The Supreme Court recently dismissed a plea to rename India as Bharat by amending Article 1 of the Constitution. Article 1(1) of the Draft Constitution, 1948, declared that “India shall be a Union of States”.

In Namah v. UOI the petitioner contended that India is a foreign name with Greek roots; by changing the name to the Hindustani ‘Bharat’, it would “instil a sense of pride in our own nationality” and “justify the hard-fought freedom by our ancestors”. The petitioner relied on the debates in the Constituent Assembly to support his plea. He argued that some framers had expressed a clear preference for ‘Bharat’ at the exclusion of ‘India’. Was this an accurate representation of the debates in the Assembly?

Ananthasayyam Ayyangar did propose that ‘India’ be replaced with ‘Bharat’ in the Draft Article. Subsequently, Ambedkar moved an amendment that read “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States”. It was this amendment that was widely debated in the Assembly.

H.V. Kamath moved two alternatives to Ambedkar’s amendment: the first rephrased the Article as “Bharat or, in the English language, India”, while the second replaced ‘Bharat’ with the name ‘Hind’. Kamath never recommended the removal of ‘India’ altogether; instead, he wanted to give ‘Bharat’ more preference, while continuing to refer to ‘India’ as the English name for the country in the same vein as the Irish Constitution.

The petitioner in Namah attempted to bolster his plea by citing Seth Govind Das’ declaration that India was a foreign name derived from the Greek language. While Das did mention this in his speech, he did so only to support giving precedence to the Hindi name ‘Bharat’; he never advocated for the deletion of ‘India’ from the Article.

Ultimately, Kamath with​drew his amendment, while Ambedkar’s amendment was accepted to become Article 1 of the Constitution of India, 1950. These debates make it clear that the inclusion of ‘Bharat’ in Article 1 was not intended to be at the expense of ‘India’. It is interesting to note that the real opposition to ‘India’ actually came from outside the Assembly: Muhammed Ali Jinnah once refused an invitation from Lord Mountbatten because he had referred to ‘India’ rather than ‘Hindustan’.

When hearing the case, the Supreme Court pointed out that the name ‘Bharat’ was already in the Constitution. There have been increased references to India’s constitutional history in court cases. However, in the field of constitutional interpretation, references to history must be made cautiously keeping in mind historical context.

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Debate Summary: Article 1

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