Seventy years after independence, one of Kolkata’s remaining vestiges of colonial rule has been abandoned, after regional authorities dropped the names of British royals and aristocrats from palatial suites at the 214-year-old Government House.
Provincial Governor K N Tripathi re-christened four palatial suites in his official Raj Bhawan residence after Indian celebrities, in the latest attempt to remove traces of the colonial era.
The largest of the suites in the three-storey residence, which was home to the Viceroy until 1911, was named after the Prince of Wales following Prince Edward’s stay there in 1921.
The spacious first floor suite has been renamed after the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, the only native Indian to ever receive the Nobel Prize in literature in 1913, officials said.
The other rechristened suites were named after Lord Wellesley, who as India’s governor general appointed by the East India Company built the grand residence in 1803, and Lord Dufferin, one of his later successors.
The John Anderson suite named after the 1st Viscount Waverly who was Bengal’s governor for five years till 1937, was also re-named, after the Bengali Hindu monk and philosopher Swami Vivekananda.
Another ground floor set of rooms known as the Second Class Suite, which was assigned to low ranking Colonial officials, is now known as Bhutal Kaksha, or underground chamber.
Modeled on Lord Curzon’s Kedleston Hall family mansion in Derbyshire, the neoclassical building became the Viceroy’s official residence after power transferred to the British Crown in 1858.
Successive Viceroys occupied Government House till 1911, when India’s capital shifted from Kolkata – then Calcutta – to New Delhi, and thereafter it became the official residence of Bengal’s Lieutenant Governor.
Since independence in 1947 it has served as the Bengal governor’s official home and came to be known as Raj Bhawan, a name it shares with similar residences of other state governors across India.
Changing Colonial-era names has gained ascendency in India in recent years. Along with Calcutta, the cities of Bangalore, Bombay and Madras have been re-christened as Bengaluru, Mumbai and Chennai.
And, last week northern Punjab state’s finance minister Manpreet Badal said his government was readying legislation to ‘erase’ all remnants of ‘cruel and humiliating’ Colonial rule in his province through a Historical Memory Law, similar to the one enacted by Spain in 2007.
Badal plans on introducing the anti-colonial bill in the assembly in July.