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Calling India names

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters chant slogans during a mass rally.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters chant slogans during a mass rally.


What is the name of the country of India? This may sound like the windup to a “what color was George Washington’s white horse?” type of joke, but the issue came up on Tuesday when the Indian government sent out invites for a dinner at the G20 summit, which it is currently hosting.

The save-the-dates referred to India as “Bharat,” the Hindi name for the country.

Many Hindu nationalists — including members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the RSS, an ultranationalist Hindu organization — want to officially drop the British-imposed “India” in favor of “Bharat,” in order to celebrate the country’s Hindu heritage.

But opposition leaders and other critics say that giving the country an explicitly Hindu name would clash with the Indian state’s secular identity and insult the hundreds of millions of people in the country who aren’t actually Hindus.

Since coming to power in 2017, PM Narendra Modi – who became a member of the RSS as a child – has been criticized for a number of policies that have discriminated against India’s/Bharat’s 200 million Muslims in particular.

Was the G20 invitation a trial balloon? Amid increasing calls from his allies to rename the country in international forums as “Bharat,” keep an eye on whether Modi’s government officially moves to make the change.


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