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What’s in a name?- The Debates on Naming ‘India’

Draft Article 1 of the Draft Constitution attempted to capture a brief description of the State that was under construction. According to the draft Article-

“(1) India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.

(2) The States and the territories thereof shall be as specified in the First Schedule.

(3) The territory of India shall comprise —

(a) the territories of the States;

(b) the Union territories specified in the First Schedule; and

(c) such other territories as may be acquired.”

The debate on Draft Article 1, particularly the name of the Union began on the 15th of September, 1948. It was Shri M. Ananthasayanam Ayyangar who had suggested that the name ‘India’ be substituted with ‘Bharat’, ‘Bharat Varsha’ or ‘Hindustan’.  This suggestion was based on the amendments proposed by other members such as Shri Loknath Misra. Due to the multiplicity of alternate names, Shri Ayyangar suggested that

“It (the issue of naming) requires some consideration. Through you I am requesting the Assembly to kindly pass over these items and allow these amendments to stand over for some time. A few days later when we come to the Preamble these amendments might be then taken up.”

When this matter was taken up the next day, the significance of a name was highlighted by Pandit Pant’s emphasis on the issue being an ‘important point’ that requires unanimity. Therefore, with the hope that there would be no difference of opinion on the matter, the assembly decided to postpone the discussion on all amendments to a later date, assuming that they would arrive at a name that satisfies everybody.

Nearly a year later, Dr. Ambedkar moved an amendment proposing that draft Article 1 of the Constitution be substituted to read “India, that is, Bharat shall be a Union of States.” On the next day, numerous members of the assembly made evocative arguments by providing the historical and cultural significance of indigenous names. Shri H.V Kamath began the debate by bringing attention to the significance of a ‘Namakaran’ or a naming ceremony. He argued that ‘Bharatvarsh’,‘Bharatbhumi’ or ‘Bharat’ have been the most ancient names ascribed to this land. He relied on numerous ancient sources and in particular to stories about the son of Dushyant and Shakuntala, the sarvadamana, known as ‘Bharat’.

Shri Seth Govind Das also emphasised the cultural importance of the naming process by stating-

“Naming has always been and is even today of great significance in our country. We always try to give a name under auspicious stars and also try to give the most beautiful name…”

He argued that the mention of India’s most ancient name, Bharat, can be found in her most ancient sources- the Vedas, Upanishads, Brahmanas and the Mahabharat. He specifically referred to Bramha Purana, the Vishnu Purana and the travelogue of the ancient Chinese traveller, Hieun-Tsang. Shri Kallur Subba Rao was quick to point out that even the ‘Rig Veda’ and ‘Vayu Purana’ refer to the word ‘Bharat’.

According to Shri Kamlapati Tripathi, a name would be more than just a description of quality and character. For him, the amendments on the name were ‘sacred amendments’. He contended that a country under bondage loses its sole. Bharat, under foreign rule, had been stripped of its culture, history, prestige, humanity and its name. Shri Har Gobind Pant also seemed to agree with such a description of British rule. Though, he stretched this line of thought by arguing that an attachment to the name ‘India’, would only demonstrate to the world “that we are not ashamed of having this insulting word which has been imposed on us by alien rulers”. However, Shri Har Gobind Pant was alone on this matter, since other members who argued in favour of adopting the name ‘Bharat’ did not suggest that the name ‘India’ must be removed from Article 1.

Another interesting part of this discussion was Shri Seth Govind Das’ statement to Prime Minister, Nehru. He reminded the Prime Minister and other members that adopting an ancient and historic name would not mean that we are looking backwards, because “by naming our country as Bharat we are not doing anything which will prevent us from marching forward.” Therefore, there was a broad consensus that the name “Bharat” should be adopted and the adoption of an indigenous name was not “backward” but rather a matter of pride.

Even though all amendments to make formalistic changes to the construction of the amendment proposed by Dr. Ambedkar were negatived by the assembly, this discussion brought out the significance of the name ‘Bharat’, which was eloquently articulated by various members of the Assembly. However, the most persuasive and passionate appeal was advanced by Shri Tripathi when he stated-

“Sir, I am enamoured of the historic name of “Bharat”. Even the mere uttering of this word, conjures before us by a stroke of magic the picture of cultured life of the centuries that have, gone by. In my opinion there is no other country in the world which has such a history, such a culture, and such a name, whose age is counted in millenniums as our country has. There is no country in the world which has been able to preserve its name and its genius even after undergoing the amount of repression, the insults and prolonged slavery which our country had to pass through. Even after thousands of years our country is still known as ‘Bharat’.”

Therefore, the unanimous answer of the Constituent Assembly to Shakespeare’s proverbial question is that- in a name, there is history and culture!


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