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State Formation


State Formation Historical experiences instruct that the state as a product of human ingenuity is a political, social and cultural phenomenon at bottom. Thus in the state formation processes, the elements of people, society and culture have always been found to be organically inclusive and mutually creative. Opposite is the case with a stateless society. The subjugated cultures are generally seen to have been eclipsed and even wiped out, restructured, reconstructed and reinterpreted to suit the purpose of the conquering regimes.

Janapada as an incipient form of state Most archaeologists, anthropologists and historians recognise that many states emerged in the Bengal Delta before the Aryan civilization came in contact with them around 500 B.C. According to the legend of the epic Mahabharata, Bhima subjugated a number of eastern states, including Pundra, Vanga, Tamralipti and Kalinga. And the kings of these vassal states were present in Yudhishthira's Rajasuya Sacrifice. The pre-state janapadas or clusters of settlements were formed on the basis of production and exchanges, and the state system developed on the basis of the individual cultures of the jandapadas.

Centralised polities in the modern sense of the term were then neither necessary nor possible. The most ancient janapada states, like ancient Greece and Rome, were states because they developed means of production and exchange and the art of living together peacefully. In this concept of statehood, the Bengal janapada-states like Vanga, Pundra, Tamralipti and others more than equaled the ancient states of Greece and Rome. Archaeological evidences attest to the participation of the Bengal states in contemporary maritime trade around the world with their agricultural and manufactured cargoes. They even developed media of exchange to facilitate both local and foreign trade. In the 1960s, archaeological excavations were carried out at 'Pandu Rajar Dhibi' in Birbhum district, including several other sites on the Kopai and Kuur rivers, and Chandraketugarh in the 24-Parganas. Astounding results came from these excavations. The finds of the excavations point to the existence of high level of civilisation in some parts of Bengal around the second millennium B.C. Pandu Rajar Dhibi represents the ruins of a maritime township. The finds at this great site suggest that the people carried on trade not only with inland India but also with the countries overseas, including the Mediterranean region.

Human geography of early settlements As is claimed by ethnographers, anthropologists and archaeologists, the early janapada peoples came from outside of the Bengal Delta, usually in tribes and clans sprouting from all the mainstreams of human races like the Dravidians, Mongolians, Tebeto-Chinese, Austroloids and upper Indian tribes of mixed races. As expected, they carried their respective cultures with them, but only to be assimilated and acculturated with those of other settlers alongside. However, we do not know for certain the styles and levels of the assimilation towards forming a broad regional culture and state.

Influence of the Aryans on state formation Historians believe that the Aryans came in contact with the Bengal Delta janapadas around 500 BC. The raiding Aryans branded the delta peoples as uncivilised and asked their fellowmen never to interact with these vratyas, kiratas and dasyus. The Aryans considered them polluted and hence to be avoided. But the avoidance policy could not be sustained for long. To live in the Delta, they had to interact with the local janapada peoples for survival. The conquest and the formation of rajya (larger state) in the region led to the increasing contact and cultural exchanges and consequent formation of wider states based on extensive cultural exchanges and incorporations.

Every janapada state is believed to have had its unique ethnicity, language, system of living-together, faiths, rites and rituals and systems of production and exchanges, and at the same time inter-janapada relations. But in the absence of necessary evidences it is not possible to ascertain for certain the depth of social and cultural dynamics of the respective janas or communities. It is assumed that because of their cultural uniqueness, every ethnic society must have responded to Aryan polity uniquely, some by absorption, some by indifference and some by rejection and some by even resistance.

By the time the Aryans arrived in Lower Ganga Valley, their political culture and concepts of statehood must have been considerably diluted with the north and south Indian civilizations; and their contact with the Bengal Delta cultures must have further diluted the Brahmanical culture. Jainism and Buddhism, the two indigenous post-Aryan religions of north-India, represented the blending of both Aryan and Indian political thoughts. Long before the Aryans arrived, both Buddhism and Jainism were already established in Bengal. It means, these two major religions proved to be a great bulwark against the impact of the Brahmanical polity and it may be assumed that the Janapada states of the Delta could keep considerable part of their inherited culture unaffected by the Brahmanical impact.

