NEW DELHI (AP) — The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has replaced India with the Sanskrit name “Bharat” on dinner invitations during this week’s Group of 20 summit, a decision reflecting the efforts of his Hindu nationalist party to erase names that he considers to belong to the colonial past.
The invitation to G20 attendees calls President Droupadi Murmu “President of Bharat” rather than “President of India.” The nation of 1.4 billion people officially has both names, but India is the most used, both in the country and in the world.
Bharat is a Sanskrit word that many historians believe dates back to ancient Hindu texts. The term means India in Hindi language.
The nomenclature change has the support of leaders of Modi’s Bharativa Janata Party, who maintain that the name India was introduced by British colonialists and is a “symbol of slavery.” Great Britain was the ruling power for about 200 years, until India achieved independence in 1947.
“It is a new blow to the slave mentality,” said the main elected official of the state of Uttarakhand, Pushkar Singh Dhami, on the social network X, formerly Twitter. Dhami, a ruling party leader, reproduced the dinner invitation in his message.
Modi’s party has long worked to erase names associated with the Mughal and colonial past.
In 2015, the name of New Delhi’s famous Aurangzeb Street, named after a Mughal king, was changed to Doctor APJ Abdul Kalam due to protests from Modi’s party. Last year, an avenue in the heart of the capital where ceremonial parades are held was renamed.
Opposition parties criticized the change of the country’s name.
“While there is no constitutional objection to calling India ‘Bharat’, which is one of the two official names of the country, I hope that the government will not be so foolish as to completely dispense with ‘India’, which has a value of incalculable mark accumulated over centuries,” said opposition leader Shashi Tharoor in X.
Tharoor said Indians should “continue using the two words, rather than give up a name of historical resonance, a name recognized throughout the world.”
The disputes over “India” against “Bharat” have gained ground since opposition parties announced in July a new alliance – called INDIA – to dethrone Modi and his party in the 2024 elections. It is the acronym for Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, or Indian National Inclusive Alliance for Development.