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Wisecracks greet renamed Indian state of Bongo

Trinamool Congress party leader Mamata Banerjee speaks to the supporters outside her residence in Kolkata, India, Friday, May 13, 2011. The renaming of West Bengal is considered an early move by the government who brought the country out of 35 years of Marxist rule.


In a bold move designed to rid West Bengal of a vestige of colonial heritage and bolster its dignity, its politicians Friday voted unanimously to rename the state.

And the new, dignified name they have chosen is … Bongo.

It's Poschim Bongo, technically – Bengali for "West Bengal." But Indians in other states are gleefully piling on the rhymes and jibes.

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"What is this Poschim Bongo and where can I smoke it?" one user quipped on Twitter.

The name of the state – home to 91 million people and the city of Kolkata, which itself was renamed from Calcutta a few years ago – does seem odd, since there is no East Bengal.

Apparently senior state officials were irked to be the last state named in the country's alphabetical order. "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," the state's Commerce and Industry Minister, Partha Chatterjee, told reporters last month.

Poschim Bongo will be now be seventh from last in the 35 states and territories. There was no word at press time on whether the state of Uttarakhand is now considering its options.

Not everyone is happy about the new development in Bongo. "If you are changing the name of the state from West Bengal to 'Bongo' … you are denying history: the history of partition is associated with it," political analyst Sabyasachi Basu Roy Chowdhury told the Deccan Chronicle.

There used to be an East Bengal – but it became East Pakistan with the partition of India in 1947, and then became the independent nation of Bangladesh through the bloody war of 1971.

This renaming is an early move by the government of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who ended 35 years of Marxist rule with a crushing electoral victory in April and successfully consulted widely on this change.

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Previous governments have twice tried to alter the name of the state from its colonial label, but never pulled it off.

Ms. Banerjee's team of advisers considered several variations including Bangla, Paschim Banga, Banga Pradesh ("state of Banga") and Bangabhumi, or land of Banga.

"If we just left it as Bangla it would not make it any sense, it would sound like Bangladesh," noted writer Atin Bandyopadhyay, who is famed for his trilogy on the Partition, told the Globe Friday. "Poschim [Bongo]makes clear that the whole of the Bengali nation has been divided, and this is the part which is in India, the West."

To be finalized, the name change will have to be presented as an amendment to the constitution in India's Parliament and approved by the president.

The etymology of Bongo

The classic Bengali name for the region is transliterated in English as "Banga," but pronounced "Bongo." Both words become "bangla" in the common spoken form of the language, Bengali. The name comes from an ancient kingdom in the area that dates back to at least 300 BC. The British anglicized its name to Bengal.

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"Bangladesh" means the nation of the Banga. Other name changes – such as the Royal Bongo Tiger, Bongo spice tea, and the Bay of Bongo – will now follow.

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Latin America Bureau Chief

Stephanie Nolen is the Latin America correspondent for The Globe and Mail.After years as a roving correspondent that included coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Stephanie moved to Johannesburg in 2003 to open a new bureau for The Globe, to report on what she believed was the world's biggest uncovered story, Africa's AIDS pandemic. More

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