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INDIA: Inspecting New Delhi’s Initiative Acronyms

The current Indian government likes to name its policies with clever acronyms. 

Krzysztof Iwanek
INDIA: Inspecting New Delhi’s Initiative Acronyms
Credit: Pixabay

“MODI means Making of Developed India,” Vice President Venkaiah Naidu once declared, praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Like Modi, Naidu belongs to the country’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He is also known for his fondness for acronyms. But it is not just him and Modi, who share this penchant. The current government in New Delhi often displays semantic skills in how it titles its initiatives. These names not only form acronyms which are words in their own right, but these words relate to the objective of a given policy. Moreover, the choice of the names is clearly a careful and culturally-driven one, as many of the chosen words come from the formal, Sanskritized style of Hindi.

Just in case: This short review will be no match for The Atlantic’s 2013 summary of the most amazing and hilarious acronyms used by the U.S. Congress to name its legislative acts (I learned of this article from The Diplomat’s managing editor, Catherine Putz). I will also not include the informal acronyms publicly used as declaration or mottos, even by those Indian politicians who are known to like them, such as the already-mentioned Naidu and Modi (The latter has, for instance, once referred to FDI as “First Develop India”). I will only refer to the names of public schemes dubbed with apt acronyms – the full list of which is much longer. Here I will only restrict myself to a subjective ranking: The names of 10 government initiatives and policies which I consider to be structurally and semantically best, or simply amusing.

[1] UDAAN: Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik — This is a connectivity initiative aimed at developing less-used regional airports. As for its name, it is one of the most skillfully created acronyms, as, exceptionally, it is a Hindi sentence which follows all necessary grammatical rules (rather than being a simple name without a verb). It means: “Let the common citizen of the country fly” (or: “The common citizen of the country flies”). The acronym, in turn, forms the word udaan – “flight.” (pron. Uraan). 

[2] SHAKTI: Scheme to Harness and Allocate Koyla Transparently in India — This is a policy that aims to create more transparent and effective ways of allocating coal to companies to be used in power plants through bids. Again, the acronym also works as a noun that semantically relates to the policy: shakti means “power” in Hindi.

The linguistic strength of the name is that explains the crucial element of this policy. Koyla stands for “coal” in Hindi, although some may complain that a Hindi word was added to an English phrase to make the acronym look good. However, mixing Hindi and English is quite common in India and had “coal” been used instead of koyla, the pronunciation would have been the same.

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[3] SAGAR: Security And Growth for All in the Region — This is not a formal project but a set of underlying objectives and rules for India’s policy on maritime cooperation. The word formed from this acronym, sagar, means “sea” or “ocean” in Hindi. As pointed out by Commander Subhasish Sarangi, “there is no single officially released document that lays down the approach of SAGAR,” but the author describes its aspects and initiatives in the text linked above.

[4] NYAAY: Nyuntam Aay Yojana (Minimum Income Plan) — The scheme envisages government’s financial support to poorer groups. The word from this acronym, nyaay, means “justice” in Hindi. This allowed the people who promised the initiative to declare Ab hoga nyaay which had a double meaning: “Now there will be justice” or “Now NYAAY [the scheme] will come.”

This acronym is an outlier for few reasons: It is not an initiative of the current central government but a promise made by the opposition party, the Indian National Congress, during the 2019 election campaign. It was, however, initiated in the state of Chhattisgarh (where the Congress took over power), although it was renamed to Rajiv Gandhi Kisan Nyaya Yojana  – a name with no acronym potential. 

[5] USTTAD: Upgrading Skills and Traditional Arts/Craft for Development — The scheme, as described on a government website, is aimed at promoting and updating traditional crafts, as well as supporting their practitioners. The acronym is similar to the word ustaad – which means a teacher or a master of a given art (usually both). The name is admittedly imperfect: The fact that the name of the initiative used a double “t” (which is not in the original word, either in the spelling or the pronunciation) does not allow me to put this acronym higher up on this list, although otherwise it is one of my favorites. Its another interesting aspect is that it is one of the few names of initiatives that does not come from pure Hindi but from Urdu.

[6] GIAN: Global Initiative of Academic Networks — A central government initiative to enhance academic interactions between India and the world. The acronym forms the word gyaan which means “knowledge.”

[7] PRAGATI: Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation — An intra-institutional platform to review the progress of various government schemes and addressing problems with them. The word pragati itself means exactly this: “progress.”

[8] SWIFT: Single Window Interface for Facilitating Trade — A government mechanism for companies to submit all documents needed for trade clearance online, through a single “window.”

[9] PRASHAD: Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual, Heritage Augmentation Drive — It is a government mission to develop select pilgrimage destinations. The full acronym is admittedly a bit bulky and cumbersome, but the word forming it is again an apt choice: prasad (often pronounced prashad) is an “offering” and a “blessing”: The particular object offered to deities in Hindu temples as well as the object given to those coming to the temples, and regarded as coming from the deity itself.

[10] GEM: Government e-marketplace — New Delhi’s platform of public procurement through the Internet. While this is the only acronym on this list which forms a word that does not relate to the goal of the policy, this gem of an abbreviation could not be missed in this list.