The British first partitioned Bengal in 1905. When India gained Independence, but as two countries, the eastern side became East Pakistan while the remaining became part of India as West Bengal. East Pakistan, however, was short-lived and became Bangladesh in 1971 breaking away from Pakistan.
Over the years, several demands have been made, for reasons that could be either political or administrative, to change the name of West Bengal. The first such demand can be traced back to 1999, when the then chief minister Jyoti Basu took the initiative. At that time, “Bangla” and “Paschim Bangla” were considered, but the parties concerned could not reach a consensus.
The many names over time
The renaming demand has more to do with chronology than anything else. The state’s name “West Bengal” starts with the letter “W”, which being the fourth last letter among the English alphabet pushes the state to number 30 in the state roll call.
The implication, as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has said, is that during official meetings where all states are present, by the time West Bengal gets a turn to speak, “either the hall was half-empty or the audience was fast asleep”. Changing the name to “Bangla”, which is Banerjee’s most recent demand, would give it precedence, pushing it to spot number four.
Since becoming the Chief Minister in 2011, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief has raised this demand multiple times. The first demand was for the state’s name to be changed to “Paschim Banga” or “Paschim Bango” which in Bengali means West Bengal. This resolution did not get the go-ahead from the Centre. A name starting with “P” would anyway not give it much of an advantage in the state roll calls.
Five years later, another resolution was passed proposing that the new name be “Bongo” or “Bangla”. According to the demands of this resolution the state would be called “Bengal” in English, “Bangla” in Bengali and “Bangal” in Hindi. To counter this demand, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) organised a “Bangla Bachao Signature Campaign”. This resolution was sent back by the Centre asking the state to suggest a single name.
In July 2018, the Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to change the name to “Bangla”, but with the Centre still not heeding, a delegation of 12 Trinamool Congress lawmakers met Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week requesting him to approve the state’s request.
The procedure for renaming a state
Unlike in the case of renaming cities, to change the name of a state, approval from the Centre’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is required under provisions laid down in its 1953 guidelines. This means that a Constitutional amendment becomes necessary to affect this change.
The proposal has to first come from the state government. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) then takes over and gives it consent after it receives No Objection Certificates (NOCs) from several agencies such as the Ministry of Railways, Intelligence Bureau, Department of Posts, Survey of India and Registrar General of India. If the proposal is accepted, the resolution, introduced as a Bill in the Parliament, becomes a law and the name of the state is changed thereafter. The July 2018 request was rejected by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in November due to the similarity between “Bangla” and “Bangladesh”.
In response to a question, Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai told Rajya Sabha: “To change name of any state, constitutional amendment is required. There is no proposal to amend Constitution as of now.”
Hours after the Centre rejected the proposal, Banerjee wrote to Modi: “The name of a state should invoke a strong sense of identity among its people and this identity can be formed if the state’s name carries the signature of its history and authentic culture.”
The first state to be renamed in independent India was East Punjab, which became Punjab in 1950. But it seems that the journey of West Bengal becoming Bangla will be a long one.