Shakespeare foxed the world with a simple question: What, indeed, is in a name? Depends, on who is asking and who is expected to do the answering. But, Union minister Harsh Vardhan believes there’s not much, and yet a lot. Hence, his “unpretentious” proposal that the Earth Sciences ministry, which he heads, be renamed Bharat Mata Mantralaya in Hindi instead of Prithvi Vigyan Mantralaya. While he believes there is no “harm” in renaming the ministry thus, and there is nothing really to think about and there is no need for any “pretension”—whatever that means—and, basically, it is an innocuous name-changing, nothing to it really, the choice of the new name gives away much. It is true that it isn’t only the BJP that is in love with a personification of India—a feminine deity, Bharat Mata—nor is it India that has a quasi-divine, anthropomorphous identity. There is Mother Russia, Marriane (France), Bangamata (Bangladesh), even Brittania (Britain), Europa (EU), Uncle Sam (US) and Little Boy from Manly (Australia). But, Bharat Mata as a politico-ideological mooring, with strong associations with one particular brand of nationalism, is uniquely the BJP’s.
Revering India as Bharat Mata is not a problem at all—that is, if you are not being forced to do this and are doing it out of your own volition; one is, after all, free to imagine the nation as she pleases when the objective is to profess allegiance to it. But to conflate the ‘entire’ Earth Sciences with Bharat Mata is, simply put, a bit presumptuous and a whole lot more absurd. But, when has absurdity stopped politicians, more so, from renaming cities, railway stations, bridges and roads to tip hat to their brand of politics? If minister Vardhan goes ahead with renaming the Earth Sciences ministry, he would do well to know no amount of chest-thumping patriotism will gloss over the politicisation of nationalism his party has mastered.