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They Were Not The Only Ones

Dedicated to my Apa (elder sister) Farah Deeba Deepti, the member of Election Management Committee (of Bangladesh Awami League) and Executive Member of Bangladesh-India Friendship Society…

The Indians usually blame Muhammad Ali Jinnah (December 25, 1876 – September 11, 1948), the founder of Pakistan, and his Two-Nation Theory for the Partition of the Indian Sub-continent in 1947. The Partition, outlined in the Indian Independence Act, 1947, and resulting in the dissolution of the British Raj or the Crown Rule in India, involved the division of two Provinces, Bengal and Punjab, on the basis of district-wide non-Muslim or Muslim majorities. After the Partition, the two self-governing independent Dominions of India and Pakistan legally came into existence at midnight on August 14-15, 1947. History, at times, reveals that people of Muslim-dominated Bangladesh (or erstwhile East Pakistan) wanted to stay with India.

Before the Partition, 41.5% of Hindu population, including Scheduled Castes, used to live in Bengal, while 26.5% used to live in Punjab. Similarly, the Muslim population of Bengal was 54%, and it was 57% in Punjab. At that period of time, there were five divisions in (undivided) Bengal… Bardhaman Division, Presidency Division, Rajshahi Division, Dhaka Division and Chittagong Division. In Bardhaman Division, the population of Hindus (including Scheduled Castes) was 78.98%, while the Muslim population was 13.9%. Similarly, the Hindus were 53.7% in the Presidency Division, and Muslims were 44%. In Rajshahi Division, the Hindu population was 30.51%, and the Muslim population was 62.52%. While the percentage of Hindu population was 27.7% in Dhaka Division, the Muslim population was 71.59%. And in Chittagong Division, 20.7% of the total population were Hindus and 75.3% were Muslims. Still, the Bengali Muslims, reportedly, did not demand a separate State for themselves.

Undivided Bengal (Before 1947)

It is said that the Indian National Congress, during its Calcutta Session in April 1947, decided to divide the Sub-continent. After receiving the information, leaders of the Muslim League reportedly told Lord Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten (June 25, 1900 – August 27, 1979), the last Viceroy of India, that there should be a separate nation for the Muslims, if Partition would be the only option. Soon after the Muslim League leaders met Lord Mountbatten, Hindu Mahasabha leader Dr Syama Prasad Mukherjee (July 6, 1901 – June 23, 1953) called on Governor of Bengal Sir Frederick John Burrows, and made it clear to him that Bengal should be divided in case of Partition.

Amidst such a scenario, Lord Mountbatten held a meeting with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai Patel, Acharya Jivatram Bhagwandas Kripalani (of the Indian National Congress), Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar (of the Muslim League), and Sardar Baldev Singh (from the Sikh community) to discuss the issue at his official residence on June 2, 1947. However, the Viceroy did not invite Dr Bhimrao Ramoji Ambedkar and Mahapran Jogendranath Mandal to attend the meeting, despite knowing the fact that a number of people belonging to lower castes used to live in Bengal, as well as in Punjab. Meanwhile, those seven Indian leaders advised Lord Mountbatten to make a final decision in this regard in a Democratic manner. They also advised the Viceroy to hold a meeting with Members of the Legislative Assembly of Bengal to consider their opinion on Partition of the eastern Indian province.

Lord Mountbatten

There were 225 members in the Bengal Legislative Assembly in 1947. The Hindu-majority districts were Bardhaman, Birbhum, Bankura, Medinipur, Hooghly, Howrah, Kolkata, 24 Parganas, Khulna, Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling, and these 11 districts were represented by 80 Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs), including 54 Hindus, 21 Muslims, four Anglo-Indians, and one Christian. These 80 MLAs held a meeting to discuss Partition under the chairmanship of a Hindu MLA, Sir Uday Chand Mahtab, the Maharaja of Bardhaman. Noted Hindu leaders, like Dr Syama Prasad Mukherjee, Mukunda Bihari Mallik, Ratanlal Brahmin and Jyoti Basu, attended this meeting, while the Muslim community was represented by Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Mirza Ahmad Ispahani, Abdul Hossain, Abdul Rahman, and Mosharraf Hossain, among others. At the end of this meeting, 58 MLAs voted in favour of Partition, while 21 voted against it, with one abstention.

