What was the need to move to change the name of West Bengal?
Partition led to the British province of Bengal being split into two — the western part stayed with India; the eastern became East Pakistan. In the Constititution of 1949, West Bengal was one of the 9 “Part A” states, which were ruled by an elected Governor and state legislature in British India. In 1971, East Pakistan became Bangladesh, and there was no ‘east’ left in Bengal, either inside or outside India — logically then, ‘west’ Bengal ceased to make sense.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has toyed with the idea of changing West Bengal’s name ever since she came to power for the first time in 2011 — initially considering Paschim Banga. On Monday, a special session of the Assembly passed a resolution to change the name to Bangla (pronounced “Baanglaa”) in Bengali, Bangal in Hindi and Bengal in English. Mamata said the name Bangla had “a historical and cultural background”, and while she did not have a problem with the other option, Banga, most people wanted Bangla. “In English it will be Bengal, so that there will be no confusion with the name of neighbouring Bangladesh,” she added.
The state Cabinet had adopted the resolution for changing the name on August 2. Education Minister Partha Chatterjee had at the time maintained that renaming the state would “protect the interests of the people and the state”. The names proposed in the resolution were Bangla or Banga and, in English, Bengal, Chatterjee had said.
According to officials, there was some concern that the name Banga, pronounced in the Bengali way as “Bongo”, sounded like the name of the musical instrument, and that “Bangla” was also the popular name for country liquor. The concerns however, did not last. West Bengal’s state bhavan in Delhi is already called Banga Bhavan.
So is it only about Bengali cultural pride and a return to the ‘original’?
No — even though Mamata did warn the political opposition protesting the move that “history will not forgive them”. There are practical aspects too. State officials and politicians have long felt that a name starting with W puts it at a disadvantage at meetings and conferences where states are invited to make presentations in alphabetical order. On July 16, at the Inter-State Council Meeting, for example, Mamata found that she was asked to speak “after 6 hours of waiting”. By then, officials said, most participants had left, and she found herself talking to a near-empty Council. This, officials said, is a problem typical of the way the system functions, where those seated last at the table, albeit alphabetically, are also the ones who are least heard. Right now, Bengal is the 28th state; should it get a name that starts with B, it’ll be number 4, after Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.
Now that the Assembly has resolved to change the name, what happens next?
The proposal of the Assembly will go to the Centre, and Parliament must enact a law to change the name of the state. As per Article 3(a) of the Constitution, “Parliament may by law alter the name of any State provided that no Bill for the purpose shall be introduced in either House of Parliament except on the recommendation of the President and unless, where the proposal contained in the Bill affects the area, boundaries or name of any of the States, the Bill has been referred by the President to the Legislature of that State for expressing its views thereon…”
Earlier, in August 2008, the Orissa Assembly had passed a resolution to change the name of the state to Odisha. The Orissa (Alteration of Name) Bill, 2010 was subsequently passed by Lok Sabha in November 2010, and Rajya Sabha in March 2011. Rajya Sabha also adopted the Constitution (113th) Amendment Bill — already passed by Lok Sabha along with the alteration of name Bill in November 2010 — to substitute the name of the language “Oriya” in the Eighth Schedule to “Odia”.
And can the Centre turn down the state’s proposal?
There is no strong reason to do so once the Assembly — the voice of the people of West Bengal — has passed a resolution to change the name, but theoretically, yes, it can. Should that happen, the reasons will likely be political. The state BJP has opposed the move, and state party president Dilip Ghosh has said that “West Bengal” conjures up many emotions. “This government has no done productive work and to divert people’s attention from important issues, it tries these tricks,” he has said. The Left, Congress and BJP staged a walkout at the Assembly on Monday. The Left opposed three different names in three languages, the Congress wanted a committee to be set up to think of a name that all parties could agree on, and the BJP opposed the name-change altogether.
But a belligerent Chief Minister has said “it doesn’t matter who opposed it”, and that she has already sounded out the Centre. “I will request the central government to pursue the matter so that it can be placed in Parliament. We want it to be done as early as possible,” she said. She had spoken to Home Minister Rajnath Singh, she added: “I told him that we passed it (the resolution) in the Assembly. Now you pursue it.”
A similar move in 2011 had failed to progress. State parties had reached a consensus to change the name to Paschim Banga, and the Home Ministry had informed the state government that a West Bengal (Alteration of Name) Bill, 2014 would be tabled in Parliament, officials said. “However no action was ever taken,” they said.