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'Letter W is an Automatic Handicap': Why Mamata Govt Wants to Change West Bengal's Name

'Letter W is an Automatic Handicap': Why Mamata Govt Wants to Change West Bengal's Name

Mamata Banerjee feels that by the time West Bengal's turn came to speak in Centre's meetings, either the hall was half empty or the audience were asleep. It is important to move up the order to be heard in Delhi, she said.

New Delhi: After BJP government in Uttar Pradesh changed names of Allahabad and Faizabad recently, the demand to rename West Bengal has suddenly picked up pace.

Mamata Banerjee's government had proposed to rename the state on two earlier occasions as well — it suggested 'Paschimbanga' in 2011, which was turned down by the Centre; in 2016, it proposed 'Bengal' in English, 'Bangla' in Bengali and 'Bangal' in Hindi, which again was rejected.

Banerjee accused the BJP governments of changing names of "historical places and institutions unilaterally" to suit their vested interests. "In respect of Bengal, the attitude is totally," she wrote on Facebook.

The chief minister said that the state assembly had passed a unanimous resolution to change the name from West Bengal to Bangla "on the basis of local sentiments" associated with Bangla. But the Centre advised the government to make it 'Bangla' in all three language, and it was done accordingly. "Yet, it is still pending there," she said.

But Why Does Mamata Govt Feel the Need to Change West Bengal's Name?

After India's partition, the erstwhile British province of Bengal was split into two — the western portion, that remained with India was 'West Bengal' and the other, East Bengal. East Bengal would later become East Pakistan, and eventually Bangladesh in 1971. The India state of West Bengal remained as is.

Banerjee began toying with the idea of changing the name of the state as early as 2011 after she came to power. It comes down to precedence in alphabetical arrangement. In 2011, when first mooting the proposal, the newly-elected chief minister had said that the state that had a name starting with 'W' had an automatic handicap at meetings convened by the Centre. “Very often when West Bengal's turn came to speak... either the hall was half empty or the audience were asleep... It is important to move up the order, to be heard in Delhi... ” she had said.

This had been a key factor leading up to the 1999 proposal as well. In the alphabetical order of state names, West Bengal comes at the bottom at No. 30 while Bengal will take it forward to the No. 4 slot.

Is This the First Time That a Name-change Has Been Proposed?

No, in 1999, when the-then chief minister and Left leader Jyoti Basu had taken the initiative to change the name of the state, the only Trinamool Congress MLA in the Assembly, Sovandeb Chattopadhyay, had opposed the resolution. At the time, resistance from a section of intellectuals resulted in the name of the state not being changed — although the name of Calcutta was changed to Kolkata.

At the time, Banerjee had not supported the move, while not overtly criticizing it. The Left points out that a name-change was recommended twice, once in 2000, following the 1999 proposal in the Assembly and then again in 2011. An ally in the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led NDA government, Banerjee at the time had not lent support to the Left government.

What Has Happened So Far?

In August 2011, the government proposed that the state be renamed as 'Paschimbanga' - but that was rejected by the Centre. In August 2016, the state cabinet had approved the changing of the name of Bengal in English, Bangla in Bengali and Bangal in Hindi. This was ratified by the state Assembly and sent for approval to the Centre. The Centre then sent back the proposal asking the state to suggest a single name instead of three names. The state cabinet then, on September 2017, suggested Bangla in all the languages - this was followed with the State Assembly unanimously passing the bill to change the state's name from West Bengal to Bangla.

Why is the Centre Not Keen on the Name Change?

The Centre has maintained that the proposal to change the state's name to 'Bangla' is not in "national interest" and has sent the matter to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for consultation — arguing that the proposed name resembles Bangladesh.

This, the Ministry of Home Affairs, has argued could lead to an increase in illegal immigration from Bangladesh — a country with which West Bengal shares 2,217 km of border — due to the familiar name. So far, no decision has been taken. The Trinamool Congress government has accused the Centre of stalling the matter intentionally and said that it demonstrated the "deprivation of the people of Bengal".

Banga, Paschimbanga and Bangla: Different Names That Have Been Proposed

During the initial suggestion that there be three names in three different languages, two Bengali names were in contention: Bangla or Banga (pronounced bongo). It was finally decided that 'Bangla' would be chosen, although this continues to be the name used for a local unbranded liquor leading to a proliferation of jokes on social media. 'Banga' was dropped, with the fact that it sounded like the musical instrument being cited as one of the reasons during the discussions in the state cabinet.

Paschim Banga (literally West Bengal) has also been a name that has been proposed repeatedly since the issue was first started discussed in 1999. Currently, the West Bengal BJP unit has led the charge, arguing that the name conjures up memories of the partition and is integral to the state's history.

How Have Other States Changed Their Names in the Past?

While sending their proposal to the Centre, the West Bengal government had pointed out the precedence of 'Orissa' changing its name to 'Odisha', as as per the provision to Article 3 of the Constitution. A senior official of the West Bengal home department explained, "The proposal is sent to the Parliament as a bill, following which it can needs to be passed by both house of the Parliament".

As per the provision, the Parliament can 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 within such period as may be specified in the reference or within such further period as the President may allow and the period so specified or allowed has expired."

In 2010, the-then Orissa government had sent a proposal to the Centre, which then moved the "Orissa (Alternation of Name) Bill and the Constitution (113th Ammendment Bill) on the basis of resolutions passed by the state Assembly. The bills were passed in the Lok Sabha in November 2010 and in the Rajya Sabha in 2011, following which the name of the state was changed.