Paschim Banga or Banga? Imminent name-change divides state over dropping West

  • Snigdhendu Bhattacharya, Hindustan Times, Kolkata
  • Updated: Aug 03, 2016 11:02 IST
Both intellectuals and commoners in the state are engaged in debates, often heated, as the West Bengal’s name is likely to change in a matter of weeks. (AFP file photo)

William Shakespeare’s fans who think there’s nothing in a name should come to Kolkata to hear the din and debate that began minutes after the state government announced on Tuesday that West Bengal will be soon be renamed as Bengal (in English) and Banga or Bangla (in Bengali).

Both intellectuals and commoners are engaged in debates, often heated, as the state’s name is likely to change in a matter of weeks.

“This should have happened long ago. The original name of our state was Banga (also spelt Bongo). We are going back to that. Keeping ‘West’ in the name is meaningless. This will be far better. I wanted this for long. The government has taken a good decision and I am very happy,” said noted novelist Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay.

“It is logical to change the state’s name to Banga or Bangla,” said actor Soumitra Chatterjee, a Dadasaheb Phalke awardee.

The likes of poet Nirendranath Chakraborty, writers Tilottama Majumdar and Swapnamay Chakraborty, however, objected to the idea of dropping ‘West’ from the name, as they believe this will do injustice to the memories of the Partition that split Bengal or Banga into two during Independence.

“The name West Bengal is deep-rooted in our consciousness since Independence. What will we gain from this change in name? We need to do better justice to history while changing names. It is West Bengal that reminds us of the pain and sorrows of the Partition. The deeper history is rooted in our consciousness the better. I, therefore, find no relevance to this decision to change the name,” young writer Tilottama Majumdar said.

“The government should discuss it with eminent personalities before coming to a decision. Doesn’t West Bengal imply that this is not East Bengal?” remarked nonagenarian poet Nirendranath Chakraborty.

Lyricist and film director Anindya Chatterjee even went so far as to suggest a referendum on the issue.

The proposal, which was passed by the West Bengal cabinet on Tuesday, will have to be ratified in the state Assembly before it is placed before the Parliament for its approval. Given the majority the state’s ruling party enjoys in the Assembly, the passage of the proposal in the state Assembly is only a formality.

The prime reason behind the government’s initiative to change name is to lift the state’s position in the alphabetical order to get early chances of speaking at meetings between the Centre and the states.

While many supported the government on this ground, other argued the name change would be just also because there is no ‘East Bengal’ and what was earlier known as ‘East Bengal’ is now Bangladesh.

“The proposal of changing the state’s name is being discussed for several years. We will definitely get practical advantages due to Bangla or Banga (Bongo). Previously, it took a lot of time to reach W in alphabetical order. We will climb quite a few stairs up. I welcome the government’s initiative,” educationist Pabitra Sarkar said.

Among those who welcomed the decision to drop ‘West’ from the name, there was hardly any unanimity over the new name in Bengali. Union minister of state for heavy industries Babul Supriyo welcomed Bengal as the name in English but objected to Bongo in Bengali.

“Bengal in English is fantastic and makes a great pair with Bangla the State and its language Bangla Bhasha - but not BONGO PLEASEEEEEE,” he tweeted, arguing that it sounded like the name of a musical instrument.

Writer Nabanitra Deb Sen proposed Bangabhumi or Banga Pradesh as the new name, while writer Samaresh Majumdar said the state should be called ‘Bangla’ even in English.

“Bangla is the best option, even in English,” eminent poet Shankha Ghosh said.

The special session of the assembly that will be convened to discuss and pass the resolution of change of name of the state is likely on August 29 and 30.

The change of name was first discussed during the tenure of the Left Front government. Incidentally the name of Calcutta, the state capital which was also the nation’s capital till 1911, was also changed to Kolkata in 2001.

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