Meanwhile, the Muslim-majority districts were Chittagong, Noakhali, Tripura, Bakerganj, Dhaka, Mymensingh, Faridpur, Jessore, Murshidabad, Nadia, Bogura, Dinajpur, Maldah, Pabna, Rajshahi, and Rangpur; and these 16 districts were represented by 145 MLAs, including 41 Hindus, 103 Muslims and one Christian. Among eminent Hindu leaders, Dwarka Nath Bhaduri, Nagendra Narayan Roy, Maharaja Girish Chandra Nandi, Satish Chakraborty, Bhola Nath Biswas, Haran Chandra Burman, Gaya Nath Biswas, Kiran Shankar Roy, Dhirendra Nath Dutta, Neli Sengupta, and Pramatha Ranjan Thakur attended this meeting. For Muslims, Abul Kasem Fazlul Huq, Mohammad Ali, Nurul Amin, Ahmen Hossain, Samshuddin Ahmed and others were present at this meeting. During the voting, four MLAs were absent. While only 34 voted in favour of Partition, 106 voted against it. It means that the majority of MLAs from Muslim-dominated districts of Bengal or Bengali Muslims were against Partition. In total, 92 MLAs of Bengal voted in favour of Partition, while 127 voted against the proposal.

West Bengal (India) & Bangladesh

Despite all these, the Colonial British rulers decided to divide Bengal (not in a democratic way, though). Hence, one should not blame a particular community for the Partition, today.

After the Partition, political leaders in Bengal strongly criticised Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi for this tragic event. Initially, Gandhi had reportedly said that India would be divided over his dead body. However, India’s Father of the Nation was staying in Calcutta (now Kolkata) on August 15, 1947, and he did not apologise to his countrymen for his failure in avoiding the Partition. Instead, he stressed that Hindus and Sikhs, who wanted to leave Eastern part of Bengal (or East Pakistan after Partition) would be welcomed in India. It is Sardar Patel who assured the migrants from East Bengal that the Government of India would help them settle in this country.

This is, also, the history of Partition from another angle. One can not deny the fact that High Caste Hindus (read Brahmins) had played a major role in dividing Bengal in 1947. They thought that in case there was no Partition, a Muslim could become the Prime Minister, and a person from the Scheduled Caste community could become the Home Minister. Perhaps, they had also thought that the Muslims would take all the credits of the rich Bengali culture. Incidentally, all the three Prime Ministers of Bengal were Muslims before the Partition. This is possibly the reason why Dr Syama Prasad Mukherjee wanted to divide Bengal on the basis of religion. And, Pandit Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah had backed the proposal of Dr Mukherjee, only to serve their vested interest (to become Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, respectively).

Nehru & Jinnah (R)

It may be recalled that after the Partition, Dr B R Ambedkar reportedly said: “It is their Swaraj, We are still slaves.” He stressed: “There is no use having Swaraj if you cannot defend it. More important than the question of defending Swaraj is the question of defending the Hindus under the Swaraj. ln my opinion, only when the Hindu society becomes a casteless society, then it can hope to have the strength enough to defend itself. Without such internal strength, Swaraj for Hindus may turn out to be only a step towards slavery.

The Partition of the Indian Sub-continent had triggered the largest migration crisis in the world, as millions of people became rootless, all of a sudden. They were trying hard to establish themselves again (in another country). India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are still carrying the scar of the event. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, passed by the Parliament of India on December 11, 2019, has proven that the Indians are yet to get rid of the hangover of Partition even 76 years after the tragedy.

Declassified document, The National Archives, The UK
Bengal Gazette, 1947

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