The Partition of Bengal and Assam: Contour of Freedom

By Bidyut Chakrabarty | Go to book overview

4

AN ALTERNATIVE TO PARTITION

The united Bengal scheme

The 1947 British withdrawal from the Indian subcontinent led to the creation of two sovereign states: India and Pakistan. Drawing on the Hindu- Muslim chasm, the controversial 'two-nation theory' justified the great divide. Although Jinnah attained what he had long sought, the very basis of the partition was fragile, otherwise the erstwhile East Pakistan would not have seceded to form an independent state within less than three decades. Now, a number of studies have shown the extent to which religion was emphasised for political ends. Whatever the explanation, 1947 saw the vivisection of the subcontinent of India into two separate states. This chapter examines the short-lived proposal to create three and not two sovereign polities - India, Pakistan and United Bengal.

Between April and June 1947, top Bengali politicians such as Sarat Bose, K. S. Roy and H. S. Suhrawardy argued for a united Bengal comprising both east and west Bengal. Although they failed to generate adequate support in favour of the campaign, in their correspondence with the British authorities which has been published in The Transfer of Power volumes edited by Manseurgh and Moon, both the provincial Congress and Muslim League leaders made a strong case for an independent Bengal. Their efforts did not yield results, though the unity shown by them during the period was remarkable. Neither the British nor the Congress High Command thought the proposal viable in view of the deepening fissure between the Hindus and the Muslims at the grassroots level. What probably conditioned their decision was the experience of the devastating riots in and around Calcutta following the League's 'Direct Action' call on 16 August 1946.


The scheme for a third dominion

The idea of a united Bengal owed its origin to H. S. Suhrawardy, the then Premier of Bengal, who at a press conference in Delhi on 27 April 1947 argued strongly for 'an independent, undivided and sovereign Bengal in a divided India as a separate dominion'. 1 Although the Bengal Premier spelt

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The Partition of Bengal and Assam: Contour of Freedom
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Tables viii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Abbreviations x
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Hindu-Muslimdifferences 36
  • 2 - Divide and Rule 55
  • 3 - Politics of Accommodation and Confrontation 85
  • 4 - An Alternative to Partition 132
  • 5 - Redefining Borders 154
  • 6 - Construction and Consolidation of Identities 176
  • 7 - History of Partition or Partition of History? 209
  • Conclusion 239
  • Glossary 251
  • Bibliographical Essay 253
  • Bibliography 262
  • Index 273
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