09/06/2023, 19.39
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India becomes ‘Bharat’ for the coming G20 summit, sparking controversy

An invitation to G20 delegates bears the Hindi name of India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is trying to rewrite the country's history, again, says the main opposition alliance, which chose a name whose acronym spells India. Meanwhile, the authorities have cleared the slums near the New Delhi convention centre that will host the summit.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – India or Bharat? Foreign delegates at the G20 summit received an invitation for dinner on 9 September from the office of Droupadi Murmu, the President of Bharat, and not, as customary in official documents, the President of India, triggering a controversy as soon as some pictures of the invitations were posted on social media.

This comes three days after Mohan Bhagwat, head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu ultranationalist paramilitary group, urged Indians to use Bharat in lieu of India. “The name of our country has been 'Bharat' for ages,” he said. “Whatever may be the language, the name remains the same,” he added.

"Bharat" is a Sanskrit word used in Hindi (and other foreign languages) to refer to India. India’s constitution does not provide for a national language, but officially recognises 22, while English, a legacy of British rule, continues to be used in official documents, business and education.

Nowadays, the use of one word or the other depends a lot on the context and the speakers, but both appear on the Indian passport. The constitution itself says, " India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States, apparently giving precedence to the first term over the second.

In fact, "linguistic nationalism" is cyclical in India. In the 1990s, many cities saw their colonial-era names replaced with local ones.

Leaders in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ultranationalist Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) welcomed the use of the word "Bharat".

“The kind of inspiration and devotion that the word Bharat invokes, India can never do,” said BJP MP Harnath Singh Yadav speaking to Asian News International (ANI). “India is an abuse that the British used for us. They used the word to refer to anyone who they thought were uncouth, fools and criminals.”

This is nothing new. In the past few years, the Modi administration has been trying to rid the country of symbols and names connected in some way to the country’s colonial past, which lasted about two centuries. As a result, many public places have been renamed and many statues have been erected to major historic and legendary Hindu figures.

India’s main opposition coalition came out against the use of the name Bharat in lieu of India. It is no accident that it chose to call itself the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) for the upcoming election.

According to the secretary general of its main party, the Indian National Congress, the use of the term Bharat is nothing more than another attempt by Modi to distort the country’s history.

Several cartoonists have also had a field day in print media and online, mocking the invitations signed by President Droupadi Murmu.

In particular, PenPencilDraw scoffed at the prime minister for demolishing shanties ahead of this week’s G20 meeting in Delhi. In the cartoon, Prime Minister Modi covers three poor people on the side of the road with a curtain that read, “G20 Welcome to Bharat”.

In the last few days, the authorities have also been clearing slums near the convention centre in New Delhi that will host the leaders of the 20 major world economies.

Tens of thousands of residents living in marginalised communities have been evicted. The government justified itself by saying that the land was being occupied illegally, and that it would relocate some of the affected residents.

For several activists, the "beautification" operation is aimed at impressing foreign dignitaries, concealing one of India's most entrenched problems: poverty.

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