Part of a series on the
|History of Bengal|
Part of a series on the
|History of Bangladesh|
The first Partition of Bengal (Bengali: বঙ্গভঙ্গ) was a territorial reorganization of the Bengal Presidency implemented by the authorities of the British Raj in 1905. The partition separated the largely Muslim eastern areas from the largely Hindu western areas on 16 October 1905 after being announced on 20 July 1905 by Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India.
Indians across the country were outraged at what they saw as a "divide and rule" policy (gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into pieces), even though Curzon stressed it would produce administrative efficiency.The ultimate motive remains questionable,as in two letters dated 7th February and 6th December,1904, Herbert Risley,Lord Curzon's Home Secretary, wrote,"Bengal united is a force,Bengal divided will go in different ways.That the Partition Plan is opposed by the Congress is its merit for us.Our principal motive is to weaken a united party against the government." The partition encouraged the Muslims to form their own national organization along exclusionist communal lines. In order to appease Bengali sentiment, Bengal was reunited by Lord Hardinge in 1911, in response to the Swadeshi movement's riots in protest against the policy.
The Bengal Presidency encompassed Bengal, Bihar, parts of Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Assam. With a population of 78.5 million it was British India's largest province. For decades British officialdom had maintained that the huge size created difficulties in effective management and had caused neglect of the poorer eastern region. The idea of the partition had been brought up only for administrative reasons. Therefore, Curzon planned to split Orissa and Bihar and join fifteen eastern districts of Bengal with Assam. The eastern province held a population of 31 million, most of which was Muslim, with its centre at Dhaka. Once the Partition was completed Curzon pointed out that he thought of the new province as Muslim. Lord Curzon's intention was to divide Bengalis, not Hindus from Muslims. The Western districts formed the other province with Orissa and Bihar. The union of western Bengal with Orissa and Bihar reduced the speakers of the Bengali language to a minority. Muslims led by the Nawab Sallimullah of Dhaka supported the partition and Hindus opposed it.
The middle class of Bengal saw this as the rupture of their dear motherland as well as a tactic to diminish their authority. In the six-month period before the partition was to be effected the Congress arranged meetings where petitions against the partition were collected and given to impassive authorities. Surendranath Banerjee had suggested that the non-bengali states of Orissa and Bihar be separated from Bengal rather than dividing two parts of the Bengali speaking community,but Lord Curzon did not agree to this.Banerjee admitted that the petitions were ineffective and as the date for the partition drew closer began advocating tougher approaches such as boycotting British goods. He preferred to label this move as "swadeshi" instead of boycott. The boycott was led by the moderates but minor rebel groups also sprouted under its cause.
Banerjee believed that other targets ought to be included. Government schools were spurned and on 16 October 1905, the day of partition, schools and shops were blockaded. The demonstrators were cleared off by units of the police and army. This was followed by violent confrontations, due to which the older leadership in the Congress became anxious and convinced the younger Congress members to stop boycotting the schools. The president of the Congress, G.K. Gokhale, Banerji and others stopped supporting the boycott when they found that John Morley had been appointed as Secretary of State for India. Believing that he would sympathise with the Indian middle class they trusted him and anticipated the reversal of the partition through his intervention.
The partition triggered radical nationalism. Advocates of Indian freedom began an angry agitation, featuring acts of violence, as younger members adopted the use of bombings, shootings and assassinations of British colonialists in a blend of nationalist and political feelings. Vande Mataram (meaning 'I bow to thee Mother'), praising the goddess who personified India and Bengal was a rallying cry. Bengal was interpreted as the goddess which had been victimised by the British. Although there were prominent Muslim speakers the Muslims were largely indifferent to the movement. The British would have been spared from many complications had they not split Bengal. With each case of suppression, assertive nationalism increased in Bengal. Indian nationalism would have been more liberal in the absence of this partition.
Nationalists all over India supported the Bengali cause and were shocked at the British disregard for opinion and ostensible divide and rule strategy. The protest spread to Bombay, Poona and Punjab. Lord Curzon had believed that the Congress was no longer an effective force but provided it with a cause to rally the public around and gain fresh strength from. The partition also caused embarrassment to the Indian National Congress. Gokhale had earlier met prominent British Liberals, hoping to obtain constitutional reforms for India. The radicalisation of Indian nationalism because of the partition would drastically lower the chances for the reforms. However, Gokhale successfully steered the more moderate approach in a Congress meeting and gained support for continuing talks with the government. In 1906 Gokhale again went to London to hold talks with Morley about the potential constitutional reforms. While the anticipation of the liberal nationalists increased in 1906 so did tensions in India. The moderates were challenged by the Congress meeting in Kolkata, which was in the middle of the radicalised Bengal. The moderates countered this problem by bringing Dadabhai Naoroji to the meeting. He defended the moderates in the Kolkata session and thus the unity of the Congress was maintained. The 1907 Congress was to be held at Nagpur. The moderates were worried that the extremists would dominate the Nagpur session. The venue was shifted to the extremist free Surat. The resentful extremists flocked to the Surat meeting. There was an uproar and both factions held separate meetings. The extremists had Aurobindo and Tilak as leaders. They were isolated while the Congress was under the control of the moderates. The 1908 Congress Constitution formed the All-India Congress Committee, made up of elected members. Thronging the meetings would no longer work for the extremists.
The authorities not able to end the protest, assented to reversing the partition and did so in 1911. King George announced in December 1911 that eastern Bengal would be assimilated into the Bengal Presidency. Districts where Bengali was spoken were once again unified, and Assam, Bihar and Orissa were separated. The capital was shifted to New Delhi, clearly intended to provide the British Empire with a stronger base. Muslims of Bengal were shocked because they had seen the Muslim majority eastern Bengal as an indicator of the government's enthusiasm for protecting Muslim interests. They saw this as the government compromising Muslim interests for Hindu protests and administrative ease.
The partition had not initially been supported by Muslim leaders. After the Muslim majority province of Eastern Bengal and Assam had been created prominent Muslims started seeing it as advantageous. Muslims, especially in Eastern Bengal, had been backward in the period of United Bengal. The Hindu protest against the partition was seen as interference in a Muslim province. With the move of the capital to a Mughal site, the British tried to satisfy Bengali Muslims who were disappointed with losing hold of eastern Bengal.
The uproar that had greeted Curzon's contentious move of splitting Bengal, as well as the emergence of the 'Extremist' faction in the Congress, became the final motive for separatist Muslim politics. In 1909, separate elections were established for Muslims and Hindus. Before this, many members of both communities had advocated national solidarity of all Bengalis. With separate electorates, distinctive political communities developed, with their own political agendas. Muslims, too, dominated the Legislature, due to their overall numerical strength of roughly twenty two to twenty eight million. Nationally, Hindus and Muslims began to demand the creation of two independent states, one to be formed in majority Hindu and one in majority Muslim areas.
In 1947, Bengal was partitioned for the second time, solely on religious grounds, as part of the Partition of India following the formation of the nations India and Pakistan. In 1955, East Bengal became East Pakistan, and in 1971 became the independent state of Bangladesh.