The rise of national languages' Language is a vital part of a state system. Speculations are there about the languages of the early peoples of Bengal. The nature of immigration and settlement dictated the presence of as many languages as were the racial branches and sub-branches settled in the Delta. According to historians, the main languages of the Delta societies originated from the Austric, the Dravidian, the Sino-Tibetan or Tibeto-Chinese and lastly the Indo-European (Aryan).

What is most revolutionary about the state formation processes in the Delta was the introduction of a Brahmanic language, Sanskrit. Sanskrit became the common language for religions, legal codes, scientific works, inscriptions and, above all, literary activities. Sanskrit also became the language of Brahmanical, Buddhist and Jaina texts and the administrative language of the Gupta, Pala and Sena rulers. As linguistic bi-products, Sanskrit produced over time two local languages as lingua-franca: Prakrit and Pali. Both the languages were the products of the absorption and incorporation of Sanskrit with local languages. Prakrit eventually mothered the Bangla language. The mixed languages of Prakrit and Pali dominated during the Maurya period. The Mahasthangarh inscription was in Prakrit though in Brahmi script. Another inscription in Prakrit in Brahmi script has been found in Silua in Noakhali district (2nd century B.C). Under the supremacy of the Sanskrit language and the hegemony of Sanskrit culture under the imperial Guptas, Prakrit as a language eclipsed. But its offshoot, Bangla, survived and flourished under the patronage of the Sultani state.

The Vedic culture and political thought unified the country politically, but divided it socially apparently for the sake of maintaining social order and discipline. In the absence of standing armies, social control by a rigid caste system was an effective device to maintain law and order of the new state. Whoever accepted the Brahmanic religion accepted ipso facto the chaturbarna (literally four colours) or the four-tier social hierarchy-Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra. At the top of the society stood the Brahmins, the priestly class, next came the military class Kshatriyas in the hierarchy followed by the trading class Vaisya and then by the menial class Sudra.'

However, unlike in north India, Aryanisation in Bengal followed a more liberal line. Aryanising all the indigenous peoples and putting all these racial and ethnic elements into the four caste matrix seemed unrealistic to them. So, the chaturvarna of the Aryavarta was applied very loosely to the local converts who followed extensive syncretism in religious practices. Thus beyond the Brahmanic castes, numerous new castes came into the social scene in Bengal and the basis of such a caste proliferation was the individual clan's arts, crafts and professions and, more importantly, marriage beyond the caste restrictions. Thus, as regards social management the state system in Bengal obtained the unique tradition of syncretism.

The Sultanate state (1205-1576) At the time of the transition from the Sena rule to the Sultanate, we find in Bengal several types of autonomous chieftains called raja, rana, rais, bhowmik, bhuiyan etc. The sultans integrated them into a confederate landed interests under their sovereignty. Though they lost political autonomy, they still held social power which the sultans used to their best advantage in the state formation processes. The local chieftains were expediently accommodated into the new state and were given state responsibilities both at local and intermediate levels. The system of local governance remained almost unchanged. The Sultanate state system thus became a mix of the Muslim rulers at the top and the old ruling potentates below. The sultanate regime therefore is aptly called by scholars as a Indo-Muslim state rather than a pure Turko-Afghan state.

State penetration to rural society All indigenous communities living separate from each other were not integrated or nearly integrated into the Sultanate state system. Exposed to Sultani state penetration, many of them left their mainland sites and withdrew to the unoccupied hilly region to safeguard their own identities. However, integration of the mutually inaccessible little communities into a village society and building a shared language and culture and producing common myths and literature reflecting that culture is a grand achievement of the Sultanate state. The Mangala-kavya literature is the earliest manifestation of that feat. This literature grew out of the songs in praise of Manasa, Chandi, and other female deities. Female deities are not Aryan but local. Viewed from the formation of the early villages from the former kaums, the female cults theory seems to be true. Anthropologists believe that settled agricultural societies in ancient times were matriarchal at bare, and the migratory and ever moving communities were patriarchal. The growth of Mangala-kavya literature came from the villages formed by the janapada agricultural tribes. To the cultural and social conglomeration of those tribes, the sultans made epoch making contributions in the form of patronising Mangala-kavya literature, which, later emerged as the Bengali national literature, and further later became a national identity for the Bengali state.

