On the eve of the 70th anniversary of Independence and Partition, Mamata Banerjee does have a point when she iterates that West Bengal ought to be renamed as “Bengal” or “Bongo” as the linguistic variant. Equally well taken is the distinguished historian, Professor Rajat Kanta Ray&’s point that the present name has a “historical significance” and there is no call to rename the state. He couldn’t have been more correct from the perspective of the post-colonial narrative. That said, one could argue that it is beyond contestation that the nomenclature of “East” and “West Bengal” ceased to be relevant the day the country was partitioned. The transfer of population was partial unlike in the case of Punjab, but that is quite another story. The name of the state in the eastern flank could well have been changed at that momentous point of time, as historical as it was horrendous. Arguably once more, the crisp option could still be “Bengal’, as decided by the state cabinet recently. It is more agreeable than “Bongo Pradesh” or “Banga Desh”, as bandied about a decade ago. And it does make greater sense than renaming Calcutta, Bombay and Madras High Courts in keeping with the renamed presidency towns of British India. The CPI-M MP, Mohammad Salim&’s contention that the name-change is a “diversive tactic” of the state government sounds strained not least because it was his party that had renamed Calcutta more than a decade ago.
On closer reflection, both sides of the political divide have been on the same wavelength on the issue of renaming the city and the state. The Trinamul argument runs that the state ranks lowest in the nationwide alphabetical placing because of the “W” in West Bengal. A not dissimilar reasoning had once been advanced by the CPI-M, but the party confined its name-change affidavit, as it were, to the city. Both parties have a point when they cavil that at inter-state conferences, West Bengal is not in a position to make a thorough presentation. In the process, the state plays a permanent role in presenting the vote of thanks. Truth to tell, the alphabetical order is insignificant in the context of West Bengal when one reflects that over the decades it has scarcely made a substantive presentation… aside from the almost compulsive ranting at the Centre. Uncharitable as it may sound, but nonetheless is true, the state ranks rather low in terms of human development, which would place it closer to “W” than “B” were the rankings to use the alphabet rather than numbers. Civil society must reflect on whether a name-change will translate to an intrinsic change in the character of the state. Very probably, it won’t. In the context of Calcutta, it hasn’t.