Is India antithetical to the spirit of Bharat? Is Bharat a symbolic millstone around the neck of a modern and progressive India? These questions are not limited to semantics. In the course of India’s political trajectory, they have, at times, signified profound differences in vision and temperament. But the creators of that remarkable document, the Constitution, had resolved the seemingly intractable difference with their characteristic expansiveness in vision. Erasing any notion of difference between these two entities, Article 1 of the Constitution declared, boldly and definitively, that “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.” Harmony and equality, and the resultant wholesome fusion of diversity and difference, form the core of this constitutional tenet. It is possible that months before the next general election, this judicious insistence on pluralism and confluence has now got the Bharatiya Janata Party’s goat: after all, respect for diversity is the proverbial red rag to the BJP’s exclusionary bull. The Narendra Modi government at the Centre has sent out official invitations identifying the head of State as “The President of Bharat” instead of using the customary “President of India”. It appears that as the elections draw closer, the BJP will, as is its wont, try to draw the Opposition into an emotive but insubstantial debate on Bharat versus India. It is pointless to educate the BJP on the historical veracity and the evolutions of these terms. For its objective, as is always the case, is to reap electoral dividends by curating a divisive rhetoric. The decision by the BJP’s opponents to use the acronym, INDIA, served as the immediate provocation. As the poll temperature rises, Mr Modi will be content to keep the pot boiling, as it were. Persistent whispers of an imminent rechristening of the nation could deflect public attention from the more pressing matters of collective welfare.
This is an old trick in Mr Modi’s book. His government is confronted by numerous — monumental — failures: the economy remains sluggish, Indian territory in the north has been encroached upon, while sectarian and ethnic fires — Manipur being one example — continue to singe the fabric of social harmony. A deflection — Balakot yielded rich dividends in 2019 — is thus necessary. But INDIA must not take the bait. It should focus its attention and energies on acquainting the voters with the consequences of the policy failures of the regime. The best way to douse fiery, but mischievous, rhetoric is by pouring the cold water of facts over it.