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Paschim Banga: Alphabet, history and lost chance

Rituparna Chatterjee MasalaBai

Updated: August 20, 2011, 5:51 PM IST
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The baptism of West Bengal was extraordinary in its plainness. From a popular standpoint, the growing clamour for a new name for the state had less to do with the old one's historical redundancy than jockeying for an administrative advantage.

A drafting committee comprising leaders of both West Bengal government and opposition parties, who under normal circumstances would never have seen eye-to-eye on necessary policy implementation, unanimously picked a name that has no significance for the state both historically and logistically.

West Bengal's historians and intellectuals are outraged at the lack of imagination shown by its leaders in picking a name that should have brought out the flavour of one of the country's most varied regions and people.

Public opinion was in favour of something intrinsic, such as Bangabhumi, Bangadesh, Banga, Gaur Banga or even Bangla.

What is wrong with 'Paschim Banga', apart from making it the target of unfortunate puns and barrage of Manu Chao 'King of the Bongo' jokes on social networking sites?

Even the stark 'Banga' would have made sense historically as the region that Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore referred to in the national anthem or identified by Emperor Asoka as the undivided expanse of sub-Himalayan Gangetic plain.

Yes, the new name is bereft of British colonial hangover and since it is already in use in Bengali in the state, the change would entail a minimum expenditure needed for administrative purposes. But does it serve any real purpose?

The state leaders complained that West Bengal faced an alphabetical disadvantage at meetings and surveys. It meant that by the time its turn arrived, the energy of the listeners would be sapped at presentations. By that logic, 'Banga' would have served a better purpose, being higher up in the alphabetical order, than 'P' which is only seven places ahead of 'W'.

Even 'Bangla' would have worked better. 'Bangla', as an adjective, encompasses the largesse of the region; the bounty of its soil, the infamous local brew, the roots of its people, their language and even a seasonal eye ailment 'Jai Bangla'. But ministers steered clear of the name for its similarity to Bangladesh for all official purposes.

But the new nomenclature has driven a battering ram into the hearts of thousands of naturalized immigrants who have made the state their home after the bloody partition of a region steeped in history of divisive politics.

The birth of West Bengal post independence was at the cost of the biggest exodus in human history and some of the most violent riots the country had ever seen.

While the west of Bengal with a large Hindu population remained a part of India at the time of the 1947 partition, the east of the region, comprising a Muslim majority, joined Pakistan.

The newly christened East Bengal was later renamed East Pakistan before it attained independence in 1971 and known as Bangladesh.

With East Bengal no longer an entity except in regional history, the name West Bengal no longer has any relevance. The name is only reminiscent of the painful uprooting of homes, slaughter of Hindus and Muslims, tearing apart of families, abject poverty and the miserable plight of refugees in a foreign land.

The state government had the opportunity to kill two birds with a single stone; correct an alphabetical disadvantage and right a historical wrong. But it did neither.
First Published: August 20, 2011, 5:51 PM IST

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