The Mamata Banerjee government recently decided to change the name of West Bengal to only “Bengal” in English and calling it only “Bangla” or “Bongo” in Bengali, removing “Pashchim”. It is believed that the move came after the chief minister reportedly felt slighted at the recent Inter-State Council meeting in New Delhi, where her turn to speak came last because of the alphabetical order of state names, and she had much lesser time to put forth her views.
This is the third time that the renaming proposal of the state has been put forward. In 2011, the chief minister had tried to change the name but her attempts failed because of hostile relations with the then UPA-II government. However, the first attempt to rename the state was made by the late chief minister Jyoti Basu in 1999, when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government thwarted the move by saying that it would be against the historical context of Bengal, that was once undivided. Now, after 17 years, the proposal is likely to be back in the court of the BJP-led central government.
It is being said that historians may not like the proposal and might generate a debate on the word “West”, which is a reminder of the division of Bengal in 1905. Is it important to keep that part of political history alive? What do people, especially the youth, feel about the move? Will removing the word “West” really affect the state?
Amit Sengupta, a senior journalist, says: “I don’t agree with the name changing. The change is not benefiting those who actually want it and deserve it. My parents were from East Bengal, my mother belonged to Faridpur, Dhaka, and my father belonged to Mymensingh. They were forced to leave East Bengal because of the riots. Before all this, they never had any animosity with the Muslims; my grandmother even used to cook food for them on festivals like Id. India and Bangladesh were never North Korea and South Korea. The Bengali Muslims were same like Bengali Hindus.”
The first attempt to rename West Bengal was made by the late chief minister Jyoti Basu (left) in 1999, when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government thwarted the move by saying that it would be against the historical context of Bengal, that was once undivided.
Referring to the new generation’s mindset, he adds: “The new generation won’t have that sentiment. It is fine if they keep only ‘Bengal’ instead of naming it as ‘Banga’ or ‘Bangla’.”
Talking of the logic behind the name change, Professor Rudrangshu Chakrabarty of Calcutta Institute of Engineering and Management, says: “Every change is admirable if it brings in some reforms. If West Bengal becomes ‘Bangla’ will it change the current scenario? Will the molestation cases against women come down? Change is always welcome, but how is it going to help?”
Dishari Gupta, a 23-year-old theatre artist, says: “I think the name change is ornamental and redundant unless it is backed by some hardcore policy changes that would benefit the state. It has been a while since Partition for today’s generation to empathize with that. However, technically there remains a major issue. ‘Bengal’ will never be consummately ‘Bengal’ so as to speak geographically.”
After Independence, the names of many states have changed. Like, East Punjab became Punjab, which later trifurcated into Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana. The United Provinces was renamed as Uttar Pradesh. In 1956, many states were rechristened; these include Hyderabad state, which later became Andhra Pradesh, Travancore-Cochin was renamed to Kerala and Madhya Bharat came to be called as Madhya Pradesh.
Madras Presidency, went through renaming twice, first as Madras Province and later to Tamil Nadu by the then CM CN Annadurai. In 2006, Uttaranchal became Uttarakhand as per the demand of the local people. Orissa became Odisha in 2010, after former president Pratibha Patil gave the nod. In fact, the language Oriya was also renamed to Odia. However, the renaming of Assam to Asom is yet to take place.
Over 100 cities and towns have been renamed after Independence. These include Bombay which became Mumbai, Madras became Chennai, Calcutta was renamed to Kolkata, Bangalore was rechristened Bengaluru, Banaras became Varanasi… the list could go on and on.
Recently, in mid-April, Gurgaon was renamed as Gurugram. The Modi government has approved the renaming of various cities. Among these, Karnataka has been the foremost in renaming cities, such as Mangalore to Mangaluru, Bellary to Ballari, Belgaum to Belagavi, Chikmagalur to Chikkamagaluru, Mysore to Mysuru, Hubli to Hubbali and Tumkur to Tumakuru. Overall, 12 cities have been renamed in the state in the last five years.
However, some cities have resisted the change of name. In 2001, Rajnath Singh’s government in UP approved renaming of Allahabad to Prayagraj but the move was thwarted due to political wrangling. Similarly, the proposal for changing the name of Ahmedabad to Karnavati, after its Hindu King Karna, was dropped. Shiv Sena has been demanding that Aurangabad be named Sambhaji Nagar. The industrial town was renamed after Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, upon whose order the elder son of Shivaji, Sambhaji was killed, though the proposal was never sent to the center.
The BJP, while in coalition with the JDU in Bihar, had demanded to change the name of the state’s capital Patna to Patliputra, but Chief Minister Nitish Kumar did not agree. Madhya Pradesh’s capital Bhopal was also recommended for renaming to Bhojpal in 2011, marking the 1000th anniversary of Parmar King Raja Bhoj, but the move was thwarted by the UPA government. The same is the case with the national capital New Delhi, which was proposed to be changed as Imperial City of New Delhi but somehow that couldn’t happen.
—By Srishti Sonewal
Lead Picture: This is not the first time that West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has initiated the move to change the name of the state. Photo: UNI