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  Opinion   Edit  09 Sep 2023  Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | Bharat vs India: Don’t create new fault lines

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr | Bharat vs India: Don’t create new fault lines

The author is a Delhi-based commentator and analyst
Published : Sep 10, 2023, 12:15 am IST
Updated : Sep 10, 2023, 9:11 am IST

Politicians, unlike poets, have a diabolical plan when they create the web of words.

Tamil Nadu Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin (PTI)
 Tamil Nadu Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin (PTI)

Turkiye is the old/new name for Turkey that Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had adopted for his country. It is a part of Mr Erdogan’s efforts to de-Westernise his Muslim majority country on the edge of Asia and Europe. But Turkiye/Turkey is buffeting an economic crisis with its inflation level at 60 per cent, with its central bank’s interest rate raised by 750 basis points, even as Mr Erdogan won a third term as President, and the change in name is seen as tokenism. Of course, Turkish people do use the term “Turkiye”. Mr Erdogan is not indulging in regression of a major kind. He keeps Turkiye engaged with the world. He is playing an important role as a dealmaker, if not quite a peacemaker, in the Russia-Ukraine war that broke out in February 2022. And Turkiye is once again seeking membership of the European Union (EU), after Brussels has kept it dangling in the air for decades.

Turkiye serves as a good parallel to the “Bharat” nomenclature flutter. President Droupadi Murmu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent out invitations in the name of Bharat, Ms Murmu as President of Bharat and Mr Modi as Prime Minister of Bharat, instead of the customary President of India and Prime Minister of India for the G-20 summit in New Delhi. Like Mr Erdogan, Mr Modi is on a mission to decolonise India, to in one sense “Indianise” India. It is Hindu reassertion with Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, mainly a party of Hindus, with its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayasevak Sangh (RSS), advocating Hindu supremacy. It was a no-brainer that using Bharat in place of India is pushing for a misty Hindu India of a thousand-plus years ago. It is a quixotic gesture at best.

For the majority of the people in India, Bharat is officialese at best. Most Indians do not use “Bharat” to refer to themselves in their everyday dealings. Cutting across regional, linguistic and cultural demarcations, they prefer the easy term “India”. In many Indian languages, Bharat and its many declensions are used, but “Bharat’ in its North India, Hindi version, is never a common coinage. Most Indian languages would go with the vowel-ending “Bharata” and its modifications. So, the Narendra Modi government’s use of Bharat in the official invitation is a projection of how the word is projected in official Hindi. The Modi government was not breaking any norms because “Bharat” is official, much too official, as it is enshrined in the Constitution in the words “India, that is Bharat…” The official communications of the Central government are always in the name of “Bharat Sarkar”, or Bharat Government. There is nothing radical about it because “Bharat” is a formally recognised name of the country.

There is the immediate political provocation from the Opposition bloc calling itself “INDIA”, and Mr Modi, never the one to let pass a rapier thrust from his rivals, has resorted to the easily available constitutional alternative of “Bharat”. It is nothing more than that. That is why he has cautioned his Cabinet colleagues not to get drawn into the duel over Bharat/India, and instead forcefully counter the attack on Sanatan Dharma by DMK leader Udayanidhi Stalin. This is not so much against the DMK as such as it is against the Congress for continuing to support the DMK in a bid to show that the Congress is anti-Hindu. He wants to ride on Hindu sentiments for the 2024 election because his government has nothing much to show for the last five years as well as for the entire decade, including his first term in office.

The G-20 summit and the success of Chandrayaan-3 and Aditya-L1 do not matter to the lives of the ordinary people as they battle rising prices and lack of job opportunities. The promises of India becoming the fifth largest economy and ready to climb to the third position has something unreal about it. Mr Modi is fully aware that the grand successes on broad fronts do not mean much for ordinary people. The issue of Bharat versus India will not resonate, but he hopes that Sanatan Dharma is something that could fire the people in Uttar Pradesh, the state that the BJP bets on the most.

Mr Modi, the BJP and RSS do have radical plans to change India into a Hindu India and wipe away its religious pluralism. When Mr Modi speaks of India’s diversity and democracy, he is speaking of linguistic diversity. The democracy he speaks of is of village and city oligarchies of ancient India. There is no room for Muslims and Christians, and Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains are seen as part of amorphous Hinduism. Mr Modi is doing what Mr Erdogan is doing in Turkiye/Turkey. He wants to impose an artificial unity based on religion. That is indeed the long-term plan of the Hindu parties.

The BJP/RSS plan is unlikely to succeed because inherent diversity in the vast geography that is India will resist homogenising. And it is a natural centrifugal force at work. There is not much need for liberals and secularists to labour the point of heterogeneity in the country. Bharat and Sanatan Dharma is not the glue that holds India together. It is in many ways a self-contained geographical unity. What was once seen as a dismissive description of India being merely a “geographical expression” and nothing more is indeed the binding factor for the subcontinent. And political regimentation of the kind envisaged by Mr Modi and company will only create unnecessary cultural fault lines. So cultural nationalism, Sanatan Dharma and Bharat are supposed to be its key words, and it’s a disaster in the making because it’s the valleys and hills, mountains and river systems and coast lines that shape communities, which give rise to different social patterns. The play on words like “Bharat” will not affect things like national identity, either for good or for bad. They are mere words. It is the hard reality outside the words that matters the most.

Politicians, unlike poets, have a diabolical plan when they create the web of words. They want to imprison minds in words. Between rhetoric and reality, reality has an edge. People base their responses on reality and not on words. So, the use of words like “Bharat” is not likely to distract people.

Tags: udhayanidhi stalin, sanatan dharma, bharat vs india row