Bharat is also Hindustan

by Oct 6, 2023Governance0 comments

On the eve of Independence, all three names — Hindustan, Bharat (also Bharata), and India — coexisted in the subcontinent. Hind was also constantly used as in Jai Hind, the battle cry that Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, and Bose proclaimed at the end of their speeches


I have been inundated with queries from my readers eager to know if I had anticipated the debate on the change of India’s name to Bharat when I titled my book “We the People of the States of Bharat: The Making and Remaking of India’s Internal Boundaries” in August 2022.

Much as I would like to attribute such an ‘insight’ to myself, I have to be candid — predicting the future is beyond my ken. Fortuitously for me, the preeminence given to ‘Bharat’ during the G20 coincided with the paperback release of my book, bringing a sudden spike in sales. I have received invites from several universities and libraries across the country — and in the United Arab Emirates — to discuss the book.

However, before we discuss Bharat and India, both of which find reference in Article 1 of the Constitution — “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of states” — we need to look at a historical reality: How the geographical region that now comprises India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh became known as ‘India’ as against ‘Hindustan’, the name in vogue before the arrival of Europeans. This serves as a convenient point of departure for the construction of the multiple narratives of Indian history.

A fair idea of Hindustan as a cultural, political, and spatial entity was articulated in contemporary chronicles in a range of languages, including Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, forms of Prakrit, and later Urdu, mainly between the 15th and 19th centuries. India as the preferred name gained currency when the East India Company (EIC) started acquiring territory for its presidencies. The first was established in Madras in 1640, followed by Bombay in 1687, which coincided with the shifting of the Surat factory to the islands, and finally Fort William in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1690.

It was in Bengal that the EIC started exercising ‘sovereign’ power after the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and the Battle of Buxar in 1764, leading to the formation of the Bengal presidency in 1765. Thereupon, the British maps started showing territories acquired by conquest, subterfuge, unequal treaties, and asymmetrical trade relations as “Indian possessions”. Perhaps the last time Hindustan was used by an EIC official was in 1768 when Alexander Dow, an infantry officer of the EIC’s Bengal army, wrote a book titled The History of Hindostan.

From the time Warren Hastings took command of the EIC operations, the British would refer to the subcontinent as India. But for well over a century, until the Revolt of 1857, the ishtahars (advertisements) and proclamations by rebel leaders would invariably refer to the country as Hindustan and talk about liberating the land from firangi (foreign) rule. This confirms that even a hundred years after Robert Clive’s landmark victory at Plassey, the idea of Hindustan as a political and geographical entity had not been lost.

At the turn of the century, in 1904, Muhammad Iqbal penned his famous patriotic song Sare Jahan Se Accha in Urdu and spoke with pride about the diversity of ‘Hindustan’ and its people.

In 1909, MK Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj to propound his ideas about village republics and national education in Hindustani languages at vidyapeeths, the most prominent of which was the Kashi Vidyapeeth, the alma mater of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. When Savarkar wrote The War of Independence of 1857 the same year, he changed the discourse about the 1857 revolt, which began to be recognised as India’s first war for independence. In 1937, he delivered a speech in Ahmedabad, where he said: ‘Hindustan must ever remain one and indivisible.” Revolutionary Bhagat Singh named his youth organisation Hindustan Socialist Republican Army in 1928, and Subhas Chandra Bose chose Azad Hind Fauj as the name for his army in 1943.

From my reading of Indian history, ‘Bharat’ came to prominence with Rabindranath Tagore’s Jana Gana Mana, which is now our national anthem. The poet himself sang it at the Congress session on 27 December 1911 in Kolkata. In the following two decades, ‘Bharat’ caught hold of popular imagination, with Bharat Mata mandirs coming up in Varanasi and Haridwar, calendars depicting ‘Mother India’, and several commercial establishments promoting the idea with a nationalist bent of mind.

Nehru wrote “The Discovery of India” in the Ahmednagar Fort during his years of captivity (1942-1945) and mentions: “Often, as I wandered from meeting to meeting, I spoke to my audiences of this India of ours, of Hindustan and of Bharata, the old Sanskrit name derived from the mythical founders of the race.” Thus, on the eve of Independence, all three names — Hindustan, Bharat (also Bharata), and India — coexisted in the subcontinent. Hind was also constantly used as in Jai Hind, the battle cry that Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, and Bose proclaimed at the end of their speeches.

On the eve of their departure from India, a powerful section of the British establishment wanted the dominions to be called Hindustan and Pakistan. The British felt that India was their construct, built over the territory of Hindustan, which included present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh. The argument finds credence in Manan Ahmed Asif’s book The Loss of Hindustan: The invention of India. In fact, the person who first insisted on rejecting Hindustan and retaining India as the name of the country was VP Menon. According to the former Secretary to the Indian government, adopting this nomenclature made Pakistan the breakaway part of India, the successor state to British India.

This argument won favour with both Nehru and Patel as also from BR Ambedkar, who said during the Continent Assembly debates, “India has been known as India throughout history and throughout all these past years”. His reasoning was that the country was ‘India’ at the United Nations and all agreements had been signed under the same name. As a result, Constituent Assembly members came to a general consensus on “India, that is Bharat”.

While Hindustan does not figure in the Constitution, it has been appended to some of the top public sector undertakings (PSUs) and corporates of the country — from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Hindustan Zinc Limited (HZL), Hindustan Latex Limited (HLL), Hindustan Shipyard Limited, and the very successful Hindustan Computers Limited (HCL).

Three cheers then to Bharat, India, and Hindustan.

(Sanjeev Chopra is a former IAS officer and Festival Director of Valley of Words. Until recently, he was Director, Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration)

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