Indian President Droupadi Murmu’s reference to herself as the “President of Bharat” in a dinner invitation, instead of “President of India”, sparked controversy on Tuesday, with critics saying the name of the country is being distorted.
Murmu is hosting a reception for G20 leaders during the group’s summit on Saturday and invitations were sent from her office.
India is also called Bharat, Bharata, Hindustan - its pre-colonial names - in Indian languages and these are used interchangeably by the public and officially.
High offices in the country have typically stuck to titles such as President of India, Prime Minister of India and Chief Justice of India while communicating in English.
Over the years though, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has been changing colonial names to, what it says, help India move past a mentality of slavery.
Supporters of the name change in the invitation said British colonial rulers had coined the name India to overshadow Bharat and forge a British legacy.
“Our country’s name is Bharat and there should be no doubt about it,” said Rajeev Chandrasekhar, a federal deputy minister.
Hindu groups linked to BJP said the G20 summit provided the best opportunity to shed India’s colonial baggage.
Opposition leaders were, however, critical of the change, with some saying it aimed to eclipse their two-month-old political alliance which is also called “INDIA.”
“We all say ‘Bharat’, what is new in this? But the name ‘India’ is known to the world...What happened suddenly that the government had to change the name of the country?” said Mamata Banerjee, a top opposition leader.
Shashi Tharoor of the opposition Congress party posted on X, previously known as Twitter, “I hope the government will not be so foolish as to completely dispense with India, which has incalculable brand value built up over centuries.”
The change to “President of Bharat” comes less than two months after opposition parties formed the “INDIA” alliance to challenge BJP in national elections next year.
INDIA, they said, stands for Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance.
Political analysts said it was a clever coinage to take on the BJP’s nationalist platform.
India’s president is a non-party executive with only ceremonial powers. She is traditionally backed and elected by the party in power.
An official at the president’s office said they didn’t want to comment on the issue when asked by Reuters.