Bharat” should be used instead of “India”. Former Indian cricketer Virender Sehwag also batted for Bharat over India because the British ascribed the name “India” to the country. If the same argument is extended to other realms, the Board of Control for Cricket in India must be disestablished immediately since cricket is essentially a British game.

Due to the political climate in India, several ruling party members and their followers are batting for Bharat over India with sheer indifference towards its effects in India and internationally. The financial implications of such a change could burden an already limping economy.

Additionally, the ruling party’s recent stance on “India”’ does not concur with its earlier assertions. In 2004, the Samajwadi Party moved a resolution in the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly to change India to Bharat in Article 1. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) walked out in opposition. In 2015, when this issue was raised again, the BJP filed an affidavit before the apex court through the Ministry of Home Affairs, stating, “The country does not have to be called ‘Bharat’ instead of ‘India’”.

After 16 July, when the INDIA opposition alliance was unveiled, the BJP’s stand somehow underwent a sudden overhaul and advanced the proposition of giving sole primacy to “Bharat”.

Even if “India” is being omitted because it symbolises subservience to British rule, the compelling question is the number of things sought to be changed to allegedly discard symbols of slavery. Would not the official residence of the President of India be next in line since the Viceroy formerly occupied it in the British era?

The ruling party has alleged the English language is an emissary of modern imperialism and must be discarded immediately. Is the BJP government prepared to end the use of English in schools, colleges, universities and other institutions where it is the medium of instruction and communication? Is the government prepared to translate all engineering and medicine texts into Hindi? Are the ministers and leaders of the BJP government willing to ask their children to return from British and other foreign universities where English is the medium of instruction? Certainly not. Then, on what foundation has it called to abandon this English terminology?

The BJP government is only concerned with the politics of division. With the unwavering support of the godi (lapdog) media, it is actively diverting from pivotal national concerns such as education, employment, corruption, etc. They have absolute disregard and apathy towards the concerns of those who voted them to power.

The recent invitations to dignitaries for the G20 summit were sent in the name of the “President of Bharat”. The language in which the members of the Houses of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies of States elect the President remains ambiguous to this author. Is the President elected in English or Hindi or Hinglish? Article 52 of the Constitution says, “There shall be a President of India”, who in the Hindi language is called “Bharat ke Rashtrapati”. But the innovation named “President of Bharat” is not mentioned anywhere.

Inclination towards or aversion to a particular word is an individual opinion or choice, but a person holding a constitutional position takes an oath to protect the Constitution and act under it, making such acts unconstitutional.

Costly Renaming

If the English language symbolises slavery, why has the government named its project, which includes the newly-constructed Parliament, “Central Vista”? If “India” represents slavery, shall India Gate and Gateway of India be renamed? What will happen to Indian currency notes printed after the demonetisation of 2016, during which the government spent billions of rupees and millions of people suffered? Will the government change all the passports on which the “Republic of India” is printed? Will the Reserve Bank of India also be renamed, and the Indian Administration Services, Indian Police Services, Indian Foreign Services, AIIMS and other prestigious Indian institutions?

If all this will happen, only the nation and its people will be financially burdened. The people the government is so concerned about—the unemployed youth and the 80 crore poor who receive 5 kg of food grains per month under the PMGKY scheme—will be adversely affected. More ruin would be brought to them. It is nothing but a maniacal approach.

The government has already made numerous changes in the syllabus and textbooks of schools and universities and is rewriting history in tune with their singular politics. If so, will Jeremy Bentham’s theory of utilitarianism and John Locke’s classical liberalism also be removed from the jurisprudence syllabus in law courses in Bharat, as both are British?

The British people made countless innovations and discoveries in the United Kingdom, which are used in India and are integral to its development. If these, too, are considered symbols of slavery in Bharat, and a particular section wants to discard English names, things and associations, the future of this Bharat is questionable. The views recently advanced in this debate are against “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” and the G20 Summit’s slogan in India—One Earth, One Family and One Future. We have developed by learning from each other in an imperfect world. If we resonate with this politics of culling symbols of slavery, we must end games like cricket, tennis, golf, badminton, and table tennis, which the British developed.

Innovations such as fibre optics, radar, transmitters, the CPU, microchips, the electric motor and numerous other scientific discoveries can be credited to the British. The list of groundbreaking British innovations and discoveries is long—the clinical thermometer, criminal fingerprinting and DNA sequencing used in forensic labs. They have made significant discoveries in aeronautics, astronomy, clothing and manufacturing, appliances and military operations. One side in the present debate would say all these are symbols of slavery. Can we discard them all?

