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Legal And Constitutional Challenges To Changing A Country Name

By - King Stubb & Kasiva on September 19, 2023

The question of whether to change a country’s name has recently become a topic of debate and discussion. This issue was raised due to the Invites sent for dinner on the sidelines of the G20 summit by Indian President Droupadi Murmu calling herself “President of Bharat.” In the case of India, the controversy revolves around changing the name “India” to “Bharat.” This proposal has sparked legal and constitutional challenges, highlighting divergent views among political analysts and constitutional experts. The crux of the issue is whether Changing A Country Name is required, and if so, what legal procedures must be followed to implement it.

The Constitutional Framework

The Indian Constitution is a fundamental document that governs the country and bears the names “India” and “Bharat.”

Article 1 of the Indian Constitution states:

1. Name and Territory of the Union

(1) India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.

(2) The States and the territories thereof shall be as specified in the First Schedule.

(3) The territory of India shall comprise —

(a) the territories of the States;

(b) the Union territories specified in the First Schedule; and

(c) such other territories as may be acquired.

This dual nomenclature reflects the country’s historical and cultural diversity. While some argue that both names are correct, others argue that the country is officially recognised as “India” by international organisations such as the United Nations.

The Constituent Assembly Debate

During the Constituent Assembly deliberations, a pivotal debate arose regarding the name of the newly formed nation. Article 1(1) initially proposed “India shall be a Union of States,” with B.R. Ambedkar advocating for ‘India’ due to its historical and international recognition. However, supporters of ‘Bharat’ argued for its cultural and historical significance, referencing ancient texts like Hiuen-Tsang’s writings. After extensive discussions, Article 1(1) was amended to read, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States,” reflecting a balance between continuity and cultural heritage, marking a significant moment in the nation’s history.

The Procedure under Article 368

The process of changing the name of the country from “India” to “Bharat” necessitates a constitutional amendment. To make the change official, both houses of Parliament, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, must pass a resolution with a two-thirds majority. Under Article 368 of the Constitution, there are two categories of amendments:

  • those not requiring ratification by state legislatures, passed by a special majority in Parliament (both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha with a two-thirds majority); and
  • those requiring ratification by state legislatures, necessitating a special majority in Parliament and approval by at least half of the state legislatures.

Article 368 states:

368. Power of Parliament to amend the Constitution and procedure therefor

(1) Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, Parliament may in exercise of its constituent power amend by way of addition, variation or repeal any provision of this Constitution in accordance with the procedure laid down in this article.

(2) An amendment of this Constitution may be initiated only by the introduction of a Bill for the purpose in either House of Parliament, and when the Bill is passed in each House by a majority of the total membership of that House and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of that House present and voting, it shall be presented to the President who shall give his assent to the Bill and thereupon] the Constitution shall stand amended in accordance with the terms of the Bill:

Provided that if such amendment seeks to make any change in—

(a) article 54, article 55, article 73, article 162, article 241 or article 279A; or

(b) Chapter IV of Part V, Chapter V of Part VI, or Chapter I of Part XI; or

(c) any of the Lists in the Seventh Schedule; or

(d) the representation of States in Parliament; or

(e) the provisions of this article,

the amendment shall also require to be ratified by the Legislatures of not less than one-half of the States by resolutions to that effect passed by those Legislatures before the Bill making provision for such amendment is presented to the President for assent.

(3) Nothing in article 13 shall apply to any amendment made under this article.

(4) No amendment of this Constitution (including the provisions of Part III) made or purporting to have been made under this article whether before or after the commencement of section 55 of the Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976 shall be called in question in any court on any ground.

(5) For the removal of doubts, it is hereby declared that there shall be no limitation whatever on the constituent power of Parliament to amend by way of addition, variation or repeal the provisions of this Constitution under this article.

It entails introducing a Bill in either House of Parliament to amend the Constitution, followed by extensive debates. The Bill becomes law if it receives a special majority in both Houses and the President’s assent. In cases where state legislature ratification is required, at least half of the state legislatures must agree. Due to the Constitution’s supremacy and far-reaching impact, the process is intentionally complicated.

