Friday, August 19, 2011

What's in a name? The curious case of Paschimbanga

I am as amused as you are at why certain states/cities change their names: United Provinces to Uttar Pradesh, Central Provinces to Madhya Pradesh, Madras State to Tamil Nadu, Orissa to Odisha, West Bengal to Paschimbanga, Bombay to Mumbai, Calcutta to Kolkata, Ahmedabad to Amdavad, Bangalore to Bengaluru, etc. The more interesting case of Madras to Chennai is something over which I have strong personal biases/opinions. For someone who grew up in Madras, Chennai makes zero sense and I dont intend to call it Chennai any time soon.

What is the case for this renaming? The most obvious issue is one of linguistic/cultural pride as Linky

legendary magician P.C. Sircar Jr. expressed happiness over the decision. "I am very happy and excited. Finally Bengali sentiments have been honoured. No other state in the country has an English name except ours. The new name will remind the coming generation about the painful history of division of Bengal. It will help them grow strong."

If it was just pride that is the burning issue, that should be stated so. Here is one reason that is suggested: Linky

State Commerce and Industry Minister Partha Chatterjee has said a change of name is essential as West Bengal, which begins with the letter 'W', figures last at inter-state discussions when it comes to the alphabetical order of things. "Since the name of the state starts with W, our representatives get to speak only at the fag end of any function when most of the audience has left. To do away with the problem, the chief minister has suggested the name be changed," Chatterjee said. "We wanted a change in the name of the state to get the administrative advantage," he said.

This makes absolutely no sense, going from 35th in the list of speakers to 27th is NOT improvement however Partha Chatterjee wants to spin it. Further, the fact that the Mamta Banerjee-led government chose to rename it as Paschimbanga and not Bangla or Bangabhumi suggests that the state still has not moved away from the 1905 division that fed into the Naokhali carnage and Partition of 1947. To me, there does not seem to be inner peace, whatever the case may be. Atin Bandyopadhyay says:

"East Bengal and West Bengal came into existence after the bifurcation of Bengal. East Bengal became Bangladesh. The name West Bengal signifies that Bengal has been divided," he added. Partha Chatterjee added that, "Paschimbanga as a new name also mirrors history."

We will have to wait for a while to figure out what administrative/economic, popular/cultural, sociological/historical issues were considered in the renaming. That said, I am yet to see a decent case study of renaming a State in the Indian context. In any case,

Once a bill is passed by two-thirds majority in the Parliament and ratified by the President, the state would get the new name.

With respect to Tamil Nadu, the state was renamed and this renaming was codified by the "Madras State (Alteration of Name) Act, 1968" which was then approved by the Union Government via the "Central Act 53 of 1968." This happened in the immediate aftermath of the 1967 victory of the DMK when renaming the State became an electoral issue due to various other baggages of linguistic pride. Of course, the question of why Tamil Nadu and why Chennai has been confronting many a jobless people, including me. A PIL was filed that the name of the state should have been Tamizh Naadu and not Tamil Nadu (the Anglicized version). The PIL was of course dismissed with the only comfort being that it was not dismissed as "frivolous," see the case history at Linky. On the 1967 elections, I must digress. Here is a voter % in the first few elections that mattered in the then Madras State and Tamil Nadu (Click on the pic for a better resolution):

Certain facts should be clear from the above table:
1) The DMK excelled in mobilizing people along ideological lines and in getting people to vote (especially the youngistan of those days). This is seen by the clear jump in voting % from the 1957 elections to the 62 elections. This jump stayed consistent at 70+% in those days. While some of it could be attributed to the post-Independence euphoric polity, there are clear evidences of ideological polarization along the lines of Tamil pride, which was channelized by the new "kid" on the block, the DMK.
2) In a head-to-head battle in 1967 that changed the electoral face of the then Madras State, it is surprising that the DMK garnered a lesser popular mandate in terms of voting % than the Congress. Of course, the most famous display of this verdict was the defeat of K. Kamaraj, but this is belied by the fact that the Congress was ahead of the DMK in terms of voting %.
3) The lack of any stalwarts in the post-Kamaraj era delivered a death knell to the fortunes of Congress in the state from which it has still not recovered. The same cannot be said for the DMK as the grassroots of the DMK covered the bases well.
4) Characterized by a Stalinistic purge that became the DMK in the Karunanidhi-era, and depleted by the purging of the grassroots/money spinning vehicle/propaganda machinery that mattered, the ADMK delivered the same medicine to the DMK in a multi-cornered fight that was the 1977 elections.

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At August 20, 2011 at 4:59 PM , Blogger Sid Gau said...

I am all for renaming. However I did not like the Paschim part of the name. I thought it was just going to be called Bengal or Banga. WTF did Paschim get added.


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