Language and the state The Indo-Muslim civilization's greatest contribution to the Bengal state formation lies in its achievement of making the region free from North Indian control both politically and culturally and making it a self-contained territorial state for the first time in history. Bengal was made an independent state taking its frontiers to its natural limits and governed by largely indigenous institutions evolved through successive regimes. Equally great contribution of the sultanate regime was possibly to take the new state away from the millennial Sanskritic tradition and to emancipate the budding Bangla language from the heavy-weight burden of Sanskrit upon it. It is not that the Muslim regimes made a conscious and patriotic plan for the Bangla language to shape it in the manner as it obtained. Guided by political considerations, they just removed the hindrance that the vernacular was suffering from the mighty restrictions of the Sanskrit language to its natural growth as the people's vernacular. It became the political interest of the independent sultanate to break the Brahmanic supremacy by creating a locally sprung alternative language. By patronising the non-Brahmanical culture, especially the vernaculars, the sultanate state tried to reach the indigenous peoples and win their support in their constant hostilities against the neighbouring Brahmanical regimes. Being freed from Brahmanical and Sanskritic predominance and patronised by the sultanate state, the local intellectuals got an unprecedented opportunity to express their own ideas and thoughts in their own language. Bangla began to play the role that Sanskrit had been playing under the Gupta and Sena states.

Like the Brahmanic regimes and their writers, who introduced Sanskrit in this country, many Muslim writers emerged during this period and imported not only Persian and Arabic terms for Bangla but also successfully experimented Arabic and Persian literary genres in the cultivation of Bangla. The sultans changed the official language from Sanskrit to Persian, an act which only means that the sultan's patronisation of Bangla was really more a political stance, as it were, than any real love for Bangla as such. The conquerors never fail to introduce their own language as a basic need of their political and cultural hegemony. The Muslim conquerors were no exception to this general rule. However, the introduction of Persian became a new addition to the linguistic landscape of the country. In no way the new language did stand in the way to Bangla's normal growth. Rather, in a way, it greatly contributed to the development of Bangla vocabulary. Influenced by the official language, the Hindu and Muslim writers tended to use Arabic and Persian vocabularies and technique in their Bangla writings.

It is noteworthy that in the Sultanate state formation and cultural assimilation processes, little social, religious and political conflict is marked between the ruling gentries and indigenous people. Bengal society and polity recognised the new elements and took them into their fold seemingly without any feeling of subordination. For this positive response from the natives, the prudent policy of the sultans must be credited with, because, they, instead of alienating them through coercion and persecution, absorbed the traditional nobility into the new system. The Brahman nobility of the old regime was also expediently absorbed into the new polity.

Rise of the Nawabi state The Turko-Afghan sultans ruled Bengal for over three hundred years and the Mughals for much less than half the time, if we reckon it from the fall of the Bara Bhuiyans and take it down to 1765. But it seems that the Mughal regime had influenced Bengal state formation processes more comprehensively than the Sultanate. The influence of Mughal rule appears to have penetrated into all aspects of the polity, society and culture-administration, education, communication, language and literature, art and architecture, dance and music, dress and food habits and all else. All these had contributed to the Bengal suba or Bengal state with an identity, and a strong basis for a nation based statehood.

It is to be noted that under the Mughals, Bengal region came in contact with Europe with its far reaching consequences on the state formation processes. When Islam Khan became the first effective subadar of 'Subah Bangala' from 1610, the region was getting linked to maritime Europe through the mercantilist 'East India' companies of Portugal, France, Holland and England. The European Jesuit missionaries were already in Bengal to announce the 'superiority' of the Bible, in other words, of the West over the eastern civilization. The maritime contact with the west led to many accompanying changes, which included steep increase in the production of export goods both agricultural and manufactural, steady inflow of bullion against exports, magnetization of the economy, European settlements in maritime ports of Bengal, the rise of a banian class or local agents collaborating with the European companies, the rise of mercantile towns and cities and so on. All these made new elements in the state formation processes.

