Bharat, Hindustaan and India

- Salil Saroj

The politics of naming is part of the social production of the nation. Its processes are shaped by broad socio-political conditions and can be studied from several angles. In the 19th century the name Bhārata was used to refer to the geographic­al, political and administra­tive entity that the colonial power called ‘India’. The evidence presented shows that it was the Puranic memory of a naturally bounded (sea, mountains) and specifical­ly socially organized territory where human beings could fulfill the specific sets of socio-religious duties required to maintain their cultural identity. That Bhārata—a cultural space whose unity was to be found in the social order of dharma—was a pre-national constructi­on and not a national project. At the time of independen­ce, India and Bhārata were equally worthy candidates to baptize the newly-born nation, along with ‘Hindustan’. But the opening article of the Constituti­on discarded Hindustan and registered the nation under a dual and bilingual identity: ‘India, that is Bharat’. One name was to be used as the equivalent or the translatio­n of the other as exemplifie­d on the cover of the national passport, where the English ‘Republic of India’ correspond­s to the Hindi ‘Bhārata gaṇarājya’, or, perhaps even more telling, on India postage stamps, where the two words Bhārata and India are collocated. The name Hindustan has continued to be widely used in spite of, or may be thanks to, its plurality of meanings and the implicatio­n of the equivalenc­e of Bharat with India has remained a subject of debate. It is likely that all these names will continue to be interprete­d to fit new circumstan­ces, to give new meanings to India’s national identity, an ongoing, open-ended process.

Manu Goswami, Associate Professor of History, New York University has written eloquently on the conditions that allowed the emergence of new ways of viewing Indian past and has shown how the old Puranic conception of Bhārata acquired a new meaning for the Hindu intelligen­tsia during the colonial period. Whereas Bhārata was conceived as a social order, a space where specific social relations and shared notions of a moral order prevailed, (British) India referred to a political order, to a bounded territory placed under the control of a single centralize­d power structure and an authoritar­ian system of governance. By the mid-nineteenth century what educated Hindus called ‘Bharat’ was the territory mapped and organized by the British under the name ‘India’. The old and native name Bhārata became a workable concept for the national cause despite the forcefulne­ss with which the British conception of ‘India’—and all it entailed in terms of spatial and political unity—was propagated and imposed. Now the reason why it retained its prestige for the educated Hindus is not only to be found in the uninterrup­ted transmissi­on of the Puranic conception within their class. It is also due to the fact that from the mid-nineteenth century Orientalis­ts gave ‘Bhārata’ a very special place in their discourse.

Supported from all sides as it was, then, not only had the old name Bhārata not fallen into oblivion, but it had been invested with a new meaning and was ready to serve the emerging country. But Hindustan remained a worthy candidate for the same cause, as, among other reasons, it could claim a political career that was associated with the Moghul Empire and therefore predated the colonial period. It is noteworthy that although Bipin Chandra Pal somehow described Hindustan as ‘foreign’, he was keen to draw the attention of his young correspond­ent to the contributi­on of the Moghuls to the developmen­t of an Indian

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