Things not developed or invented here have been monumental in India’s progress. This fact raises the question: Do we progress or recede as a country when we oppose the English language as a symbol of slavery? It is nothing but the politics stemming from the identity crises of an individual who wants to change everything in such a way during his lifetime that his name remains immortal for all posterity. His acts are uncannily similar to Adolf Hitler’s, whose name is also etched in people’s memories.

It is apparent from the political climate that this government’s actions are not confined to changing the names of places but of all constitutional institutions. The rule of law is under attack under the BJP-led government ruling at the Centre, even in the non-BJP-ruled States. This compromise has led to grave violations of fundamental rights across the country.

Legal Name Change

Under the guise of changing colonial laws, three bills related to the criminal justice system were recently tabled in Parliament. They aim to replace the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Indian Penal Code and the Indian Evidence Act. While changing these statutes, the ruling party referred to them as symbols of slavery. It is part of an effort to immortalise itself. Most provisions in the earlier laws have been preserved, and this government only presents a facade to mislead people with old wine in a new bottle.

If passed, these bills will disturb the justice delivery system and affect lawyers, judges, law students, law teachers and people seeking justice. The stakeholders of the criminal justice system, i.e., the bar councils and bar associations in states, were not included in discussions before the three Bills appeared in Parliament. This itself is undemocratic.

The party ruling at the Centre must employ more financial resources to enhance the justice delivery system’s infrastructure and ensure justice for all citizens instead of changing names or assigning new numbers to existing criminal law provisions. The ruling party wants to control all institutions and spread its unconstitutional policies. Also, it wishes to control the judiciary by inserting Section 255 in the Bhartiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023.

BJP Governance

Regarding governance, BJP-ruled states have failed, as gruesome rapes and murders occur regularly motivated by caste and religious identity. BJP governments have been unable to protect citizens’ right to life and property and uphold the constitutional rule of law, putting innocent people’s lives at stake. In BJP regimes, communalism has grown each day. Mob lynching and hate speeches have increased, ruining the social and economic rights of minorities and the socially deprived sections. The social fabric is being torn to pieces by those in power.

The BJP-led NDA is trying to disestablish the constitutional rule of law to implement its single-coloured communal politics across India. It is trying to erase the glorious history of the independence struggle by changing the syllabi of schools and universities. It is rewriting history to fit its communal-political propaganda. This trend is extremely dangerous to the secular fabric of India, which our forefathers wanted to create in drafting the Constitution.

Under the BJP-led rule, the fundamental democratic right to free speech, a basic feature of the Constitution, has come under attack. Activists, farmers, teachers, students, sportspersons, journalists, lawyers and people from all democratic walks of life have been arrested, and many languish in jails for taking a stand against its policies. This treatment is not only confined to ordinary Indians but extends to Members of Parliament from Opposition parties who have been suspended after taking a stand against the ruling party.

Recently, the Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi won a legal battle against the Lieutenant-Governor’s powers in the Supreme Court. The BJP government, to make this judgement ineffective, hastily introduced an ordinance and pushed it through Parliament. It was done to ensure all power rests with the BJP through the L-G, and the Delhi government remains powerless and lacks autonomy.

The BJP has failed to provide corruption-free governance. A recent Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report illuminated three instances of misallocation and misuse of public funds. First, the Dwarka Expressway Project’s construction cost skyrocketed to an astonishing Rs 250.77 crore per kilometre, though originally approved at Rs 18.20 crore per kilometre. Second, Rs 2.83 crore was diverted from the National Social Assistance Programme to the Ministry of Rural Development. Financial misallocations in six states amounting to Rs 57.45 crore were also revealed.

Third, CAG has uncovered irregularities in Ayushman Bharat—the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY) health insurance scheme meant for vulnerable sections. Rs 6.97 crore was disbursed to treat 3,446 patients who were recorded as deceased in the scheme’s database. This amounts to cheating ordinary people.

The central government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is attempting to eternalise itself by initiating changes that are neither needed nor warranted. It is not making efforts to uplift people, nor is it remotely concerned with the welfare of the masses. All its actions are directed towards making citizens believe that constitutional provisions are meaningless. Their actions intend to change the Constitution and the spirit of this nation. This government promotes undemocratic and anti-secular values to obliterate our glorious history of independence and the contributions of leaders like Dr BR Ambedkar, who laid the foundation of the Constitution. It is time citizens unite against this approach to save the Constitution of India, that is Bharat.

The author is an advocate. The views are personal.

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