Wednesday 28 October 2009

Partition of Bengal (1905)

The province of Bengal had an area of 489,500 sq. km. and a population of over 80 million. Eastern Bengal was almost isolated from the western part by geography and poor communications. In 1836, the upper provinces were placed under a lieutenant governor, and in 1854 the Governor-General-In-Council was relieved of the direct administration of Bengal. In 1874 Assam, including Sylhet, was severed from Bengal to form a Chief-Commissionership, and the Lushai Hills were added to it in 1898.Partitioning Bengal was first considered in 1903. There were also additional proposals to separate Chittagong and the districts of Dhaka and Mymensingh from Bengal and attaching them to the province of Assam. In a similar way, Chhota Nagpur was to be incorporated with the central provinces. The government officially published the idea in January 1904, and in February, Lord Curzon made an official tour to eastern districts of Bengal to assess public opinion on the partition. He consulted with leading personalities and delivered speeches at Dhaka, Chittagong and Mymensingh explaining the government's stand on partition. The Partition of Bengal in 1905, was made on October 16, by then Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. Partition was promoted for administrative regions; Bengal was as large as France but with a significantly larger population. The eastern region was thought to be neglected and under-governed. By splitting the province, an improved administration could be established in the east where, subsequently, the population would benefit from new schools and employment opportunities. However, other motives lurked behind the partition plan. Bengali Hindus were in the forefront of political agitation for greater participation in governance; their position would be weakened, since Muslims would now dominate in the East. Hindus tended to oppose partition, which was more popular among Muslims. What followed partition, however, stimulated an almost national anti-British movement that involved non-violent and violent protests, boycotts and even an assassination attempt against the Governor of the new province of West Bengal. Partition barely lasted half a decade, before it was annulled in 1911. Britain's policy of divide et impera which lay behind partition, however, continued to impact on the re-united province. In 1919, separate elections were established for Muslims and Hindus. Before this, many members of both communities had advocated national solidarity of all Bengalis. Now, distinctive communities developed, with their own political agendas. Muslims, too, dominated the Legislature, due to their overall numerical strength of roughly twenty eight to twenty two million. Nationally, Hindus and Muslims began to demand the creation of two independent states, one to be formed in majority Hindu and one in majority Muslim areas with most Bengali Hindus now supporting partitioning Bengal on this basis. The Muslims wanted the whole province to join the Muslim state, Pakistan. In 1947, Bengal was partitioned for the second time, this time specifically on religious grounds. It became East Pakistan. However, in 1971 East Pakistan became the independent state of Bangladesh after a successful war for liberation with the West Pakistani military regime. Partition may sometimes be necessary as a pragmatic strategy to avoid bloodshed but more often than not this leads to new problems that divide even more people.Almost always, partition produces discontent among minorities on both sides of the border. Both partitions of Bengal saw bloodshed. The new province would consist of the state of Hill Tripura, the Divisions of Chittagong, Dhaka and Rajshahi (excluding Darjeeling) and the district of Malda incorporated with Assam province. Bengal was to surrender not only these large eastern territories but also to cede to the Central Provinces the five Hindi-speaking states. On the western side it was offered Sambalpur and five minor Oriya-speaking states from the Central Provinces. Bengal would be left with an area of 141,580 sq. miles and population of 54 million, of which 42 million would be Hindus and 9 million Muslims. The new province was named Eastern Bengal and Assam with Dhaka as its capital and subsidiary headquarters at Chittagong. Its area would be 106,540 sq. miles with a population of 31 million, where 18 million would be Muslims and 12 million Hindus. Administration would consist of a Legislative Council, a Board of Revenue of two members, and the jurisdiction of the Calcutta High Court would be left undisturbed. The government pointed out that Eastern Bengal and Assam would have a clearly demarcated western boundary and well defined geographical, ethnological, linguistic and social characteristics. The government of India promulgated their final decision in a resolution dated July 19, 1905 and the partition of Bengal was effected on October 16 of same year. This created a huge political crisis. The Muslims in East Bengal had the impression that a separate region would give them more opportunity for education, employment etc. However, the partition was not liked by the people in West Bengal and a huge amount of nationalist literature was created there during this period. Opposition by Indian National Congress was led by Sir Henry John Stedman Cotton who had been Chief Commissioner of Assam, but Curzon was not to be moved. Later, Cotton, now Liberal MP for Nottingham East coordinated the successful campaign to oust the first lieutenant-governor of East Bengal, Sir Bampfylde Fuller. In 1906, Rabindranath Tagore wrote Amar Shonar Bangla as a rallying cry for proponents of annulment of Partition, which, much later, in 1972, became the national anthem of Bangladesh. Due to these political protests, the two parts of Bengal were reunited in 1911. A new partition which divided the province on linguistic, rather than religious, grounds followed, with the Hindi, Oriya and Assamese areas separated to form separate administrative units. The administrative capital of British India was moved from Calcutta to New Delhi as well. However, conflict between Muslims and Hindus resulted in new laws having to be introduced so as to satisfy the political needs of both groups.

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