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Constituent Assembly debated Bharat-India on 18 Sept 1949; special session on 18 Sept 2023

Top 5Constituent Assembly debated Bharat-India on 18 Sept 1949; special session on 18 Sept 2023

Historians and political analysts say it may not just be a coincidence that the special session has been called on the same date.

New Delhi

Seventy-four years ago, on 18 September 1949, the Constituent Assembly held a meeting to discuss whether the country should be called “Bharat” or “India”. Now, on 18 September 2023, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has called a special session, and there is speculation that the topic, though not on the official agenda, may get mentioned during the discussion on the parliamentary journey of 75 years.

Historians and political analysts say it may not just be a coincidence that the special session has been called on the same date. “Definitely, some thought seems to have gone into the selection of date,” said a retired Lok Sabha secretariat official.

The amendment moved by All India Forward Bloc’s H.V. Kamath 74 years ago to replace “India by Bharat” as the country’s name was defeated in voting by 38 to 51 votes.

The 18 September 1949 debate, under the chairmanship of Dr Rajendra Prasad, was the first occasion when a discussion was held on the name of the country in the Constituent Assembly. The Ambedkar Committee had suggested two names—India and Bharat.

During the debate, Kamath had said every child is christened after birth and soon India would also be born… there are many suggestions out of which Hindustan, Hind, Bharatvarsh, Bharat and Bharatbhoomi are the prominent ones, said a historian revisiting the excerpts of the debate.

Kamath’s proposal was objected to by Ambedkar, who wondered what was the objective of the move. At that stage, the Forward Bloc leader said “India…” appeared awkward and Ambedkar must admit that this, too, is among the many mistakes that he has conceded having made while drafting the Constitution. Kamath said that adding “India” to the name of the country is a big mistake and it needs to be changed to “Bharat”, said a historian.

During the debate, Congress leader Kamlapati Tripathi suggested that in keeping with the historical perspective the wording in the statute could be changed to “Bharat, that is India…”. Another Constituent Assembly member, Seth Govind Das had pointed out that Chinese traveller Hiuen-Tsang had also described our country as “Bharat” in his book. He also countered the views of other members of the Assembly that choosing the name “Bharat” would amount to looking backwards.

The debate in the Constituent Assembly had ended with the addition of “Bharat” to Article 1(1) which currently reads, “India, that is Bharat…”

Today, legal experts like Abhishek Singhvi have said that the terms “Bharat” and “India” can be used interchangeably. He, however, believes that it cannot be mandated by the government that everyone should use only this one name. However, constitutional expert P.D.T. Achary said “India” and “Bharat” cannot be used interchangeably. Achary said a change in name from Republic of India will require constitutional amendment.

The Modi government’s so-called attempts to popularise “Bharat” as the name of the country is in sync with some analysts’ views that “Bharat” would be symbolic of the democracy’s triumph and the dethronement of the post-colonial ruling class.

Amid the chorus of complaining voices against the government’s move, experts said even some Congress leaders have in the past demanded the replacement of the word “India” with “Bharat” in the statute. For example, in 2012, Congress leader Shantaram Naik brought a private member’s Bill proposing that in the “Preamble of the Constitution for the word ‘India’ the word ‘Bharat’ shall be substituted”. Naik’s Bill also said that in Article 1 of the Constitution in clause I, for the words “India, that is Bharat” the word “Bharat” shall be substituted.

During the special session four Bills may come up in Parliament. These include the Advocates (Amendment) Bill, 2023, the Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill, 2023—both in Lok Sabha. The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners Bill, 2023 and the Post Office Bill, 2023 shall come up in Rajya Sabha.

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