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Is Modi Changing India’s Name to Bharat? Jayati Ghosh on What’s Behind the Move

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As the G20 met in India this weekend, invitations to dinners during the G20 used the name Bharat instead of India. Bharat is a Sanskrit term which is already India’s second official name but is not widely used internationally. Economics professor Jayati Ghosh speculates Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to be moving toward the name Bharat as a “knee-jerk reaction” to a coalition of 26 opposition political parties called the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (I.N.D.I.A.) ahead of 2024 elections. “It would be funny if it weren’t also so expensively ridiculous,” says Ghosh, who taught at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi for 35 years. “The immediate bringing in of this measure is really a panicky response to the fact that the opposition parties are coming together.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, I wanted ask you about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s placard at the opening of the G20 summit on Saturday, referring to India as Bharat, raising speculation of a change of name for India. Can you talk about the significance of this very old, and now new for the international community, name, what it means and what it represents?

JAYATI GHOSH: You know, it’s a very strange thing that has just happened. The Constitution of India says, “India, that is Bharat.” And very often when we’re speaking in Hindi or in some other Indian language, we use the term “Bharat.” And the two have been interchangeable forever. Certainly, all my life, I remember them being used interchangeably. But suddenly, this move to remove “India” from the international thing is bizarre, because they’re claiming that it’s a colonial remnant, which it’s not. The word “India” comes way back, for example. It’s from the River Sindh. And when Alexander crosses, they say, “OK, the people on the other side of the Sindhu River.” So it’s way back. OK? It goes — it’s a very, very long history for the name “India.”

But the real reason that they’re doing this is because a group of opposition countries — I think now there are 24 in the opposition alliance, and they have called themselves ”INDIA,” I-N-D-I-A, Indian National Democratic Inclusive Alliance. And this has actually created a lot of nervousness in the ruling party. And so, many people see this as a quite open knee-jerk reaction: “Oh, you’re going to call yourselves India? I am going to remove, expunge India from all official words. We won’t allow you to claim India.” It’s bizarre. It would be funny if it weren’t also so expensively ridiculous, because it will mean a huge expense in changing the names of everything, the Reserve Bank of India, for example, the currency notes and everything.

AMY GOODMAN: Is it similar to what’s happened in Burma with the military junta renaming Burma Myanmar? Yes, Burma is a colonial name, but — and in the case of India with Narendra Modi, would you say it signifies a kind of Hindu supremacy, even though it’s Sanskrit, not Hindi?

JAYATI GHOSH: I would say that pretty much everything this government does has an underlining of an attempt to impose Hindu supremacy. So, yes, this is certainly part of that. But the immediate sort of bringing in of this measure is really a panicky response to the fact that the opposition parties are coming together and calling themselves ”INDIA.”

AMY GOODMAN: Jayati Ghosh, we want to thank you so much for being with us, economics professor now at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Next up, to Santiago, Chile, where we continue our discussion on this 50th anniversary of the U.S.-supported coup and look at how Henry Kissinger and President Nixon, what the role they played in supporting General Augusto Pinochet ousting the democratically elected President Salvador Allende. Back in 30 seconds.

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