The nature of agrarian relations and their impact on political development in the pre-1947 Bengal had a decisive influence on the complexion and articulation of institutional politics. The Hindu-Muslim differences in both socio-political and cultural terms laid the foundation of communal political groups. Capitalising on the disproportionate economic development between the two communities, the Muslim political forces strengthened their claims for a separate state. Among the Hindus, the rise of the lower castes and their challenge to the domination of the upper castes also had a noticeable impact on provincial political arithmetic. The aim of this chapter is to elucidate this socio-economic background, since this was both the source and context of political articulation in Bengal. Ecological and demographic influences brought about variations in the political economy of the province. By concentrating on these influences, an attempt will be made to show how they caused differential development in the rapidly changing economy of pre-partition Bengal.
Bengal's socio-economic configurations provided a crucial structural condition in which the Hindu-Muslim relations were articulated. The fact that the peasantry in east Bengal was predominantly Muslim and landlords largely Hindu remained important in organising one community against another. In view of a well-defined borderline between the two communities, the clash of economic interests between the Muslim peasantry and their oppressors, the high caste landlords and moneylenders with whom the entire Hindu community came to be identified in the Muslim mind, seemed to be inevitable. In other words, '[a]lthough the conflicts were basically economic, the prevailing ideological atmosphere of grievance of the Muslim peasantry soon acquired a communal colour'. 1 The Muslim vested interests who had grievances against the Hindu landlords and moneylenders undertook a well-planned campaign to draw mileage out of this. The combination of religious appeal with economic interests created