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Narendra Modi opened the G20 summit in New Delhi on Saturday sitting behind a sign saying “Bharat”, drawing immediate criticism from the biggest opposition party and adding to speculation that prime minister will propose to officially rename India.
Some members of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party have been calling for changing India’s name to Bharat. Both names are spelt out in India’s constitution, which refers to “India, that is Bharat”, but until now the Hindi name Bharat was mostly only used in Hindi-language communications.
However, expectations of an official name change spread this week after delegates to this weekend’s G20 summit were invited to a dinner on Saturday evening in the name of the “President of Bharat”, Droupadi Murmu. Modi’s BJP has called a special session of parliament starting on September 18, but has not yet announced its agenda for the sitting.
India’s main opposition party has criticised the notion of a name change.
Speaking in Brussels this week Rahul Gandhi, a senior figure in the Indian National Congress party, described the debate as “distraction tactics” and a sign of the government’s “fear” ahead of an upcoming election. Modi’s BJP is set to seek re-election for a third term early next year.
“Our view is quite clear: we would prefer to use both names as per the constitution, which says ‘Bharat, that is India,” Praveen Chakravarty, a senior Congress politician, told the Financial Times. “We don’t think it should be one or the other.”
Chakravarty claimed that “a lot of it is a diversionary tactic” to draw “attention away from the Adani story”. Gandhi has attacked Modi for his ties to Gautam Adani, founder of the eponymous industrial conglomerate now under regulatory and political scrutiny in India because of its links to opaque offshore investment vehicles, some of which the FT outlined in a recent investigation based on documents obtained by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.
Since taking power in 2014, Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has taken steps to change place names and remove symbols of India’s past Muslim and British rulers.