An official invitation from President Droupadi Murmu to G-20 guests in which she is described as the “President of Bharat” has triggered speculation that the Narendra Modi government could officially change the name of “India” to “Bharat” during the five-day-long Special Session of Parliament that starts on September 18.
While the issue has predictably sent political temperatures soaring, there is ambivalence within the legal fraternity on whether a constitutional amendment is required for a change of name.
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“The fact is 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,” senior Supreme Court advocate and Congress member Abhishek Singhvi told The Hindu.
Mr. Singhvi, who is also a former Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice, said an amendment would be required only if the government insisted on the use of any one term or wanted to remove a particular term.
Former Additional Solicitor-General and senior Supreme Court advocate Aman Lekhi said it was officially the “Republic of India” and even the G-20 Presidency was known as the “Indian Presidency”. He said that any change of name would require a constitutional amendment under Article 368.
“The change is possible but is it necessary? There are certain things that should be free of controversy and the name of the country should highest in that list,” Mr. Lekhi said.
“Unless any intention to the contrary is made explicit, the terminology is only a question of semantics. And at this stage, there is no need to read anything sinister,” former Law Minister Ashwani Kumar said.
Another top constitutional expert, who did not wish to be named, said there was nothing wrong in sending an invitation as the “President of Bharat”. However, it should not be seen as the first step towards doing away with the use of English language.
“Article 348(1) of the Constitution states that all proceedings in the Supreme Court and in every High Court shall be in English language until Parliament passes a law,” the expert noted, adding,“If they want to pass such a law, then that would be a federal issue.”
The debate over the language of government Bills started last month after Home Minister Amit Shah introduced the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, and the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill in the Lok Sabha during the Monsoon session to replace the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Evidence Act, respectively.
At an event on August 25, Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal said the Bills were moved to Indianise the criminal justice system. He said that Mr. Modi had asked why could not the government function keeping in mind the Indian traditions. “That is why a big decision has been taken to reform and amend the Indian Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Indian Evidence Act by the Home Minister,” Mr. Meghawal said.