The Basic Structure Conundrum

The Basic Structure Doctrine asserts that certain fundamental elements of the Constitution are unchangeable by legislative amendments, regardless of parliamentary majorities. These elements are regarded as sacred and essential to the essence of the Constitution. The doctrine was firmly established through judicial precedents, most notably in the case of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala,[1] in which the Supreme Court asserted its authority to annul constitutional amendments that violate the basic structure of the Constitution.

The debate over changing the country’s name is significant in the context of the Basic Structure Doctrine. It could be argued that the name change is merely a cosmetic change that keeps the Constitution’s core principles intact. It is a symbolic shift rather than a substantive challenge to the fundamental values of the Constitution. However, one can argue that a seemingly innocuous name change could inadvertently erode or infringe on the Constitution’s fundamental essence by setting a dangerous precedent. It may also pave the way for broader reinterpretations of constitutional provisions, potentially upsetting the Constitution’s delicate balance of power and rights.

Changing a country’s name has several legal and practical consequences. To accommodate the new name, all existing treaties and agreements would need to be modified on a global scale, potentially involving complex and time-consuming negotiations, and some nations may object to the change. Domestically, a comprehensive overhaul of domestic laws and regulations would be required to align with the revised name, which could be a significant undertaking depending on the volume and complexity of the laws in question.

Furthermore, citizens’ passports and other government documents such as passports, Aadhar, PAN etc. would need to be reissued, which would be costly and potentially disruptive, posing practical challenges for international travellers. Businesses and organisations would also have to incur significant costs and devote significant time to updating their names and branding to reflect the change.  Aside from the legal complexities, a name change can have significant social and cultural consequences, potentially causing confusion, uncertainty, and feelings of cultural erasure among certain groups.

Recommendations

Several critical points should be considered amid the “India” to “Bharat” name change debate:

  1. Recognising the significance of both names requires striking a balance between historical continuity and cultural heritage.
  2. Adhering to the constitutional amendment process outlined in Article 368, while applying the Basic Structure Doctrine judiciously.
  3. Planning for international treaty renegotiations, domestic legal changes, and logistical changes should reduce disruptions.
  4. By involving stakeholders and viewing this debate as an opportunity to celebrate India’s cultural identity while planning for the future, a well-rounded decision can be made.

Conclusion

The debate over changing India’s name to “Bharat” opens a multifaceted chapter in the country’s history. Negotiating the constitutional framework entails complex processes because it touches on the Constitution’s dual nomenclature. The looming presence of the Basic Structure Doctrine adds another layer of complication, raising the question of whether this shift is merely symbolic or potentially precedent setting.

Beyond the legal realm, renaming the country necessitates international treaty renegotiation, extensive domestic legal adaptations, logistical document changes, and significant alterations for businesses and corporations. [GSG1] [db2] Furthermore, the transformation has social and cultural ramifications, necessitating careful consideration of the nation’s changing identity. As this dialogue progresses, India finds itself at a fork in the road, with decisions made shaping its future identity and direction.

FAQs

Does changing a country’s name require a constitutional amendment in India?

Yes, renaming India “Bharat” would necessitate a constitutional amendment. This requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, to pass a resolution. In cases where state legislature ratification is required, the change must be approved by at least half of the state legislatures.

What is the significance of the Basic Structure Doctrine in the name change debate?

The Basic Structure Doctrine is important because it states that certain fundamental elements of the Constitution cannot be changed by legislative amendments. Some argue that the name change is merely symbolic and does not call into question the Constitution’s core principles, while others are concerned that it may set a precedent with far-reaching constitutional implications.

What are the practical implications of changing a country’s name, aside from the legal aspects?

Renaming a country necessitates renegotiating international treaties, amending domestic laws, reissuing passports and identity documents, and updating the names and branding of businesses.


[1] (1973) 4 SCC 225.

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