The Partition of Bengal and Assam: Contour of Freedom

By Bidyut Chakrabarty | Go to book overview
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2

DIVIDE AND RULE

The Communal Award and its implications in Bengal

The debate over the separate and joint electorates as rival modes of election to the various representative institutions by the British began with the Simla deputation of 1906 and remained controversial till 1947. Not only was the issue controversial in the pre-Independent India, it also raises debates among contemporary historians and political scientists. For John Gallagher, the Communal Award was nothing but 'a sign of [the] determination [of the British Government] to warp the Indian question towards electoral politics'. 1 While looking into the operational aspect of the Award, Anil Seal also affirmed that 'by extending the electorate, the imperial croupier had summoned more players to his table'. 2 Looking at the Award from the British point of view, both of them thus arrived at the same conclusions: (1) the Award introduced the native politicians to the sophisticated world of parliamentary politics; and (2) as a result of the new arrangement, as stipulated in the 1935 Act, politics now percolated down to the localities. The available evidence, however, does reveal that the Award and the constitutional rights guaranteed to the Indians under the Act were the price the British paid for the continuity of the Indian Empire. What thus appears to be a calculated generous gesture was very much a political expedient. The surrender of power to Indian hands, though at the regional levels, was not welcomed by some senior officers, who saw an eclipse of British authority in this endeavour. 3

Bengal was a special case because (firstly) the representatives of the British power were divided on the question of the share of the two principal religious communities, Hindus and Muslims; and (secondly) the Award shook the foundations of Hindu domination.

This chapter thus deals with the complex question of how the Award was made and the reactions of the Bengali politicians, regardless of their religion, once the electoral arrangement of the Communal Award was a settled fact.

The Communal or Macdonald Award of 1932, according to the note circulated to the Commissioners and Collectors 'by the British Government at the request of the Indians themselves', 4 was an institutional arrangement

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