TT, Calcutta, Aug. 2: The Mamata Banerjee government has proposed to change the name of West Bengal to “Bengal” in English and “Banga” or “Bangla” in Bengali.
The state cabinet cleared the proposal – the first in a series of administrative and legislative steps that need to be taken before the name change can kick in – after an attempt in 2011 to rename the state “Paschimbanga” in both English and Bengali lost steam.
The previous choice had drawn criticism that “Paschimbanga” went against the cosmopolitan character of Bengal by ignoring the sentiments of the non-Bengali population. Some commentators had also pointed out then that “Paschimbanga” unwittingly served as a reminder of the partition of Bengal and it was better to move forward without the baggage of the past.
Deliberately or otherwise, the new choice – “Bengal” in English – addresses such concerns. ( The Telegraph has for long been using “Bengal”, not West Bengal, in its news reports and headlines.)
“The state cabinet today decided to send a proposal to Delhi to change the name of the state,” state education minister Partha Chatterjee said.
“The cabinet has proposed that the name of the state should be Banga or Bangla in Bengali and Bengal in English. An all-party meeting will be held soon.”
Sources said the move has been initiated after the chief minister had to wait for six hours for her turn to speak at the inter-state council meeting in Delhi on July 16, where the majority of chief ministers were present.
“The chief ministers were listed to speak in alphabetical order of the state names. As ‘West Bengal’ starts with ‘W’, the chief minister had to speak at the fag end of the programme. She later felt that as everybody had lost patience at the end of the lengthy programme, her concerns were not heard properly,” said an official.
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. Paschimbanga would have left it at No. 22.
However, “Bengal” need not always guarantee an early speaking slot. Sometimes, in order to ensure equity, the reverse alphabetic order or an alternate sequence (A first, followed by Z) is followed. In any case, an analysis by this newspaper on August 24, 2011, showed that the alphabetical order played little role in scheduling meetings for resource allocation.
“The state government did not pursue the 2011 Paschimbanga proposal with the Centre. Trinamul had withdrawn support to UPA-II in 2012 and since then, there was no communication with the Centre on the issue,” said an official.
When the new initiative was mooted, sources said, some officials had pointed out that if the name of the state starts with “P”, the idea of getting an early turn to speak at meetings would not be successful as the state would still lag behind more than 20 states.
“The chief minister felt that if the name of the state starts with ‘B’, it would get a call after Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam,” said an official.
Sources said a special session of the Assembly was expected to be convened in August to discuss the issue and send a resolution to the Centre.
The Centre will prepare a bill, which will be sent back to the Assembly for its inputs. When the Assembly sends it back, the bill will be tabled in Parliament. Passed, it will be sent for presidential assent.
When Orissa was renamed Odisha, the process took around two years from the date of the Assembly forwarding the resolution.
Abdul Mannan, leader of the Opposition, said: “I don’t buy the argument that the alphabetical order of a state’s name helps in the development of the state.”
Several Opposition MLAs pointed out that when Jyoti Basu had taken the initiative to change the name of the state in 1999, the only Trinamul MLA in the Assembly, Sovandeb Chattopadhyay, had opposed the resolution.
The Basu government did not pursue the issue because of resistance from a section of intellectuals but the name of Calcutta was changed to Kolkata, an MLA said.