Partition of Bengal 1905 – Background
Partition of Bengal 1905 done by Lord Curzon was basically territorial reorganization of the Bengal Presidency which over the past decades had grown enormously large with increasing conquests of Indian territories by the British. The decision of Partition of Bengal by the British authorities was a taken for three specific reasons:
- Bengal being the largest province and with a population of 78 million had become administratively unwieldy.
- Calcutta was to be dethroned as the nerve center of politics of the nationalists.
- Indians were to be divided by the name of religion as activities of Congress had intensified over the years.
We shall further probe these three reasons that were instrumental in the decision of Partition of Bengal.
Explanations of Partition of Bengal Reasons
After the victory in the Battle of Plassey, Bengal came under the control of the British. Since then further expansions happened in the adjoining areas and they all were included in Bengal. The result was that Bengal expanded and remained so for decades creating administrative difficulties owing to its large size and population. The eastern areas were getting neglected.
According to many historians the real motive of partition was political rather than administrative. Indian nationalism was gaining momentum and strength and the partition was expected to weaken it. In the words of Lord Curzon the Viceroy, “to dethrone Calcutta from its center from which the Congress Party is manipulated throughout Bengal and indeed the whole of India”. Similar thoughts were also echoed by Risley, the Home Secretary to Government of India – “ Bengal united is power, Bengal divided, will pull in several different ways”.
Curzon attempted to create a wedge between Hindus and Muslims. He tried to woo the Muslims by arguing that Dacca would become the new capital of the Muslim majority province. This would also accord to the Muslims the old glory of the Sultanate era.
Partition of Bengal – Features
- In December 1903, the Government made the decision of Partition of Bengal public.
- The official reason given was Bengal with a population of 78 million (about quarter of the population of British India) had become administratively unwieldy. This was true to some extent.
- The real reason for it according to many was to weaken Bengal as the nerve center of Indian nationalism.
- The basis for dividing Bengal was linguistic and religious.
- On a linguistic basis, the proposal sought to reduce Bengali speaking population to a minority in Bengal itself ( the western part of Bengal was to have 17 million Bengalis and 37 million Hindi and Oriya speaking population)
- Surendra Nath Bannerjee had suggested to the Viceroy that the Hindi and Bengali speaking areas should be separated from Bengal instead of dividing Bengal the way it was planned. Lord Curzon refused to agree.
- On a religious basis, the proposal sought to create a western Hindu majority area with 42 million Hindus out of the total 54 million and an eastern Muslim majority area with 18 million Muslims out of a total of 31 million.
- In July 1905, the government formally announced the Partition of Bengal.
- On 1st September 1905, the government announced that the Partition of Bengal was to be affected from 16 October 1905.
- Lord Curzon tried to woo the Muslims by arguing that Decca would be a new Muslim capital enjoying the Sultanate era glory.
- Thus the real reason was to prop Muslims against the Hindus. The British had already started branding Congress as a Hindu organization.
Partition of Bengal – Impact
- The sheer obduracy of the government of its decision of Partition of Bengal, resulted in the outbreak of the Anti-Partition movement.
- On 7th August 1905 a meeting was held at Calcutta Town Hall where a formal proclamation of the Swadeshi Movement was made. At this meeting the famous boycott resolution was also passed.
- Despite his moderate leanings, Surendranath Bannerjee toured the country and urged people to boycott Manchester cloth and Liverpool salt.
- The day of implementation of Partition of Bengal i.e. 16th October 1905 was observed as the day of mourning. People fasted and a Hartal was declared in Calcutta.
- People paraded on the streets of Calcutta after the holy dip singing Vande Mataram.
- Surendranath Bannerjee and Anandamohan Bose addressed a crowd of 75000 people and Rs 50000 were raised within hours.
- The message of Swadeshi and Boycott of foreign goods spread wildly. Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Syed Hyder Raza and Chidambaram Pillai took the movement in their respective areas.
- Swadeshi call was endorsed by the Congress in its Benaras session in 1905 presided over by Gokhle.
- The extremist faction led by Tilak, Lajpat Rai, Aurobindo Ghosh and Bipin Chandra Pal insisted on converting the movement into a full fledged mass struggle. According to them the goal was now attainment of Swaraj.
- The boycott was now to be extended beyond foreign goods to schools and colleges, courts, titles and government services.
