Bharat in name is the unity game

Sunday Express - - OPINION - PRABHU CHAWLA prab­huchawla@newin­di­an­ex­press.com Fol­low him on Twit­ter @Prab­huChawla

Shake­speare was wrong. His choice of the rose as a metaphor to as­sert the ir­rel­e­vance of a name is now a test case in the toxic gar­den of In­dian pol­i­tics. Juliet im­mor­talised so­cial re­bel­lion by fall­ing in love with Romeo. In the play that bears her name, she asks de­fi­antly, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/by any other name would smell as sweet.” But con­tem­po­rary politi­cians are in a hurry to prove the Bard was look­ing through rose-tinted glasses. The world over, nomen­cla­ture anoints his­tory by in­vok­ing the soul and sim­u­lacrum of the cities of an­tiq­uity. The time­less land­scape of In­dia is no dif­fer­ent. The stench of in­va­sions and hu­mil­i­a­tions has so of­ten cor­rupted with fear the des­o­late streets and plun­dered homes of fallen cities. They’ve left be­hind alien im­pri­maturs of con­quest on in­sti­tu­tions, ed­i­fices, prov­inces and even rail­way sta­tions. Con­querors changed revered names to im­pose their seem­ingly re­li­gious, cul­tural or com­mu­nity su­pe­ri­or­ity. All city names given or changed by the Mon­gols, Khiljis, Lodis, Mughals and the Bri­tish are al­pha­bet­i­cal sym­bols of their op­pres­sion and con­tempt. Re­viv­ing the orig­i­nal names could be a cred­i­ble na­tion­al­ist strat­egy to re­claim our love of her­itage and con­nec­tiv­ity with the past. Yogi Adityanath, the aus­tere ma­hant and saf­fron-clad chief min­is­ter of Ut­tar Pradesh, has set the tone by turn­ing green names into saf­fron monikers. He sees the restora­tion of the old names of Allahabad and Faiz­abad as the glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of In­dian her­itage, thereby re­viv­ing the cul­tural unity of the pop­u­la­tion. So far, the renaming cer­e­monies are con­fined to the state and tiny city level. Go­ing by the tone of the new nar­ra­tive, a move­ment to re­place In­dia’s name with Bharat or Hin­dus­tan can­not be ruled out in the near fu­ture.

The BJP has dis­cov­ered there is ev­ery­thing in a name, es­pe­cially votes. Though the rechris­ten­ing fol­lows prece­dents adopted by other po­lit­i­cal par­ties, the tim­ing and se­lec­tion are re­li­giously in­spired. Yogi re­named Allahabad and Faiz­abad as Ay­o­d­hya be­cause they fall within the ge­og­ra­phy of the Hindu faith and its pil­grim­age trail. Coin­ci­den­tally they had Is­lamic names. Allahabad is now rein­car­nated as Prayag Raj while Faiz­abad lost its dis­trict au­thor­ity after merg­ing with Ay­o­d­hya, the birth­place of Lord Ram.

Yogi isn’t the first leader to adopt name changes as a sound strat­egy to re­vive for­got­ten idols, icons, deities and cul­tures from In­dia’s golden past. Since in­de­pen­dence, over 100 cities have found new names based on lo­cal tra­di­tions and tra­di­tional be­liefs. The prac­tice of ex­ca­vat­ing old monikers from the dust­bin of the past started from the south in 1969, when Dra­vid­ian leader CN An­nadu­rai led the state Assem­bly to dump the colo­nial ‘Madras’ for a new ‘Tamil Nadu.’ The proud ges­ture was meant to res­ur­rect and re­de­fine the Tamil eth­nic and lin­guis­tic iden­tity. The fever spread. Orissa be­came Odisha. The princely state of Hy­der­abad be­came Andhra Pradesh. More re­cently, Ma­mata Ban­er­jee ‘s govern­ment dropped the ‘west’ from her state’s name, set­tling on just ‘Bangla.’ About one-third of In­dian cities have ac­quired new names since 1947. Bom­bay was changed to Mumbai, Ban­ga­lore to Bengaluru, Cal­cutta to Kolkata, Tri­van­drum to Thiru­vanan­tha­pu­ram, Simla to Shimla, and Gauhati to Guwa­hati. Now BJP lead­ers are clam­our­ing in Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s home state of Gu­jarat to re­name Ahmed­abad as Kar­nawati, though Ahmed­abad was a new city founded by Sul­tan Ibrahim I in its vicin­ity; his­tory be­longs to the win­ners. As the count­down to the gen­eral elec­tions be­gins, re­gional saf­fron lu­mi­nar­ies are por­ing over state maps, ask­ing for sweep­ing name changes.

