In March this year, the Supreme Court of India dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking to change the country’s name. A social activist filed the PIL last year, which contends that the issue was debated in the Constituent Assembly, citing Article 1 of the Constitution: “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.”
“Bharat or India? You want to call it Bharat, go right ahead. Someone wants to call it India, let him call it India,” said the bench that heard the case, adding that such pleas should not be entertained.
This might not be the last time someone makes a call for changing the country’s name. And India won’t be the first country to change its name if it does. It would be prudent not to, because India is as appropriate as Bharat, and because a shift may be construed in India and abroad as being
driven by a particular political/ideological agenda.
Reverting to an older name is not new. Anglicised names of cities and streets have been dropped over time, even as there exist multiple theories over the source of the original names.
Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru have all chosen to go back to their roots. While IIT Madras and Ad Club Madras retain their names, and the airport remains on the world aviation map as MAA (for Madras). Similar organisations exist in other cities whose names have been changed. They were born that way, while the city was born with another name. It is another issue that one has to take a call on which name of a city one adopts – the one from 1800, 1900, 1947 or 1977? What if it had had different names at different points in time?
So what changes when Gurgaon becomes Gurugram overnight? A lot of collaterals will need to change. Sign boards, milestones, visiting cards, the works. What else changes? Not much, for all practical purposes. Except that when someone asks where the city gets its name from, an Indian will have an answer to offer, and take pride in telling the story behind the name.
A name change to the original is a welcome change when it helps us stay connected to the intended meaning, or how the place derived its name in the first place. There is charm in history and there is no harm in such a change. But to seek to colour it in shades of religion or politics can trigger debates of the wanton kind. So let’s get on with it. If someone has a problem with saying ‘Gurugram’, they might as well say ‘Gurgaon’. And explain whatever that means.
(This article appears in the 29 April 2016 issue of Campaign India)