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President of India: Government's G20 invite from 'Bharat' sparks row

A security personnel stands guard near the G20 venue ahead of its commencement in New Delhi on September 4, 2023. (Photo by Money SHARMA / AFP) (Photo by MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images)
India is hosting this year's G20 summit

A row has broken out in India after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government used the term "Bharat" in an official invite for the G20 Summit being sent on behalf of the president.

Bharat is the Hindi name for India.

The dinner invitation from President Droupadi Murmu to foreign leaders attending the summit describes her as "President of Bharat".

Several ministers from the ruling BJP party cheered the move, but opposition leaders questioned its purpose.

The move comes amid reports that the government is mulling changing the name of the country officially to Bharat - but there has been no confirmation.

All of India's official websites still use the term "government of India" and Ms Murmu is still referred to as the President of India on X (formerly Twitter).

However, Bharat's use in the invite comes just two days after Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) - the ideological mentor of the BJP - said that the country should be called Bharat instead of India.

"At times we use India so those who speak English will understand. But we must stop using this. The name of the country Bharat will remain Bharat wherever you go in the world," Mr Bhagwat said.

On Tuesday, several BJP politicians welcomed the move, calling it a proud moment for the country.

"Happy and proud that our civilisation is marching ahead boldly towards Amrit Kaal," Himanta Biswa Sarma, chief minister of Assam state, tweeted.

Amrit Kaal that loosely translates as the "golden era" is a term the prime minister and other government officials are using to refer to the years leading up to 2047 when India will turn 100. They say by then India will be among the most prosperous and developed nations in the world.

The comments drew a sharp response from opposition leaders who linked it to their newly-formed coalition which is called INDIA, an acronym for Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance.

"It has just been a few weeks since we named our alliance as INDIA and BJP has started sending invitations with 'Republic of Bharat' instead of 'Republic of India'," tweeted Manoj Jha, a leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal party of Bihar state.

"You will neither be able to take India from us, nor Bharat," he added.

This is not the first instance of the government using Bharat in connection with the G20. It has also used the term in a handbook - called Bharat, The Mother Of Democracy - for foreign delegates, reports BBC's legal correspondent Umang Poddar.

The Indian constitution also refers to India as Bharat, though only once - Article 1 says that "India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States."

However, everywhere else in the constitution, the country is referred to as India.

In the past, cases have been filed in the Supreme Court, seeking to change India's name to Bharat. But the judges have refused to get drawn into the controversy, and in one instance asked the petitioner to approach the government.

A few judges have made oral observations on the debate but these have no legal value.

"India is already called Bharat in the constitution", former Chief Justice of India Sharad Bobde once remarked. Another former chief justice TS Thakur had said that it was up to the citizens to choose whether they wanted to call it India or Bharat.

India is hosting this year's G20 summit, which will be held in the capital, Delhi, from 9-10 September.

The G20 includes the world's 19 wealthiest countries plus the European Union. India currently holds the G20 presidency, which rotates annually between members.

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