Recently, the West Bengal Legislative Assembly passed a resolution renaming the Indian state of West Bengal as 'Bangla' in Bengali, 'Bengal' in English and 'Bangaala' in Hindi/Urdu. As one of the reasons for this momentous change, the Chief Minister of 'Paschim Banga' (the state's current name) mentioned that with the alphabet 'B' in the beginning of the name 'Bengal', the state will get alphabetical priority in Delhi.
Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that the name 'Bangla' or 'Bengal or Bangaala', really belongs to us. This is the traditional name of our motherland and will eternally remain so. Though our country's name officially is 'Bangladesh', historically, geographically, culturally and linguistically, we are 'Bangla' or Bengal. Mainly, we own the glory and achievements of Bengal or Bangla. From time immemorial, the present day Bangladesh was part of 'Bangla', a name derived from 'Banga'. During the Mughal rule, it was part of Subeh-Bangla. During the British rule, Calcutta was initially made the capital of India (till 1911) and also the provincial capital, and the province of British Bengal (called Bengal Presidency) included the territories that now comprise both Bangladesh and Paschim Bangla (West Bengal).
The area and the population of Bangladesh are much higher than that of West Bengal. Through history's bloodiest but most glorious Liberation War, we won 'Banglar Swadhinata' - the independence of Bangla. This Bangla is Bangladesh, our sovereign independent country. The slogan of our Liberation War was Joy Bangla. Our national anthem begins with an emphatic proclamation of our love for Shonar Bangla - the Bengal of gold. This is not just the national anthem, but the central source of our inspiration. Our national academy is called Bangla Academy. The Bengal Foundation set up by Abul Khair, and many other institutions named likewise are dedicated to the propagation of the arts and music of Bengal. We are 'Bangalee' as we live in Bengal. Our state language is Bangla. In remembrance and in recognition of our great state language movement, February 21 has been accepted universally as the World Mother Language Day. Introduced by Mughal Emperor Akbar, we observe the first day of Baishakh as our national New Year's Day. Our music is Banglar gaan, our seasons are seasons of Bengal, our animals are the Bengal goat and the Bengal tiger, our culture is Bangla, our products are Bangla products, our rivers are rivers of Bengal, our cuisine is Bangla. One of our great national leaders A. K. Fazlul Huq is called 'Sher-e-Bangla' - the tiger of Bengal. The Parliament area in Dhaka is known as 'Sher-e-Bangla' Nagar. In our vision, the picture that eternally flashes as our motherland is the face of Bangla - Banglar mukh. We appreciate Bangalees living in different parts of the world, including India, sharing our glory and pride. Indeed, there are many commonalities. But this does not mean that anyone can hijack the name Bengal or Bangla from us for exclusive use. That is our name, our existence, our identity.
Moreover, the specific use of Bangla or 'Bengal' as the name of Paschim Banga will give rise to unnecessary problems, including legal, both in the national and international arena. Henceforth, Paschim Banga may brand some of their specific products and processes as products of Bengal and ask for registration as exclusive patents, trademarks or copyrights from the relevant agencies of WIPO or WTO or any other authority. Because of Paschim Banga's claim of the name Bangla or Bengal, any such move on our part is not likely to succeed. At the very least, this could create great confusion, detrimental to our interests.
The issue, which is a very serious one, should be taken up both officially and unofficially, for a mutually acceptable solution. The central government of India, I believe, is yet to give its final approval. Since this involves the interests of Bangladesh, we would expect the government of India to give neighbourly considerations and consult our government in this regard. Public opinion, conveying our anxiety, may also be voiced. Issues of this nature have been settled amicably or otherwise solved in the case of Korea, and previously Vietnam and Germany, and even in Punjab shared by India and Pakistan. Thousands of ventures, initiatives, societies and enterprises of Bangladeshi entrepreneurs all over the world are named or known as 'Bangla' endeavours. On a safari trip in a remote South African Game Reserve, traveller Shimu Nasser (as reported with a photograph on the September 9 issue of Prothom Alo) found a big grocery store called 'Bangla Superstore' located near the entry point, owned by two young men from Feni. In an unfrequented small beach town in Scotland, I recently ran across a restaurant owned by a gentleman from Sylhet named 'Taste of Bengal'. There are countless such instances. Most of our restaurants abroad (and these are aplenty) serve, what they call, Bangla cuisine, (albeit, partly Mughal) and Bangla sweets. The recent victories of young girl footballers from Bangladesh were hailed as triumphs of Bengal tigresses. All these, of course, should and would continue. But renaming West Bengal exclusively as Bangla or Bengal will definitely create great confusion and should be avoided by all means.
The best solution, of course, is continuation of the present practice of officially calling the country (independent) and the territory (in India) as Bangladesh and Paschim Banga, respectively. Alternatively, without trying to lay exclusive claim on the name Bangla or Bengal, Paschim Bangla may like to be called Indian Bengal or Bharatiyo Bangla or simply 'Banga'. During the debate in the West Bengal Assembly, many members of the Congress, CPI and even BJP expressed their preference for the name 'Banga'. Even Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on record stated that she did not dislike the name 'Banga', but it was not so much in use anymore. However, if 'Banga' is accepted as an official name, it would obviously be used. Another alternative for consideration could be the name Bangla Pradesh (BP), like UP (Uttar Pradesh), Maddhya Pradesh (MP), Himachal Pradesh (HM) and Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP).
In any case, there should be an amicable settlement of the issue. The decision should not be taken arbitrarily and unilaterally. In the meantime, we should vigorously keep on using 'Bangla' or 'Bengal' as the commonly used name of our motherland. Otherwise, in the process of history, we will eventually move far away from our traditional name and identity, and thereby lose our source of glory and pride.
The writer is a columnist and former chairman of the Privatisation Commission.