The first Partition of Bengal was a reorganization of territories of the Bengal Presidency. It was implemented in 1905 by the British Raj. The partition of Bengal was announced on 19 July 1905 by the then Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. On 16 October 1905, it separated the largely Muslim eastern areas from the largely Hindu western areas.
However, it was temporary and was repealed six years later.
Controversies related to Partition of Bengal
The Hindus of West Bengal complained the division would make them a minority in a province that would incorporate the province of Bihar and Orrisa.
Hindus were offended at what they saw as a “divide and rule” policy (gaining and maintaining power by dividing up larger groups of power into pieces), even though Curzon emphasized it would produce administrative efficiency.
The ultimate motive remains questionable, as in two letters dated 7 February and 6 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 national organization along communal lines.
To satisfy the Bengali sentiment, Bengal was reorganized in 1911 by Lord Hardinge, in response to the disorders of the Swadeshi movement in protest against the policy and they began an angry agitation, emphasizing belief among Hindus that East Bengal would have its courts and policies.
The Bengal Presidency included Bengal, Bihar, parts of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, and Assam. With a population of 78.5 million, it was British India’s largest province.
For decades, the British official had pointed out that the sheer size created difficulties in effective management and neglected the poor 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 center at Dhaka.
Once the Partition was created Curzon pointed out that he thought of the new province as Muslim. Lord Curzon intended to divide Bengalis, not Hindus from Muslims. The Western districts made 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.
Partition of Bengal
The middle class of Bengal saw this as the separation of their dear motherland as well as a tactic to reduce their authority.
In the six months before the partition was to be effected the Congress organized meetings where petitions against the partition were raised and given to indifferent authorities.
Surendranath Banerjee had recommended 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 told that the petitions were useless and as the date for the partition drew closer began supporting 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 grew under its cause.
Banerjee thought that other targets ought to be added. Government schools were refused 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 intense 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 designated as Secretary of State for India.
Believing that he would understand with the Indian middle class they trusted him and anticipated the repeal of the partition through his intervention.
Bengali Hindus were defeated with their minority status in the new province. They began angry agitation freedom, featuring terrorism as younger members adopted the use of bombings, shootings, and killings in a blend of religious and political feelings.
Vande Mataram (meaning ‘I bow to thee Mother’), honoring the goddess who represented Bengal & Kali was a rallying cry. Bengal was interpreted as the goddess which had been victimized by the British.
Although there were prominent Muslim speakers the Muslims were indifferent to the movement. The British would have been spared from many difficulties had they not split Bengal.
With each case of destruction, aggressive 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 notable divide and rule strategy. The protest spread to Bombay, Poona, and Punjab.
Lord Curzon had thought that the Congress was no longer an effective force but gave 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 radicalization of Indian nationalism because of the partition would drastically lower the chances for the reforms.
However, Gokhale famously 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 asked by the Congress meeting in Calcutta, which was in the middle of the radicalized Bengal. The moderates countered this problem by bringing Dadabhai Naoroji to the meeting.
He defended the moderates in the Calcutta session and thus the unity of the Congress was maintained. The 1907 Congress was to be held at Nagpur. The moderates were annoyed that the extremists would dominate the Nagpur session. The venue was shifted to the extremist free Surat. The resentful extremists gathered at the Surat meeting. There was an uproar and both factions held separate meetings. The extremists had Aurobindo and Tilak as leaders.
They were separated 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 are not able to end the protest. They assented to reversing the partition and did so in 1911. King George declared in December 1911 that eastern Bengal would be absorbed into the Bengal Presidency. Districts, where Bengali was spoken, were once again united, and Assam, Bihar, and Orissa were separated.
The capital was shifted to New Delhi, clearly designed to provide the British Empire with a stronger base. Muslims of Bengal were shocked because they had seen the Muslim majority of East Bengal as an sign of the government’s interest in protecting Muslim interests.
They saw this as the government compromising Muslim interests for Hindu appeasement and administrative ease.
The partition had not originally been supported by Muslim leaders. After the Muslim majority province of Eastern Bengal and Assam had been built 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.
Outcome of Partition of Bengal
The uproar that had received Curzon’s controversial 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 set for Muslims and Hindus. Before this, many members of both communities had advocated national solidarity of all Bengalis.
With separate electorates, unique political communities developed, with their political agendas. Muslims, too, controlled the Legislature, due to their overall numerical strength of roughly twenty-two to twenty-eight million.
Muslims began to demand the creation of independent states for Muslims, where their interests will be protected.
In 1947, Bengal was partitioned for the second time, only on religious grounds, as part of the Partition of India following the establishment of the nations India and Pakistan. In 1955, East Bengal became East Pakistan, and in 1971 became the independent state of Bangladesh.
>>> Read about Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, composer of Vande Mataram