It will not be too much to assert that the Mughal empire in its classical form became untenable in view of the economic and other accompanying changes brought about by the presence of the maritime nations of Western Europe. As for Bengal, its exports brought for the Subadar so much money and influence that he could easily challenge the central government and become independent. Nawab murshid quli khan, grew so prosperous and influential that he dared to become an independent ruler though he sent tribute to Delhi regularly as a mark of make-believe loyalty. Historians generally attribute the rise of the nation state in Europe to the growth of capitalism. Similarly, Murshid Quli Khan's rise to power also owes its origin to wealth that was flowing from ever increasing foreign trade and commerce. It is true that Murshid Quli Khan and his dynastic successors became virtually independent rulers not by military strength but by the application of state capitalism.

Under the impact of expanding foreign trade and consequent accumulation of capital, the nawab's court was gradually transforming its character by incorporating into it merchant capitalists, a feature which was unthinkable in the earlier period, when merchants occupied an inferior position in the social and political hierarchies.

Several mercantile leaders, including the house of Jagat Seth, became regular members of the nawab's court by virtue of their wealth and their relation with the foreigners. The inclusion of merchants in the nobility is undoubtedly a sign of recognition of the capitalist changes taking place in the country. Power was silently shifting from military valour to possession of wealth and enterprise. Thus the darbars of Murshid Quli Khan, Shujauddin Khan, Alivardi Khan, and Sirajuddaula swelled with new faces like the bankers and businessmen. Business and banking families acquired unprecedented influence in the nawab's court. Jagat Seth of Murshidabad, Umichand of Calcutta, Khwaja Wazed of Hughli were at the top in their influence in the nawab's court. Foreigners called them merchant princes and courted them in order to get access to the nawab. In the political culture the most significant change was perhaps the institution by Shujauddin Khan of an advisory council to transact the affairs of the state in various daftars, each headed by an advisor in the style of contemporary European national monarchies. It is of great political and social significance that many of these ministers were Hindus and were wealthy and connected with the European companies. This trend, if lasted for a longer period, could have perhaps led to a Bengal state characterised by Hindu-Muslim solidarity. But the British colonial situation intervened, and the state formation processes took a new turn.

The colonial state (1765-1858) By virtue of its military dominance, the East India Company heavily influenced the trade and commerce of the country from 1757 to1765 and ruled the country indirectly from 1765 to 1771. Through the Regulating Act of 1772 and Pitt's India Act of 1784 the state of Bengal presidency was formed which continued down to 1858, when the British colonial state was formally established. Bengal was reduced to a province of the British colonial state.

It must be noted that the transition from the company state to British colonial state was only a ceremonial affair in the sense that it did not lead to any change in the structure of the state institutionally. All the state institutions built during the company period, such as land tenure system, judicial and criminal administration, civil service, and procedures of making laws and regulations, remained unchanged under the colonial period.

The colonial phase of the British rule was particularly marked by the gradual growth of representative government first by the introduction of local and municipal government in the 1860s through 1890s, and then by the gradual development of representative government under the India Acts of 1892, 1909, 1919 and 1935. Under the operation of the systems enacted under these Acts, the transfer of power processes from the British to the Bangalis advanced and eventually the full transfer of power was declared by the India Act of 1947, under which India was partitioned and Pakistan emerged as an independent state on 14 August 1947, and Indian Union on 15 August 1947. East Bengal constituted the eastern part of Pakistan.

Pakistan: state formation Pakistan's colonial past has weighed heavily against its state formation process since its inception. Colonialism, as has been noted already, had drastically transformed the political relations and governing systems, and more importantly social and economic institutions of British India. But the transformation was mostly negative in its effect on the progression of the state formation.

