As children in the 1940s, we used to sing, ‘Hindi hai hum chalis karod’. The 400 million population of the 1940s thought of themselves as Hindi, belonging to Hind. Subhash Chandra Bose in Germany established a radio station and his slogan was Jai Hind. This is the slogan prime ministers shout from the Red Fort on Independence Day.
Bharat is another entity altogether. That is post-Partition and is in the Constitution perhaps to assuage some feeling that India should have a link with the glorious days of the Indo-Aryans. But Bharatvarsha was never all of India; at best it was Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. You could stretch it to include UP and Bihar but Bengal (Gaud) was never part of it, to say nothing about Dakshin, all the land south of the Vindhyas.
Even so, choosing Bharat was a display of a worry about the idea of calling the newly independent country Hindustan or even Hind. There was a claim that the word Hindu and Hinduism were Persian in origin and hence, by implication, Muslim and alien. This was an anachronism since the Persian language which formed the word Hind was Indo-Iranian, a branch of the Indo-European from which one arc came to India composing the Vedas. Hind is just Sindh and Hindu Sindhu. Calling India Hind rather than Bharat would have been quite alright. Hindus were just the people who lived in the land of the Indus. Savarkar’s essay on Hindutva is very defensive about the word Hindu and Hindutva. His concern is about denying any alien origins of the word Hindu. He was looking for an overarching identity for all Indians (pre-Partition) and chose Hindu rather than Hindi. This was sad for a simple reason. The word Hindu was given a religious connotation by the British Census investigators. Nineteenth century British were enamoured of classification and measurement and definitions. Traditionally sceptical of such things, they embraced science, as they understood it, with unwise enthusiasm. They had to have categories for classifying their subjects. Hinduism became the label for the religion of the majority. Any self-respecting traditionalist would have spat at the word since Brahmanism is the better word or if you like, sanatan dharma.
Before the British arrived, Muslims were known as people adhering to Islam. There was no such single word for the adherents of Brahmanism. Hindu then was contrasted with Muslims as a separate entity thanks to British enthusiasm for labelling and their impatience with subtleties of any religion which was not monotheistic. Brahmanism has never been a single religion of the Abrahamic type with a Church, a clergy and liturgy. It is a multi-splendoured festival of belief in many Gods and Goddesses, many sects and open doors.
By using the label Hindutva fifty years after the British had falsely labelled the religion of the majority, Savarkar muddied the waters. Hinditva would have been much better. But he had an ideological reason for using the word he did. Whatever his protestations and those of his followers, the word was a deliberate provocation since by implication the religious connotation was carried across into the national identity. Those who were not Hindu by religion had to sign up to Hindutva because that was where they were born. If this was provocative before 1947, it became murderous after Partition.
The very idea that a nation has to have single people is a European invention. It was used to launch movements in many regions of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to break it up. The Empire was a multi-national tolerant entity just as its rival the Ottoman Empire was. States could easily contain communities differing by language and religion. The First World War broke up the two empires. Many nations were born, some such as Palestine still waiting to become nation states. There was no reason for Indians to fall for this European disease; after all, the mother country, Great Britain, was a mélange of many nationalities—Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Cornish and English.
Mohan Bhagwat has asserted that the next Prime Minister should be a champion of Hindutva. I wish he had said Hinditva. We have had enough murders wearing false labels. Even after 65 years of
Independence, the nation is still fragile.