- Women refused to use foreign utensils and clothes, washermen refused to wash foreign clothes and priests declined offerings made of foreign sugar.
- Initially when the decision of partition of Bengal was made public, even the Muslims criticized it. Muslim organizations like the Central National Muhammadan Association and Moslem chronicle condemned the proposals. Their chief apprehension was the educational, social and other interests of East Bengal would be compromised under a chief commissioner.
Contributions of Leaders
- Numerous meetings were held at all levels – District, Taluka and Villages.
- Corps of volunteer committees were set up. Swadeshi Bandab Samiti started by Ashwini Kumar Dutt was the most outstanding volunteer organization. These organizations conducted magic lantern lectures and sang swadeshi songs giving its members physical and moral training.
- Leaders made creative use of traditional popular festivals and Melas to deliver the message of nationalism e.g. Tilak popularized Shivaji and Ganesh festivals in the Deccan region.
- Initiatives were also taken in the field of education. Institutions like Bengal National College, Bengal Technical Institute and National Council of Education were established.
- Concept of Self Reliance or Atmashakti was emphasized. To give effect to this swadeshi or indigenous enterprises were set up like textile mills, banks, tanneries, insurance companies, shops etc.
- The anti partition movement also has a marked impact in the sphere of culture. Rabindranath Tagore, Rajani Kanta Sen, Dwijendralal Ray, Syed Abu Mohammad wrote swadeshi songs that motivated the masses. Tagore’s ‘Amar Sonar Bangla’ is the national anthem of Bangladesh.
- In the sphere of art, Abanindranath Tagore and Nandlal Bose left a major imprint.
- In the field of science Jagdish Chandra Bose and Prafulla Chandra Ray contributed their original research and earned recognition all over the world.
Annulment Partition of Bengal
After the Surat Split 1907, and the ending of the Swadeshi movement, the youth of Bengal and many other parts of the country resorted to revolutionary activities and violence. This created a menace for many Britishers who were getting killed. Moreover The Morley Minto Reforms or the Indian Councils Act 1909 failed to satisfy Indian aspirations.
- In order to curb the menace of revolutionary activities, a decision was taken to annul the Partition of Bengal in 1911.
- The 2 Bengals were rejoined but new divisions on the basis of language were made.
- Assam was separated from East Bengal and 2 new provinces Orissa and Bihar were carved out of West Bengal.
- The decision to annul the Partition of Bengal was made at the Delhi Durbar on 12th December 1911 where King George V announced that East Bengal would be absorbed into Bengal Presidency.
- In order to give effect to His Majesty’s proclamation, Lord Hardinge annulled the partition of Bengal.
- The Bengali speaking districts were reunited and Hindi, Oriya and Assamese speaking areas were carved out into new provinces.
- It was also decided to shift the capital to Delhi. The shifting of capital to Delhi was a strategic decision in order to consolidate British rule in India.
- The decision of annulment of Partition of Bengal did not augur well with the Muslims. They saw it as compromising of Muslim interests.
- The upsetness and dissatisfaction of Muslims was tried to be compensated by shifting the capital to Delhi which was associated with the Sultanate period.
On the whole, the Partition of Bengal did not give the British the desired results. The anti Partition of Bengal movement that manifested in the form of Swadeshi and Boycott movement accelerated the extremist brand of politics. This politics had Hindu undertones. The British helped the creation of Muslim League in 1906 to counter it. The consequence was that a permanent wedge was created in the two communities resulting in the partition of India. It is also true that the Partition of Bengal decision that resulted in the Swadeshi and Boycott movement created a new brand of mass movement that was unprecedented. The base that was created by this movement helped the future mass movements led by Gandhi.
It was Lord Curzon the Viceroy who decided upon the partition of Bengal in 1905. Initially the decision to partition Bengal was made public in 1903. The official reason given for Partition of Bengal was that with a population of 78 million and a large geographical size, Bengal had become administratively unwieldy.
Lord Hardinge in 1911 annulled the Partition of Bengal. It was also decided in the same year to shift the capital to Delhi.
Though the official reason given for Partition of Bengal was administrative but the real reason was political. The British wanted to divide Indians on the basis of religion by carving out the eastern Muslim majority province from the Bengal Presidency. They also wanted to dethrone Calcutta as the nerve center of nationalism in India.