Throwback to 1947
Twists and turns on the road to partitionAugust 17, 2012, 7:48 pm
by Susanta Kumar Sur
BY 1911, the British were forced to accept the annulment of Curzon’s partition of Bengal (1905). The colonial administration had tried unsuccessfully to stem the anti-partition agitation by launching the All-India Muslim League in December 1906 in Dacca and by introducing a separate electorate in 1909. To avenge their humiliation, they planned their next moves in a calculated manner to stifle nationalism in Bengal.
The government ensured the silence of anti-partition leaders, pre-eminently Surendra Nath Banerjee, before announcing the annulment by electing him to the Imperial Legislative Council on 25 January 1910. Jinnah was also elected and he spoke against the Bengal partition at the Calcutta session of the Congress in December 1906. Surendranath eventually became an executive member in-charge of local self-government and was subsequently knighted for his muted response when the British decided to shift the Capital from Calcutta to Delhi.
The colonial administration had quietly transferred four Bengali-speaking Hindu majority western districts of Bengal to the newly-created provinces of Bihar and Orissa during reunification. This had deprived Bengal the benefit of such industries as coal, iron ore, mica and other minerals besides the Tata steel plant. Earlier, two more Hindu majority Bengal districts in the East had been ceded to Assam. Reunited Bengal had become a marginal Muslim majority province. The districts where Hindus were in majority had never been allowed by the Congress central leaders, to be transferred back to West Bengal even after the 1947 Partition. The truncated province needed more space to rehabilitate millions of persecuted Bengali Hindu refugees arriving from East Bengal/East Pakistan. The central leaders of the Congress echoed the British rulers ~ "Bengal united is power".
In 1912, Curzon’s trusted emissary Gokhale had been deputed to South Africa at the behest of Viceroy Hardinge to meet General Jan Smuts and Ian Botha in an effort to bring back Mahatma Gandhi, the preacher of non-violence, to India. Simultaneously, the British jute mill owners around Calcutta were directed to buy raw jute ~ grown in Bengal ~ not from the existing Bengali aratdars (traders) but from newly-appointed non-Bengali Hindu Marwari agents who had subsequently become the dominant business community in Calcutta. (Debajyoti Burman, "Third Partition of Bengal", Modern Review May 1946, p 369).
Dark clouds gathered over Bengal with the sudden demise of Chittaranjan Das in June 1925. His Bengal Pact 1923 ~ a far-sighted decision on power-sharing with the Muslim population for an enduring political unity among the Bengali Hindu-Muslim ~ though rejected by Gandhi was followed in the province. After his death, according to Nehru, Gandhi had become the "Permanent Super President of the Congress’ and the Bengal Pact was given a burial in June 1926 by the former loyalists of Das ~ BC Roy and Nalini Ranjan Sarkar.
Gandhi was never well disposed towards Subhas Chandra Bose and his brother, Sarat. Nor for that matter were Nehru, Patel and Rajendra Prasad. The rejection of the Bengal Pact was followed by Gandhi’s rejection of the coalition proposal between the Bengal Congress and Fazlul Haq’s Krishak Praja Party (1937). It was a proposal that was strongly advocated by Sarat and Subhas to save Bengal from communal disaffection. According to the eminent historian RC Majumdar, Netaji believed that GD Birla played a part in bringing about a change in Gandhi’s views. Birla feared that the Marwari domination over the trade and economy of Calcutta would be lost if political unity of Hindus and Muslims eventually led to a coalition ministry in Bengal. The Mahatma apparently wanted to protect the interests of the Marwaris and was not well disposed towards Bengal. (History of Modern Bengal, vol. 2; p 280).
As the coalition proposal came a cropper, Fazlul Huq sought the support of the Muslim League. Communal rule followed in Bengal for the next 10 years and this prepared the ground for Partition. And at the core of this division were the wrong moves by the Congress. And these moves were manipulated by Churchill’s agents in India.
Meanwhile, Nehru who had destroyed the coalition with Jinnah in 1937, returned from his five-month tour of Europe in October 1938 after concluding a secret deal with leaders of British political parties, notably with Attlee and Cripps. According to Attlee, the basis of his policy on India was formulated during the meeting (Kenneth Harris, Attlee, p 152).
After his return, the ouster of Subhas Bose was engineered in close association with Viceroy Linlithgow. Netaji was considered to be an impediment towards Partition.
After the 1945-46 election, another follower of CR Das, Suharawardy, who was compelled to become a communalist, appealed to BC Roy and Kiran Shankar Roy for a coalition ministry in Bengal with the Congress. Once again, Gandhi did not allow this coalition to happen.
Both Gandhi and Jinnah objected in public to the partition of Punjab and Bengal on 8 and 17 May 1947. respectively. But they had secretly agreed on 6 May for partitioning these two provinces. Gandhi decided to protect the stability of his financial backers ~ the Marwaris ~ in Calcutta/West Bengal. Jinnah realised that Suhrawardy would never agree to join Pakistan if he became the Prime Minister of an independent Bengal (Michael Edwardes, The Last Years of British India, p 169).
Before the Gandhi-Jinnah meeting on 6 May, Nehru’s friend, Krishna Menon, briefed Mountbatten on 13 March 1947 in London. "I believe that Partition is the price that will have to be paid for any stability in West Bengal ... any solution which hands over Calcutta to Pakistan will be unstable and impractical. We all know the reason ... On the other hand, the League has to be given a port on the East, and the solution is that, as part of the compromise settlement India should build a large-sized city and port in Chittagong". (Transfer of Power, vol IX, p 948-49).
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