India or Bharat? What Constituent Assembly debated and what Supreme Court held

Amid speculation of a change of name from India to Bharat, we take a look at the origins of the debate on what the country should be officially called.
Constituent Assembly, India-Bharat, and Supreme Court of India
Constituent Assembly, India-Bharat, and Supreme Court of India

Even as India gears up to host this year's G20 Summit, members of opposition parties took to social media to share that invitations to a dinner at the event referred to Head of State Droupadi Murmu as the “President of Bharat” and not "President of India".

While the opposition questioned the ruling dispensation on the "intention and politics" behind the wording, speculation of a change of name from India to Bharat is rife.

As the debate over India and Bharat rages on, it is important to take a closer look at the origins of the term 'Bharat,' how its use was first debated in the Constituent Assembly and what the Supreme Court has held in petitions calling for changing the name of the country.

Origins of ‘Bharat’

The roots of the word “Bharat” can be traced back to the ancient texts of the Puranas and the Mahabharata. An English translation of Volume I, Adi Parva, mentions, "We are desirous of hearing that history also called Bharata...

Following independence, the framers of the Constitution included both India and Bharat in Article 1 to say, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States”, thereby indicating the interchangeable usage of both terms.

What the Constituent Assembly debated on and adopted

The matter over the use of 'Bharat' and 'India' was discussed at great length during the Constituent Assembly debates. 

During one of the debates on September 17, 1949, only a few months before the Constitution of India was signed on January 24, 1950, Chairman of the Drafting Committee Dr BR Ambedkar proposed an amendment to Article 1 to include in sub-clause 1:

India, that is, Bharat shall be a Union of States.

However, other members sought a discussion and moved for an adjournment until the next day.

The next day, another member of the Constituent Assembly HV Kamath moved an amendment seeking insertion of:

Bharat or, in the English language, India, shall be a Union of States.’


Kamath was of the view that the expression “India, that is, Bharat” meant “India, that is to say, Bharat” and was “somewhat clumsy”. Therefore, he suggested that it would be better if the expression was modified in a constitutionally “more acceptable form and aesthetic form”.

He referred to the passing of the Irish Constitution in 1937 to demonstrate that the Irish Free State was one of the few countries in the modern world that had changed its name on achieving freedom.

Another member, Brajeshwar Prasad, was opposed to the incorporation of the words “Union and States” in the Constitution and moved an amendment to include “India, that is, Bharat is one integral unit”. But this suggestion was overruled.

Constituent Assembly
Constituent Assembly

A while later, Seth Govind Das proposed:

“Bharat known as India also in foreign countries”. 

Naming the country as Bharat was only “befitting our history and our culture,” he said, stressing further,

"We had fought the battle of freedom under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi by raising the slogan of 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai'.”

The suggestion was welcomed by Kala Venkata Rao, who “heartily” supported the name 'Bharat'.

While Kamalapati Tripathi subsequently proposed “Bharat, that is, India” instead of “India, that is, Bharat”, Govind Ballabh Pant wanted “Bharat” or “Bharat Varsha” in place of “India”. 

Eventually, except Ambedkar’s amendment, all others proposals were either negatived or withdrawn. The Assembly thus adopted,

“India, that is, Bharat, shall be a Union of States."

What has the Supreme Court held?

In June 2020, the Supreme Court dealt with a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking the change of the country's official name from India to Bharat.

A Bench of then Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy asked why the petitions were filed when the Constitution had already said India is also called Bharat.

While closing the matter, the Bench said,

The present petition is directed to be treated as a representation and may be considered by the appropriate Ministries.” 

Earlier in 2014, a similar PIL before the apex court was withdrawn and similar permission to make a representation to the appropriate authorities was granted.

The petitioner, Niranjan Bhatwal, subsequently, sent a notice along with copy of his plea to the Prime Minister of India for appropriate action. The government, however, refused to grant the request and communicated the same to Bhatwal.  

He again moved the Supreme Court in 2015, but this time, his plea was dismissed. The Court said,

We do not see the present to be a fit case for our interference in exercise of our power under Article 32 of the Constitution of India. The writ petition is accordingly dismissed.

'Bharat and India can be used interchangeably, especially in view of the authorised Hindi version of the Indian Constitution'
'Bharat and India can be used interchangeably, especially in view of the authorised Hindi version of the Indian Constitution'

Senior Advocate and opposition leader Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi told Bar & Bench that the terms 'Bharat' and 'India' can be used interchangeably, especially in view of the authorised Hindi version of the Indian Constitution.

But the government cannot stipulate that everyone use only one name: either is permissible and usable interchangeably. Moreover, I hope that the government rumour mills are not moving overtime because they are terrified of the political grouping called INDIA. They should not forget our full collective political identity: ‘India: Bharat judega, India jeetega’.” said Singhvi, who is also a former chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, Law and Justice.

With a special session of Parliament beginning on September 18, it will be interesting to see if the government invokes Article 368 to amend a Constitutional provision, to officially change the name of the country to Bharat. 

Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news