The Partition of Bengal and Assam: Contour of Freedom

By Bidyut Chakrabarty | Go to book overview
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INTRODUCTION

The 1947 Great Divide is the most significant signpost in the evolution of South Asia as a socio-political unit. 1 After having drawn the boundaries of two independent states, India and Pakistan, the British had finally withdrawn. If there was cause to rejoice at the end of colonialism, the celebrations were undoubtedly marred by a tragic partition along religious lines which took an unacceptable toll in human life and suffering. The process of decolonisation was, on the one hand, a clear failure of the nationalist leadership who strove hard to sustain India's political unity since Pakistan was born on the basis of two-nation theory. On the other hand, for those supporting the demand for a separate Muslim state, colonialism came to an end with a clear positive note. Partition is therefore centrally constitutive of nationhood. Not only was India redefined; Pakistan was also articulated in socio-political terms in the wake of the struggle, and spearheaded by the Muslim League, linking Muslims irrespective of socio-economic status to form a sovereign Muslim state. Partition is a moment of contest as well. Both the Hindus and Muslims redefined their identities through a process of contestation of vision, contestation of beliefs and contestation of history. The period between 1932 and 1947 sharply shows the mutation in the formation of Hindus and Muslims as communities opposed to each other in the political arena. What was distinctive about this period was the growth of the communities as political units in a permanent adversarial relationship. This was further consolidated following the introduction of the communal electorate in the 1937 provincial elections. With the acceptance of the principle of majority, Muslims automatically became the most powerful community in Bengal and Punjab by their sheer demographic strength. In other words, religious identity as a demographic category became probably the single most crucial criterion in determining the distribution of governmental power in these Muslim-majority provinces. Yet it would be entirely wrong to gloss over the internal differences among the Muslims that rallied around the campaign for Pakistan as a bloc. So, the questions that need to be asked are how and why did the idea of Pakistan cause such excitement? How could so many disparate groups attain the

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