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Partition Politics


Partition Politics led to the partition of Bengal once in 1905 and again in 1947. The first partition was annulled within six years of its enactment and the second one was invalidated by the Bangladesh War of Liberation and consequent emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country. The failure of the two partition measures indicates that the events were not natural outcome of historical developments. These were outcomes of politics-colonial and communal. The first partition was effected to maintain colonial control, to weaken anti-colonial nationalist movement by dividing the Bengalis both geographically and communally. But the measure failed to achieve its objective. The partition was annulled against a storm of protest in December 1911.

Bengal was again partitioned in 1947 in response to the rise of horrific communalism in Bengal politics. East Bengal was made the eastern part of Pakistan and renamed it 'East Pakistan' by erasing the historical name 'Bengal'. The basis of the partition was Muslim nationalism. But the contradiction of the Muslim nationalism is that while West Bengal had a big Muslim population, similarly East Bengal also had a big Hindu population. Dividing historical Bengal on the basis of communalism was thus a colossal contradiction indeed. Besides, Bengal had not only Hindu and Muslim population but also other religious and ethnic communities. They were denied their dues. However, the contradiction was resolved through a protracted resistance movement against Pakistan's hegemony first and then by an eventual war of liberation in 1971.

Both the events of 1905 and 1947 were products of politics, the nature of which has looked at by contemporary statesmen, historians and intellectuals from many angles. However, all agree more or less that both the partition measures were the results of colonial and communal politics about which majority people of Bengal were least concerned. The imperial policy makers had long identified the reality of social, political, religious, ethnic and economic differences of the Indian peoples and these differences became the tools in the hands of the colonial masters and they well used them to serve their imperial purpose.

The most powerful tool that the British rulers used in the early 20th century was communalism schemed and executed by the colonial masters. Nationalism and communalism in Bengal is a complex and ambivalent problem in terms of traditional politics and ideology.

The Hindu-Muslim relations remained largely cordial and cooperative until the Communal Award was declared in 1932. British strategy was to keep the centre weak and the provinces strong, thus barring the normal state formation processes at all India level. The province became the focus of politics. This policy kept the central leaders of every major party out of real power. The province was made the centre of politics and power. This led the central leaders to ensure that their trusted persons become ministers. For example, MA Jinnah decided from behind the scene that would hold what position within the party as well as in the government after the elections of 1937. AK Fazlul Huq was ousted in 1943 from power by Jinnah when the former dared to form ministry with the support of Congress and Hindu Mahashaba, members of the Legislative Assembly. Though HS Suhrawardy established Muslims League in Bengal against many odds including the popularity of Krishak Proja Party, he was not made the leader of the parliamentary parry after the elections of 1947, so that he could not become the chief minister of independent East Bengal. Under the Communal Awards, it was the interest groups, not political parties, who were given right to contest elections. Such as, Muslims, Hindus, Scheduled Castes, Europeans and so on. Hindus would elect Hindus, Muslims would elect Muslims, Europeans would elect Europeans under the separate electorate system. Under such a system, factionalism and petty fogging polities developed and rise of any person to power and position was always barred by factionalist divisions among the activists. Thus, after the elections of 1937, it was party factionalism, which flourished most. Due to distribution of seats on communal basis the Bengal Legislative Assembly consisted of elected representatives as many as thirteen interest groups, who vied for power among themselves. Under the circumstance, there was little scope for developing party system within the Legislature, which was always made coalitions of interest groups rather than of a party. The Prime Minister, as he was styled under the 1937 constitution, was thus representing a conglomeration of interest groups rather than parties.

Consequently, Bengal emerged as an independent political entity with its own socioeconomic and cultural identities. But the partition politics never recognized this reality. When Suhrawardy-Sarat Chandra Bose scheme for a united independent Bengal, the proposal did not receive majority support from any major political party. Communal factionalists won. They voted for the partition of Bengal to placate their own self-interests. Bengal was divided in communal lines into two provinces -East Bengal dominated by Muslims and West Bengal dominated by Hindus. The historical irony is that Hindus and Muslims lived together peacefully and harmoniously for centuries and maintained virtually the same values and outlook at the secular plane in the areas of community relations, culture, language, literature, music, festivals, customs, production relations and so on.

The commonality of culture and community life among Hindus and Muslims began to crode from the introduction of the Communal Award and within fifteen years of its operation the polities of Bengal was bifurcated in communal lines leading to the partition of Bengal. In the process of this communal bifurcation, it was the Hindu bhadralok and Muslim ashraf who played the major role. Influenced by propagation of their half-truths and misinformation the crowd acquiesced to their ideas of partition of Bengal as a solution to the imagined problems. This assumption gets support from the politics of East Bengal that obtained subsequent to the partition. [Sirajul Islam]

Bibliography Joya Chatterji, Bengal Divided: Hindu Communalism and Partition, 1932-1947, Cambridge, 1994; Mushirul Hasan, (ed.), India's Partition: Process, Strategy and Mobilization, Oxford, 2001; Abul Mansur Ahmed, Amar Dekha Rajnitir Panchash Bachar, Dhaka, 1970; Sugata Bose, Agrarian Bengal, Social Structure and Politics, 1919-1947, New Delhi, 1987; Amalendu De, Roots of Separatism in Nineteenth Century Bengal, Calcutta 1974.