The Partition of Bengal and Assam: Contour of Freedom

By Bidyut Chakrabarty | Go to book overview

3

POLITICS OF ACCOMMODATION AND CONFRONTATION

The second partition of Bengal

Even after more than half a century, the 1947 second partition of Bengal continues to baffle the historians. There are multiple reasons. One of them is certainly the complexity of the processes that finally led to the emergence of a new nation following the Radcliffe Award. Apart from the British, who indulged in divide-et-impera for obvious reasons, 1 the Hindus and Muslims had also played significant roles in formally articulating the schism between them. Thus the story that gradually unfolded is multidimensional. The other factor defying a more or less agreed explanation is the radical transformation of the socio-economic milieu of Bengal that underwent a dramatic metamorphosis in the context of British rule. The environment in which the Hindu-Muslim chasm was articulated is also crucial. It is therefore historically inaccurate to suggest that the Bengal partition was simply the outcome of the movement launched by the Shyama Prasad Mookherjee-led Hindu Mahasabha in December 1946, when the Bengal Partition League was formed. It may be argued that the movement gained momentum probably because of a conducive environment in which the so-called communal slogans had an easy acceptance among those who fought Lord Curzon when he sought to divide Bengal in 1905. The reasons for the success of the movement for the second partition in 1947 thus lie in the changing socio-economic and cultural circumstances sustaining and strengthening the segregated Hindu and Muslim identities. The most significant development that decisively shaped Bengal politics in the decades before the second partition was undoubtedly the emergence of Muslims as a distinct socio-cultural group, and their importance in the political arena with the introduction of the 1932 Communal Award.

What is also striking is the changing perception of Hindus, who no longer remained as significant in the provincial politics as before. Although the role of the Muslim League was peripheral in popularising the demand for Pakistan, the Congress had, at least by the late 1930s, nonetheless become a party supporting the Hindu landlord as opposed to the Muslim peasants. In the absence of a class-based ideology, Islam appeared to have provided the Muslim peasants with a unifying principle

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