West Bengal

Bangla, Bengal and Bangal

Print edition : September 30, 2016

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Photo: SWAPAN MAHAPATRA/PTI

FOR the past few decades there has been a persistent demand from civil society and a large section of the intelligentsia of West Bengal to change the name of the State to shake off the legacy of British rule and the unpleasant reminder of Partition. So when Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress government proposed to change the name to simply Bengal in English and Bangla in Bengali, everyone welcomed it.

The proposed change was cleared by the State Cabinet on August 2, but at that time the government was still undecided on the Bengali name—whether it should be Bangla or Banga. Mamata Banerjee found a unique way of settling the matter—an informal popular referendum at a public meeting. Addressing a rally of supporters of the Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad (the students’ wing of the party) on August 26, the Chief Minister placed before them the choice between the two names, and the overwhelming response was for Bangla over Banga.

“This has become a mass vote of students. So you are all in favour of “Banglar maati Banglar jal” (Bengal’s soil, Bengal’s water—lyrics of a nationalistic song by Rabindranath Tagore). So let Bangla be the world’s best,” Mamata Banerjee said.

On August 29, the name-change resolution was passed through a voice vote in the West Bengal Legislative Assembly. In spite of trying to bring a consensus on the issue, Mamata Banerjee failed to win the support of the opposition. The Congress walked out before the voting. While the Bharatiya Janata Party opposed the resolution outright, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front insisted that the State should have one name in both English and Bengali.

“I have no problem with the name. It can be Banga, Bangla, Paschim Banga, anything. But how can a State have two names, one in Bengali and one in English? I am Sujan Chakraborty; so will I be called Good Man Chakraborty [Sujan meaning a good person in English] or Sovandev Chatterjee [Trinamool Minister] be called Goodlooking God Chatterjee? This is ridiculous,” said senior CPI(M) leader and leader of the Left Front legislature party Sujan Chakraborty.

Mamata countered that the English name was necessary to avoid confusion at the international level as the Bengali name, Bangla, was similar to that of a neighbouring country, Bangladesh. “Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee [former Chief Minister of the CPI(M)-led government] had said Bangla was better than Banga. We endorsed your proposal.... Outside India we are known as people from Bengal,” she said in reply to Sujan Chakraborty's protest. However, the government resolution under Rule 169 of Rules of Procedures and Conduct of House points out that the State will have in actuality three names—Bengal, Bangla and Bangal [in Hindi].

This is the third time that the government of West Bengal has attempted to change the name of the State. In 1999, during the Chief Ministership of the late Jyoti Basu, the Left suggested the new name Paschimbanga, which the Congress rejected in favour of Bangla. However, the BJP-led government at the Centre turned down the proposal. Soon after assuming power in 2011, Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool government made another attempt to change the name to Paschimbanga. Once again the Centre, this time the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, remained apathetic. Five years later, after returning to power for her second consecutive term, once again the Trinamool government has proposed a change of name for the State.

Mamata Banerjee's insistence on changing the name has apparently more to do with the advantage of being placed higher up alphabetically on the list of Indian States than with historical reasons. According to reports, in a recent Inter-State Council Meeting, Mamata Banerjee had to face the tedium that comes with representing a State that is situated last alphabetically on the list; apparently she had to wait for six hours for her turn to speak.

Soon after the resolution was passed in the State Assembly, Mamata Banerjee made a call to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to urge the Centre to ratifiy the name-change. “I have called Rajnath Singh and have asked him to ensure that this is taken up in Parliament in its next session,” she is reported to have said. Should the Centre be agreeable to the proposed change of name, a Constitution Amendment Bill will have to be introduced in Parliament, and after the said Bill has been passed in both Houses, it will be sent to the President for his assent.

While most people have voiced satisfaction with the change of name, not all are happy with the choice of name. The eminent historian Sabyasachi Bhattacharya feels the name Banga would have been more appropriate. “Bengal is a name given by the British. Historically, this region was known as Banga or Bangadesh. The name Banga is also present in the National Anthem—Dravida Utkala Banga. It would have been best if they had done away with the ‘West’ or ‘Paschim’ and kept the name only as Banga. Moreover, there should be one proper name; be it for a human being, animal or place. It is strange to have different names for one particular thing,” Sabyasachi Bhattacharya told Frontline.

Should the change of name finally take place, the State will alphabetically move up from the last position to number four on the list of States. That may mean that henceforth the Chief Minister will not have to wait too long to deliver her address at inter-State meetings, but how much good it will do to the industry-starved, unemployment-stricken State remains to be seen.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay

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