Law makers in West Bengal on Monday passed a resolution to change the state’s name to Bangla in Bengali—and Bengal in English—amid opposition from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress and Left parties.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee is keen on a name change as she wants the state to climb up the alphabetical ladder.
She called the attitude of the opposition a “historic blunder" and said the people of the state would not forgive them.
The state will now send the resolution to the centre as it requires the clearance of both Houses of Parliament to formally take effect, and it will not be easy to complete the process if the BJP opposes the move.
To retain a bargaining chip, as it were, Banerjee has decided to put on hold the ratification of the proposed goods and services tax (GST) bill in the state, though it was previously decided the new indirect tax regime will be cleared by the state’s legislators on Monday.
The BJP is opposing the name change because in its view the current name reflects the state’s troubled past of going through partition. If the purpose was only to climb the alphabetical order, the name could have been changed to Pashim Banga, said Dilip Ghosh, state president of the BJP.
Removing “West" is a bid to wipe out from people’s memory the painful past of partition, he added. To be sure, generations of uprooted Bengalis on both sides of the border have struggled to come to terms with partition.
Banerjee said the name change will help the state create a new identity for itself. Surprising everyone, she cited in her assembly address her predecessor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who had first mooted the proposal to change West Bengal’s name. Still, the Left parties opposed the move, demanding that the state should have only one name in all languages.
On a similar proposal to change the name of Calcutta high court to Kolkata high court mooted by the centre, judges were unanimous that they don’t want a change because, in their view, it would undermine the legacy of the institution.
Meanwhile, Trinamool Congress leaders said they needed more time to study what other non-BJP states were doing on GST, explaining the last-minute decision to withdraw GST from Monday’s legislative business.
The state’s finance minister Amit Mitra, who also heads the empowered committee of state finance ministers on GST, had previously said Banerjee was supportive of GST from 2009 when she was the rail minister.
After coming to power earlier this year, she pushed Mitra to sort out differences with the centre for rapid implementation of the proposed tax reform, but her U-turn on GST is being seen as a ploy to pile pressure on the centre to restructure West Bengal’s outstanding debt of 3 trillion.
Banerjee has also not taken kindly to the centre’s close monitoring of fund usage in social development schemes, calling it a “serious infringement" of the federal structure. On Friday, she threatened to take the battle to New Delhi by way of sit-down protests and rallies if the centre didn’t yield to the state’s repeated requests to restructure its debt and didn’t stop interfering with its social initiatives.
The chief minister is playing hard ball with the centre because it is “scared" of monitoring of centrally-funded development schemes, said Ghosh, suggesting there was rampant diversion of funds to suit the ruling Trinamool Congress party’s political needs.