Partition of Bengal and the British response: Reversion and Muslim Reaction
Partition of Bengal, which happened in 1905, was the partitioning of Bengal that was carried out by the British viceroy in India, Lord Curzon, in spite of significant opposition from Indian nationalists. It was the beginning of the Indian National Congress’ transition from a middle-class pressure organisation into a nationwide mass movement that was started by this event.
In 1765, the regions of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa were combined into a single province of British India. By the year 1900, the province had become unmanageable for a single administration to oversee due to its increased size. East Bengal had been neglected in favour of West Bengal and Bihar for a long time due to its geographical isolation and poor communication. The plan that Curzon ultimately decided to implement for the partition of India was to combine Assam, which had been a part of the province up until 1874, with 15 districts of East Bengal to create a new province that would have a total population of 31 million people. The majority of the population adhered to Islam, and the city of Dacca (now known as Dhaka, Bangladesh) served as the nation’s capital.
The Hindus of West Bengal, who controlled the majority of Bengal’s commerce as well as professional and rural life, complained that the Bengali nation would be split in two, which would make them a minority in a province that would include all of Bihar and Orissa. West Bengal is home to a large population of Hindus. They believed that the split was an attempt to stifle Bengal’s established nationalism, which at the time was more advanced than in other parts of India. Activists opposed to the division held mass demonstrations, sparked unrest in rural areas, and organised a swadeshi (indigenous) movement to boycott the import of British products. In spite of the agitation, the partition was carried out, and the most radical opposition went underground to form a terrorist movement.
East and West Bengal were rejoined in 1911, the same year that the capital was moved from Calcutta (today known as Kolkata) to Delhi. In the same year, Assam once again became a chief commissionership, while Bihar and Orissa were divided to form a new province. The objective was to find a middle ground between the demands of Bengali nationalists and the needs of the administrative apparatus. This goal was accomplished for a while, but the Bengali Muslims, who stood to gain from the division, felt resentful and let down as a result. This feeling of hostility persisted throughout the remaining years of British rule.
Why did the British government revert back to the decision of the partition of Bengal?
The British government reverted back the decision of the partition of Bengal due to the following points:
- The Hindus began to organise demonstrations against this decision in order to exert pressure on the administration.
- The anti-partition movement also received support from Congress.
- The demonstrations quickly descended into violence, which sparked widespread social disturbance.
- In addition, there was a boycott of products made in Britain, which had a negative impact on the economy.
- Because King George V was going to be there, the British government made it a priority to keep the peace during his stay.
How this decision helped the All India Muslim League to change its goals
The decision helped the All India Muslim League in changing its goals in the following ways:
- The League sought to work toward self-governance under British rule rather than just simply asking for separate electorates.
- The League also sought to work with other communities that shared their goals of seeking independent rule from the British and other similar goals it had. Before then, the League was mostly representing Indian Muslims but now, working with Congress, it was representing all parities it shared its goal with.
- It also changed its goal of promoting loyalty to the British rule as it was originally set out to due to it losing faith in the British government, the League preferred less promotion of loyalty toward government and more self-governance under the British Crown.
- The decision also promoted a sense of cooperation between Congress and the League as can be seen by Muhammad Ali Jinnah playing a role in connecting the two parties. Now the goal was to work together with other parties.
- The All India Muslim League was forced to adjust its strategy as a direct result of the decision on the partition of Bengal, which led to the establishment of the Lucknow Pact. Especially after the Nehru Report, which was a reaction to the Lucknow Pact and was where Jinnah presented his 14 points. Jinnah eventually became a voice for the League of Indian Muslims and pushed for the goal of seeking partition and the formation of Pakistan itself rather than the initial goals of the League, which included separate electorates.
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