Bengal Pact, 1923

Bengal Pact, 1923 an agreement aimed at resolving the question of Hindu-Muslim differences. chitta ranjan das, a man of vision who sincerely believed in the principle of sharing political power with the majority Muslim community of the province, came forward to take up the task of strengthening relations between Hindus and Muslims.

After the calling-off of the non-cooperation movement and the boycott of Legislatures, a group of leaders of the Indian Congress led by CR Das and Pandit Motilal Nehru started thinking in favour of entering the Legislative Council. Their object was to follow a policy of uniform and continuous obstruction from within the Council with a view to putting an end to the system of Dyarchy as introduced under the Government of India Act of 1919. However, the annual session of the indian national congress, held at Gaya in December 1922, rejected the proposal of Council entry. The Gaya session of the Congress was followed by the resignation of CR Das as the President of the organisation. He then formed within the Congress a party called the Swarajya Party. In the election to the Bengal Legislative Council held in 1923, the Swarajya Party achieved remarkable success. It became the largest single party capturing 46 seats out of 139 in the Provincial Legislature. CR Das became its leader. Though not in a majority, the Swarajists were in a position to prevent the formation of any ministry in Bengal. CR Das declined the offer made by lord lytton, the Governor of Bengal, to form a new ministry.

CR Das sought the active cooperation of the Muslim members of the Bengal Legislative Council to make his political programme successful. He held discussions with prominent Muslim leaders of Bengal and early in December 1923 came to an agreement with them. The terms of the Pact, commonly known as the Bengal Pact, were passed in the meeting of the Swarajist Party Councillors held on 16 December 1923. It was made clear in the meeting that the Pact would be effective only after the real foundation of self-government in the province. The Pact was also passed in the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee meeting held on 18 December 1923. The terms of the Pact included the following:

a) Representation in the Bengal Legislative Council would be on population basis with separate electorates.

b) Representation in the local bodies would be on the proportion of 60 per cent to the majority community and 40 percent to the minority community.

c) Regarding Government appointments, it was decided that fifty five percent of the appointments should go to the Muslims. Till the above percentage was attained, 80 per cent of posts would go to the Muslims and the remaining 20 percent should go to the Hindus.

d) No resolution or enactment would be allowed to be moved without the consent of 75 percent of the elected members of the affected community.

e) Music in processions would not be allowed in front of the mosques.

f) No legislation in respect of cow killing for food would be taken up in the Council and endeavour should be made outside the Council to bring about an understanding between the two communities. Cow killing should be taken up in such a manner as not to wound the religious feelings of the Hindus and cow killing for religious purpose should not be interfered with.

Soon after its announcement, the Pact created a great outcry among Hindus and Muslims in Bengal. Its bold provisions offended middle class Bengali Hindus who opposed it stubbornly because they thought that the implementation of the Pact would diminish their power and influence in political as well as in administrative spheres. surendranath banerjea and BC Pal were among the Hindu leaders who stood up against the Pact. The Hindu press of Bengal played a vital role in fomenting Hindu public opinion against what they called an one-sided Pact. The members of his own community accused CR Das of opportunism and even Muslim bias. He, however, remained firm in the face of all opposition. Emphasising the necessity of the Pact, he remarked that Swaraj would not come without Hindu-Muslim unity. He was supported in his stance by a considerable number of Congressmen in Bengal. JM Sengupta, subhas chandra bose, Kiran Shankar Roy, Anil Baran Roy, birendranath sasmal and Pratap Chandra Guha were prominent among them. He got whole-hearted support for his scheme from the majority of the Muslims of Bengal. The latter welcomed the Pact wholeheartedly because in their opinion it was the sensible solution to their problems. The Muslim leaders of Bengal held that, if implemented, the Pact would strike at the root of communal strife. The Muslim press thanked those Hindu leaders for their greatness in meeting the just demands of the Muslims through formulating the Pact in consultation with them. But the Muslims were very disheartened when the Bengal Pact was rejected by the Coconada Session of the Indian National Congress, held in December 1923. The decision of the Congress was characterised by them as shortsighted and aggressively selfish.

Though the Indian Congress discarded the pact, CR Das tried his best to get the terms of the Pact ratified by the Bengal Provincial Congress Conference held at sirajganj in June 1924. Unfortunately his premature death in 1925 came as a blow to the cause of Hindu-Muslim unity. His death was followed by the repudiation of the Pact, even by some of his own followers. A large number of Bengali Muslim politicians became shocked at this act and began to move away from the Congress as well as the Swarajya Party.

The defection of the Muslims was marked by the formation of the Independent Muslim Party in 1926 by some prominent Muslim leaders of the province like moulvi abdul karim, Maulana Abdur Rauf, Khan Bahadur azizul huq, m abdullahil baqi, Maulvi Asrafuddin Ahmed, Dr A Suhrawardy, ak fazlul huq and others. huseyn shaheed suhrawardy became the Provisional Secretary of the Party. Indeed, from this time on, the Muslims of Bengal began to reconsider their stand in Bengal politics. The result of all these manoeuvrings was a revival of communal politics in the province around 1926. [Chitta Ranjan Misra]