Al­most all par­ties have come around to the view that the patch­work quilt of In­dia could be dyed mono­chrome by re- stor­ing the old names of cities and places that were epony­mous with saints of yore, deities, kings and so­cial re­form­ers; thereby eras­ing names that are re­minders of slav­ery. The RSS has been for­ever in favour of an ex­tended Hindu Rash­tra that in­cludes ma­jor parts of Afghanistan, Iran and Pak­istan. So far saf­fron power is yet to raise the de­mand to re­name In­dia as Bharat.

Both, the BJP and Con­gress, be­lieve in the con­cept of Bharat as In­dia’s true iden­tity. But the Con­gress seems to pre­fer In­dia over Bharat. There are no of­fi­cial records of how In­dia got its name un­til it was con­sti­tu­tion­ally le­git­imised in tan­dem with Bharat. In­dia’s first Prime Min­is­ter, Jawa­har­lal Nehru, wrote in Dis­cov­ery of In­dia, “Of­ten, as I wan­dered from meet­ing to meet­ing, I spoke to my au­di­ence of this In­dia of ours, of Hin­dus­tan and of Bharatha, the old San­skrit name de­rived from the myth­i­cal founder of the race”. Four years later, when he signed the Con­sti­tu­tion of In­dia in 1950 along with other Con­stituent Assem­bly mem­bers, the racial iden­tity of the new­born demo­cratic re­pub­lic as a fel­low trav­eller of Bharat was com­plete. Ar­ti­cle 1 (1) of the Con­sti­tu­tion notes: “In­dia, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States”. While In­dia would be sub­se­quently re­peated in other sec­tions of the Con­sti­tu­tion, Bharat rarely makes an ap­pear­ance.

Yet why did Nehru, who called him­self an In­dian by birth and an English­man at heart, pre­fer Jai Hind over Jai Bharat as the of­fi­cial na­tional slo­gan? ‘Jai Hind’ was coined by Zain-ul Abideen Hasan, son of a Hy­der­abad col­lec­tor and a stu­dent liv­ing in Ger­many. There Hasan met Sub­hash Chan­dra Bose when Ne­taji was seek­ing sup­port to set up INA. Bose was also look­ing for a force­ful phrase of sa­lu­ta­tion for his cadres. Hasan, who sub­se­quently joined INA, sug­gested “Jai Hind!” - the war cry to unite dis­parate re­gional forces in the name of a yet-to-be-born na­tion.

But why wasn’t Jai Hind given any place in the Con­sti­tu­tion, though it re­mained in the In­dian na­tional id­iom as a slo­gan of unity? Did Nehru see In­dia and Hind as al­ter­na­tive names of free In­dia? No ex­pla­na­tion ex­ists. Bose chose it for his army, but why did Nehru, who was ide­o­log­i­cally op­posed to Bose and his idea of the free­dom strug­gle em­brace it? An un­char­i­ta­ble ex­pla­na­tion is that the slo­gan was coined by a Mus­lim and thereby had a sec­u­lar halo. Did Nehru re­ject Bharat be­cause he be­lieved it to be a myth­i­cal cre­ation and not a sym­bol of In­dia’s ge­o­graph­i­cal and cul­tural unity?

To­day it’s even more sur­pris­ing that the po­lit­i­cal dis­pen­sa­tion led by the BJP is stick­ing to Jai Hind even as they swear by Bharat. Their lead­ers chant Bharat Mata ki Jai at every func­tion, but do not de­mand a name change for In­dia. Why has Modi now, or Va­j­payee ear­lier, not re­placed with Jai Bharat the Jai Hind that re­sounded through In­dia’s free­dom years and from the ram­parts of the Red Fort? Bharat de­fines our an­cient cul­tural affin­ity more strongly than In­dia. Bharat is an in­clu­sive ad­he­sive while In­dia is a divisive la­bel de­vised by elit­ist an­glophiles to en­force their own­er­ship of the na­tion. Modi and his ide­o­log­i­cal part­ners could find more en­dorse­ments on the poll road for New Bharat than for New In­dia.

Bharat de­fines our an­cient cul­tural affin­ity more strongly than In­dia. Bharat is an in­clu­sive ad­he­sive while In­dia is a divisive la­bel de­vised by elit­ist an­glophiles to en­force their own­er­ship of the na­tion. Modi and his ide­o­log­i­cal part­ners could find more en­dorse­ments on the poll road for New Bharat than for New In­dia.

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