India as Bharat – Revising the Foreign Policy to Reflect Bharatiya Ethos

  • Bharat is the hope of human civilization as the torchbearer of global values that include liberal order, democracy and individual freedoms, rule of law and rules-based order, which is also the essence of Dharmic civilizational consciousness. 
  • Reverting to its civilisation name must also reflect in the policy, approach and direction of Bharat’s integration with the external world, and must develop new instruments to deal with the perils of a fragile and polarized world.
  • We must develop institutional frameworks that can take the “Bharat Story” to the international arena through, think tanks, governments, civil societies and academic circuits.

As India had geared up to host the G20 heads of states summit, an official Invitation from the office of the President of India titled “The Republic of Bharat” has spurred up a chiselling controversy speculating whether the Government of India, has decided to change the name of India into Bharat. But distancing away from this controversy, the focus of this article will be on the significance of the word Bharat, and on how the word “Bharat” would make a difference in shaping India’s foreign policy goals and objectives.

Origins of ‘Bharat

The word Bharat is said to have been derived from the Emperor Bharata, or Chakravartin Bharata whose fables and tranquil tales are well established in the Indic mythology. It finds an honourable mention in several places within Puranas and Vedas. There are some historical references to it as well. But interestingly, in the Natya Shastra’s oral traditions, there is a resounding, rhythmic, and intrinsic epistemic meaning associated with the word Bharat, which is “Bhavam Taarayiti Bharatam”, which means ‘the entity that banishes the stress, vanquishes the one’s sorrows, ignorance and conclusions. Bharat is also said to be a sacred confluence of three words, Bha = Bhava (emotion), Ra = Raga (Tune), and Ta= Thala (Rhythm). This interpretation reflects the invaluable civilizational ethos and cultural vibrance of the nation. However, there are numerous meanings and interpretations of the word Bharat which are probably not known to everyone. 

How would the word ‘Bharat’ make a difference?

The reverberation of names of the nations and their importance hold a pivotal position, especially for the civilizational nation-states, as it upholds its venerable heritage and asserts its cultural and historical legacy. India’s unbroken chain of civilizational heritage since at least about five thousand years, and the grandeur of history with an exuberant cultural legacy are celebrated by most Indians, if not all. Therefore, the word Bharat has a sacred reverberation of the Bharata Varsha which is intertwined in the nationalist consciousness of every Indian, and the Idea of Bharath has been captured remarkably by Sri Aurobindo In one of his speeches in 1908, Aurobindo announced: 

(Bharatiya) Nationalism is not a mere political programme;
Nationalism is a religion that has come from God;
Nationalism is a creed which you shall have
To live…. If you are going to be a nationalist,
If you are going to assent to this religion of
Nationalism, you must do it in the religious spirit.
You must remember that you are the instruments of god.

From the above poem, we can ascertain how much Impact Bharath’s nationalism had achieved in India’s freedom movement. Sri Aurobindo’s magazine was also named Bande Mataram, denoting the significance of Bharat or Bharata Varsha. 

From this, we understand how sacred the word Bharat is, engrained in our national consciousness. A meaningful rhythmic and sacred word holds a greater significance than the word India or Indu, which was typically coined by Greek or Middle Eastern sources, which are foreign to us and are unaware of the profound and sacred meaning that the word Bharat upholds. There is no doubt that the word “Bharat” naturally enthuses an incredible sense of pride in all the Indians. Therefore, the proclamation and promotion of the word Bharat would certainly bring about a new wave or revived strategic consciousness in the Indian community, not just domestically but across the world. 

Change Shouldn’t be Superficial!

The usage of the word Bharat officially in the English language may revive nationalistic pride. Of course, in Hindi, it has been used officially since Independence. But just a change in the word, usage of an Indic terminology or an acronym reflecting the Swadeshi ethos, will not yield any results if it is not followed up by a policy paradigm’s overhaul or reformatory measures. So, the question arises as to what is the actual effect that the name change has brought about. Is there a white paper, or a policy document that has been released by the MEA, which explicitly pronounces the paradigm shift in India’s foreign and strategic policy? 

The answer is a clear NO…! India still follows the post-colonial Nehruvian foreign policy principles that existed ever since the early years of India’s independence. I am not there to condemn or criticise Nehru for his policies, which would require a separate discussion. The point I am trying to make is, that from the colleges to the training Institutes for diplomats and from prominent think tanks to academic circles, the core principles of foreign policy have remained unchanged and untouched for several decades.  These principles primarily focus on post-WW2 decolonization, Cold War non-alignment with great powers, and in its essence a tacit acceptance of a poverty-ridden third-world nation, which is set on a path of the socialist developmental model. But the world has undergone several changes ever since, with the advent of the decoloniality approach, the fall of the bipolar world order and the emergence of a multipolar world order, and even India is emerging as a prominent global power, which has made a clear strategic realignment in its geopolitics. 