In the assessment of the Indian nationalists the most stinking 'waste of mud and filth' that the British Empire left behind was the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan on the basis of Muslim nationalism. But soon the euphoria of Muslim nationalism faded and Bangali nationalist ideas and politics began to develop, the most immediate issue of the parting of ways being the issues of the state language and parity between East and West Pakistan. The colonial legacies of civil and military bureaucracies appeared to be anachronistic to the building up of a post-colonial national state, which was dreamt by the Muslim nationalist activists to be an abode of freedom for all. But the Muslim League, itself a product and a tool of the colonial control system, found itself unfit and unprepared for ridding the country of colonial legacy and for constructing positive forms of a post-colonial state. Pakistan's statehood failed to make a durable constitution for itself; it failed to hold nationwide general elections under any constitution before it was dismembered in 1971.

The new border, refugees, state formation Bengal polity and society had never seen an international borderline before the Partition of 1947. From the earliest historical times to the end of the colonial state Bengal people have witnessed in the region janapadas, principalities, kingdoms, empires, but never a demarcated border line that they could not cross freely. The inviolable sharp borderlines, Indian and Pakistan, is the last gift of the colonial state.

The driving forces of the formulation, propagation and achievement of Pakistan were based on an invented ideology, the Muslim nationalism. The ideology implied that most Muslims of India, if not all, would join Pakistan when it came into being. It also implied that most Hindus, if not all, would move out of Pakistan and join India, the land of the 'Hindus'. What was not present in the thought of the Muslim nationalists was how the mass migration would be coped with, and what would be its short and long term impact on the state formation and culture of the new state. The inner dynamic of the ideology is not far to seek. It was imagined that the presence of additional Muslims in a Muslim country could not have been but a welcome thing, because it was likely to strengthen the Muslim state, rather than be burdensome to it. As regards culture, welcome assimilation was imagined on the ground that Muslims were bound by a common culture, the Islamic brotherhood based on Islamic culture.

But the hard realities shattered many of the fancy imaginations of the Islamic ideologues. So far as East Bengal was concerned, millions of educated and wealthy Hindus, most of whom were landholders, merchants, creditors and professionals left the country with whatever liquid assets they had with them. On the other hand, millions of illiterate and labouring people from West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh migrated to East Bengal. The biggest chunk of them were agriculturists and others, particularly from Bihar, were shopkeepers, door keepers, peddlers, artisans, beggars and mendicants. The problems of language, profession and culture compelled the refugees to take shelter in cities. The refugees swelled the population of cities and towns beyond their sustaining power. The agricultural refugees from West Bengal, therefore, became an additional burden. Many were rehabilitated by their relatives and friends of the borderland villages, and the rest were compelled to try their luck mostly in the villages beyond. They made the rural labour market depressed and brought for rural culture an unwelcome variety. Political and humanitarian reasons persuaded the government to settle the agricultural immigrants in lands left behind by the Hindus, a policy which made their Bangali neighbours jealous. On the other side, attempts were made to rehabilitate the Bihari-UP refugees with whatever jobs and services could be made available to them in cities. Deprived of jobs and services the unemployed Bengalis developed inevitable abhorrence towards the non-Bangali refugees. Mounting tensions led to a series of riots between the Bangalis and immigrant non-Bangalis. The state language issue further deteriorated the relation between the two wings. All these developments ran counter to the dream of building a nation state based on Muslim nationalism.

The Pakistan that came out of the Partition could at best make a 'moth-eaten' political geography, which could never forge into a nation state. The East and West wings of Pakistan could not meet on a common ground of history, geography, language and culture, which are the major ingredients for making a nation state. The Partition reduced the Hindus to a disgruntled community with their memories of a glorious status in the past. The indigenous hill societies made another category of citizens who like the refugees and Hindus remained indifferent about state-building. The mainstream population was also a divided house in the sense that while majority of them were supporters of autonomous status for East Pakistan, the others were inclined to uphold strongly the concept of Pakistan and maintain a strong centre at the expense of East Bengal interests. It was the 'autonomy' group who eventually discarded Muslim nationalism and developed instead the idea of independence on the basis of Bangali nationalism. First they advanced with the six-point programme for regional autonomy, which eventually matured into full-blown Bangali nationalism. Bangali nationalism led to the birth of Bangladesh through a war of liberation. [Sirajul Islam]