The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The Tragic Partition of Bengal By Suniti Kumar Ghosh, Indian Academy of Social Sciences, Price not mentioned

Mahatma Gandhi had once asserted that Pakistan could be formed only over his dead body. Subhas Chandra Bose had thundered from southeast Asia that “our divine motherland must not be cut.” Such warnings however fell on deaf ears. Our tired politicians, ready to grasp power almost under any terms, finally accepted the partition of India and as a natural sequence, the partition of Bengal. The latter, in particular, spawned untold human miseries which has few parallels in history.

Suniti Kumar Ghosh’s analysis of the trends and events leading to Partition may appear strikingly off beat. The author holds the Indian bourgeoisie backed by the British and its political representatives — the Congress — mainly responsible for Partition. Ghosh quotes an acknowledged expert on India politics, Michael Brecher: “One must assume that the Partition of India was a voluntary choice of Nehru, Patel and their colleagues”.

According to the then viceroy, Lord Wavell, “Pakistan was the creation of the Congress, for it was the refusal to establish coalition government in the provinces that alarmed the Muslims and drove them to extremes.” Such a refusal amounted to a breach of faith on Jawaharlal Nehru’s part and fanned the communal fire. Muslim leaders, Ghosh argues, were convinced that they could not hope to enjoy a share of power in a unitary Indian state with an overwhelming Hindu majority except as lackeys of the Congress leaders. This was the prime motive behind Jinnah’s cry for Pakistan.

In addition, the author points out that several Indian intellectuals like Shiva Rao, Chiman Lal Sitalvad and others who had a ring-side view of the events held that it was not Muslim communalism but the Nehrus who broke up India. To quote Frank Moraes, “Reflecting on my many conversations and discussions with Jinnah, I am convinced that he did not really want Pakistan but was driven by the logic of events and the intransigence of the Congress leaders into finally embracing it.”

Despite the pronounced affinity between the two cultures — Hindu and Muslim — in Bengal, no serious effort was made by the leaders of the Congress and the Muslim League to promote amity and goodwill between them. Economic exploitation, mainly of poor Muslims by Hindu zamindars continued and communalism thrived. Not just the colonial rulers, but the business magnates who acted as their agents and the frontmen helped in its spread. This only strengthened the case for Partition.

Ghosh recounts how a move for a united sovereign Bengal by political leaders from the state was frustrated by the Congress high command, especially Nehru. Sarat Bose and others pleaded that partitioning Bengal would spell disaster for its people but their plea was rejected outright, thereby paving the way for the inevitable.

The early chapters of the book provide an exhaustive, in-depth study of the socio-economic scenario of Bengal from the 1st century BC till the advent of the British. This will come in handy for relevant research.

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