India has emerged from a fragile position of strategic ambiguity to a resurgent position of strategic autonomy. India seeks to establish a multipolar and multi-aligned world order. But all these changes need to be captured in a pronounced doctrine and a series of policy papers by the government. This would not just ensure the inception of strategic autonomy but also contribute to bringing about strategic clarity in India’s foreign policy. It would be instrumental for policymakers, diplomats, students, journalists, research scholars and everyone else concerned with foreign and strategic policy, as it would act as a core document or set of documents based on which a large body of research, analysis, debates, discussions and discourses would be held, which would refine and evolve the foreign policy towards a greater strategic vibrance and strengthen its core framework. Most importantly, it would lead to the creation of a large body of strategic literature, which has been stagnant for a long time and has not quite come out of the reminisces of a colonial hangover. We do require a new, modern Chanakya neeti in foreign policy which reflects the strategic challenges of the contemporary world order, thereby giving a firm basis towards the foreign policy’s evolution and reinvigorate the philosophical basis of our foreign policy. 

Developing a ‘Dharmic’ Foreign Policy

India that is Bharat, is known for its spirituality and philosophical legacy, with a venerable historical heritage. But due to the disinterest and indifference of the past governments, and the colonial consciousness still prevalent here, a lot of misconceptions, wrong notions and stereotypes about are prevailing in the West. Whether it’s the caste and curry notion or the infamous “nation of snake charmers” assumption, for a long period India’s image had taken a big hit. But with the passionate efforts and energetic leadership of PM Modi, things are changing to some extent but it needs a strategic push. India must adopt Krishna’s ahimsa instead of Gandhiji’s ahimsa as its philosophy. Though we proudly promote the ideas of Gandhi’s ideas of ahimsa as a matter of national pride, its practical viability and relevance denote weakness and fragility as Gandhiji advocated surrendering arms and engaging in peaceful methods despite the enemy attacking us and aiming towards our destruction. This can wither away the sovereignty of  Bharat, along with its unity and Integrity. But as per Krishna’s notion of ahimsa, if the opponent is approaching us using the methods of peace, only then we must engage in peaceful dialogue towards conflict resolution, otherwise, it becomes our dharma to aggressively defend the nation through armed means from the enemy’s peril. 

India is a civilizational state that believes in Integral Humanism “ekatma manavtavad” as espoused by Pandit Deendayal Upadhaya. The elevation of overall human consciousness is the goal of Bharatiya parampara, and this is the ultimate aim of Dharma. Divisions of caste, creed, religion race and sex are irrelevant and non-existent in the dharmic consciousness and its philosophical understanding. This is the reason why Bhartiyas strongly believe in the ethos of “Etho dharma, Tato Jayaha”. Therefore, Bharat becomes the hope of human civilization by being the torchbearer of global values that include liberal order, democracy and individual freedoms, rule of law and rules-based order, which is the essence of Dharmic civilizational consciousness. 

Reverting to its civilisation name must also reflect in the policy, approach and direction of Bharat’s integration with the external world, and must develop new instruments to deal with the perils of a fragile and polarized world, rather than clinging to slogans and acronym innovations. There must be a change in the philosophical basis and strategic literature, as it is indicated above. We are vociferous in making the right pitch through fierce and passionate conversations but are we competent in developing a world-class intellectual ecosystem to carry forward our nationalist narratives through a robust and firm base in research and academia? Are we competent enough to develop institutional frameworks that can take the “Bharat Story” to the international arena through think tanks, governments, civil societies and academic circuits? If we answer and address these challenges seriously with satisfactory success, the word ‘Bharat’ would truly resonate globally with its cosmic rhythm.

(The author has an MA in International Relations. Views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of SamvadaWorld)


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2 thoughts on “India as Bharat – Revising the Foreign Policy to Reflect Bharatiya Ethos”
  1. What’s in a name? This author elucidates convincing factors to press for the name change to Bharat. Our nation is fortunate that we have thousands of years of proud legacy to fall back upon to regain our prime philosophy of world is but one family – with that name change to Original identity of Bharat. Isolated pockets of prosperity within a nation or the world would always lead to complex hostilities and constant violence. Leadership that transcends narrow self interests to encompass a much broader humanistic principles and systems could appear utopian. But a Bharat that has absorbed and accepted every religion & the changes that were forced on it through brutal invasions & colonisation to retain the core of culture & ethos of the original Bharat, should shun the forced and not so meaningful name tag thrust on it to emerge once again the torch bearer of a more balanced world that recognises the right to life with dignity for all humans. So Bharat it is.

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