Claim to fame

Two Indian women look at rasagollas on display in CalcuttaImage copyright
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It’s a spongy, sugary, syrupy ball of milk, and the neighbouring Indian states of West Bengal and Orissa, both want a piece of it. Finance ministers are involved, chief ministers are weighing in and the row is trending on social media. What is going on?

Essentially, it’s about who gets to claim rasgulla, a regional dumpling delicacy that has beguiled millions of Indians and a source of regional pride, as their own.

The two-and-a-half year battle has involved historians, centuries-old documents and specialised committees – all to find out which state can lay claim to this dessert.

And we have a winner…

On Tuesday, West Bengal got a taste of sweet victory, as India’s Commerce and Industry ministry gave the state a “geographical indications” (GI) tag for rasgulla.

According to the World Trade Organisation, a geographical indications tag credits a good or product as having originated from a certain region or place. It’s a mark of authenticity and adds credibility which could help monetise the sweet further.

West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wasted no time welcoming the ruling in a tweet.

But Orissa clapped back

For Orissa’s Finance Minister Shashi Bhusan Behera, it was as if Champagne had been re-designated to Normandy. So he swiftly claimed this was not necessarily a loss.

Mr Behera told the Times of India newspaper that there is nothing stopping the state from filing its own application for the geographical indications (GI) tag, as there are local variations of the dessert.

West Bengal has acquired the tag for “Banglar rasagolla (Bengali rasgulla)”, which Orissa claims to be different from their own in taste, texture, and colour. While the Bengali one is cream-coloured, officials in Orissa claimed theirs was darker in tone and not as “chewy and sticky” .

How did this all begin?

The feud can be traced back to September 2015, when the Orissa government celebrated a festival called “Rasagalla Diwas,” which the state said referred to a mythical story in which the Hindu goddess Lakshmi was presented with a bowl of the dessert by her husband in an effort to appease her after he left her alone.

Ever since, the two states have been locked in an intense battle over who the true owner of the dessert is.

Last year, a committee, headed by cultural researcher Asit Mohanty, was formed in Orissa to settle the issue, which they supported with a 100-page historical report that was submitted to the state’s department of science and technology, reported one Indian newspaper.

Shortly after West Bengal got credit for their rasgulla, Mr Mohanty told the Times of India that his research so far has found mentions of the dessert in 15th Century Orissa literature.

They hope to compile all of their findings and produce a comprehensive report to file their own application seeking the geographical indications (GI) tag.

But many on social media have already started celebrating on behalf of West Bengal.

Residents of Orissa are silent, but it looks like the state isn’t ready to accept defeat just yet.

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