Reading between India, Bharat and Hindustan
Talking earlier this week to a 100 very bright and very young students at the nascent Ashoka University, I asked if they thought of their country as India, Bharat or Hindustan. The answer, from a young woman, came fast: “India”. She spoke, I think, for everyone of them drawn from different parts of India and varying academic hinterlands. I told them their identification with India was on track with the opening words of the Preamble to our Constitution: “We the people of India…” and the first Article of our Constitution — Article 1 (1) : “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.”
What does Bharat invoke for you? I asked. One student, a young man, said Bharat conjured continuity, tradition, had an epic stature to it. True, I said, so it does. The Mahabharata has Bharat in it, the national anthem has “Bharat bhagya vidhata”.
What of Hindustan? That was, one of the three names for India, at one point, the prime name for our country of the national and nationalist imagination. ‘Hind’ and ‘Hindustan’ acquired a magic of their own, in the hands of the great Iqbal in his Tarana-e-Hind, of Shaheed Bhagat Singh and the revolutionaries of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, and then at the hands of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose with the Azad Hind Fauj, known to the outside world as the INA and then by his imperishable slogan “Jai Hind”. As no other name before or after, ‘Hind’ united the people of India, led by its Hindu, Muslim, Sikh populations.
My conversation with these potential leaders of opinion and responsibility brought to mind several thoughts, memories of things read and heard about the romance around these names.
I found it psychologically and politically instructive that on November 15, 1948 — 65 years ago today — the erudite professor Shibbanlal Saksena who was among the members of the Constituent Assembly from the UP, and a strong advocate of the great Vandemataram being given due recognition in free India, moved an amendment to the draft Article 1 as it was proposed (and as it continues to stand). He suggested that it should say: “The name of the Union shall be Bharat”. Seth Govind Das, who was among members representing the Central Provinces and Berar, and an ardent advocate of Hindi, said: “The House very well knows how clear I am for naming our country Bharat …” Seth Govind Das then referred to the antiquity of ‘Bharat’. He quoted the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Brahmanas, the Bhisma Parva of the Mahabharata, the Vishnu Purana and the Brahma Purana. Moving to the slogan raised in the country under Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership, “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, he said there was no doubt that the time had come for ‘India’ to become ‘Bharat’ once again.
Seth Govind Das was joined by HV Kamath, who strongly pleaded for re-drafting the opening words of Article 1 clause (1) to read “Bharat, or in the English language, India…”. Then came the turn of the erudite Congressman Pandit Kamalapati Tripathi of Varanasi to speak. Turning to the Chair, Tripathiji said in sonorous Hindi, “Sir, I am enamoured of the historic name — Bharat”. He added, “The gods have been remembering the name of this country in the heavens…” In fact, he said, “The gods have a keen desire to be born in the sacred land of Bharat” and then invoked in favour of Kamath’s amendment for ‘Bharat’ preceding ‘India’ the benediction of Sri Rama, Sri Krishna, Gautama the Buddha and Adi Shankaracharya. As pious as he was learned, Tripathiji’s evocations were fervent. He referred to Sri Rama “twanging the chord of the bow” which “sent echoes through the Himalayas, the seas and the heavens”.
Fortunately for all of us, at this point, Ambedkar rose. “Is all this necessary, sir?” he asked the Chair. “There is a lot of work to be done.”
Kamath’s amendment putting ‘Bharat’ before ‘India’ was put to vote by President Prasad. The Assembly divided by a show of hands. Kamath’s amendment was lost, rather narrowly: 38 supporting Kamath, 51 supporting Ambedkar’s formulation. A difference of 13 hands gave us ‘India that is Bharat’, rather than ‘Bharat, that is India’.
Ambedkar had a certain concept of ‘India’, the amendment movers had another. They have adherents among us today, passionate adherents. Kamalapati Tripathi was a veteran Congressman. But his auditionally challenging image of Rama’s bow-twang reverberating over the Himalaya from K2 in the West to Kanchenjungha in the East would have more Hindutva adherents today than from within his party. But by and large, there can be no doubt that today, for the majority of us, the country is, now, India, Bharat its triumphal synonym, Hindustan its home name.
Bharat is where we dream and Hindustan where we live and where the common man and woman faces inflation with poverty, extravagance with squalor, corruption with defeat and where he or she has to be hassled at each step — whether it is for an electric connection, a change of name in the electric metre, a birth certificate, a land-mutation, a driving licence — by men with the authority to delay if not deny what is due and where men and women have to face cheats and conmen posing as facilitators.
The name of that reality is India where the work that Ambedkar spoke of needs to be done. President KR Narayanan in his last Republic Day address reminded us: “Beware of the anger of the patient man”. There are those who would want that anger seen in fractions. But those who respond to Ambedkar’s defence of ‘India that is Bharat...’ cannot let that happen. They cannot let rage be seen as Muslim rage by Hindus, as Hindu rage by Muslims, as Dalit rage by non-Dalits. These are a scattered turbulence of Bharat’s frustrations and Hindustan’s betrayals adding up ultimately, to India’s great challenges.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor.
The views expressed by the author are personal.