My history textbooks in school did not say much on the partition of Bengal in 1947. Who exactly created the entity called West Bengal as a state in India, who consented to that plan, who was the leader of this movement – all remained unanswered in the West Bengal’s history textbooks. However, from very many propaganda booklets of the leftists, I learnt that Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and his Hindu Mahasabha was the culprit.
It was made to sound like a Gospel truth that the Hindu Mahasabha, for being a communal party, must be wrong always. Therefore, the bad thing, namely the partition of India happened being dictated by them. The Hindu Mahasabha-cum-Shyama Prasad Mukherjee must be crucified for all the problems emanating out of the partition of Bengal such as the great refugee problem of West Bengal. This fictitious history has become part of the Bengali consciousness for the last two-three generations.
Change happens. Truth unravels in its own mysterious way. Today a large majority of the Bengalis possibly know that the Communist think tank that created this fictitious history was completely in favour of Pakistan and partition of India. By Gangadhar Adhikari’s thesis of 1942, they declared that India could be independent only after the creation of Pakistan. That was the progressive party line. Catering to that party line, lyricist Hemanga Biswas of Indian People’s Theatre Association wrote a song (translation mine):
[Listen, Congress Leader! No Hindu Muslim Unity, when you cannot concur to Muslim self-rule.]
(Source: Ananda Bazar Patrika, 22 November 2005, Editorial page article by Kalikaprasad Bhattacharya)
The proposal of Pakistan stated it as a homeland for Muslims while the rest of India as a homeland for others. No doubt everyone understood that actualisation of this proposal means massive Hindu exodus from Pakistan to India. Endorsing the demand for Pakistan, poet Hemanga supplied language (translation mine) in a definitely communal tone:
[The Faith of Islam calls you, Musalman! Arise and awake with the morning azan.]
If the progressive left needs to blame anyone for the partition and refugee crisis, it has to be themselves first.
Yes, indeed the greatest ideological opponents of Shyama Prasad, the communists, too agree to the principal role of Shyama Prasad towards the partition of Bengal to carve out a Hindu Bengali homeland. He and the Hindu Mahasabha were self-declared champions of the Hindu interest. And, it is none other than Dr B.R. Ambedkar who warned the Bengali Hindus about their existence in 1945 (‘Pakistan or The Partition of India’, Dr B. R. Ambedkar, Vol.8, Education Dept, Govt of Maharashtra, Bombay, 1990, page 294):
According to Muslim Canon Law, the world is divided into two camps, Dar-ul-Islam (abode of Islam) and Dar-ul-Harb (abode of war). A country is Dar-ul-Islam when it is ruled by Muslims. A country is Dar-ul-Harb when Muslims only reside in it but are not rulers of it. That being the Canon Law of the Muslims, India cannot be the common motherland of the Hindus and the Musalmans. It can be the land of the Musalmans – but it cannot be the land of the ‘Hindus and the Musalmans living as equals’. Further, it can be the land of the Musalmans only when it is governed by the Muslims. The moment the land becomes subject to the authority of a non-Muslim power, it ceases to be the land of the Muslims.
The warning of Dr Ambedkar was perhaps a bit abstract for the understanding of the Bengali Hindus. They received the opportunity for a first-hand application of the idea narrated by Ambedkar on 16 August 1946 when the ruling party of Undivided Bengal, the Muslim League, began its Direct Action against the Hindus. A detailed description of this ruthless massacre of this Hindus was tendered by Amitabha Ghosh, IAAS, and son of the pre-eminent scholar Acharya Debaprasad Ghosh. Kolkata turned red from the bloodshed of thousands of hapless Hindus. Many famous persons were killed or attacked during this Hindu genocide, such as musician Harendra Ghosh, actor Chhabi Biswas, mathematician Yadav Chakraborty, Raja Debendra Mallick or police officer S. N. Mukherjee.
And, next happened even greater genocide in Noakhali of East Bengal. It was the night of the Lakshmi Puja in October. Journalist Animitra Chakraborty writes:
All of a sudden, the stillness of the night was shattered by the army of Qasim Ali, the leader of the Noakhali region of the Muslim League. They were duly assisted by the forces of Ghulam Sarwar. Their goal was the destruction of the Hindus. Two months ago, the ruthless attacks of the Muslim League for the destruction of the Hindus had happened in Kolkata. In the end-game, it had invited ferocious revenge from the Hindus. The Muslim Leadership sought brutal retaliation. Within hours, regions like Ramgunj, Begumgunj, Raipur, Lakshmipur, Chhagalanaiya and Sandwip were devastated by brutal murders and rapes. Even the regions like Hajigunj, Faridgonj, Chandpur, Laksham and Chauddagram of the neighbouring Tipera district suffered. The Hindu extermination was executed with perfect planning. None knows the number of casualties of this genocide — how many lost lives, how many Hindu women were raped, how many were force-fed beef, how many were forcibly circumcised, how many Hindu women were gang-raped and made into a prostitute from a housewife, how many were turned into widows. Last 80 years were not sufficient to account for all of them.
The genocides of Kolkata and Noakhali amply illustrated the warning of Ambedkar and the important message of Shyama Prasad to the Bengali Hindus. It may be kept in perspective that at that time only Undivided Bengal was ruled by the Muslim League and the ruling party itself called for and organised the massacre of the Hindus. Therefore, understanding the fate of Hindus in Muslim League ruled prospective Pakistan required no guesswork. The only question was whether the refugee Bengalis should take shelter in a non-Bengali province of India or in the partitioned Bengal (West Bengal) created as the Hindu homeland? The answer is obvious, isn’t it?
Shyama Prasad formed the Bengal Partition League for facilitating the partition of Bengal in the interest of a homeland for Bengali Hindus along with Upendra Nath Banerjee, a prominent revolutionary and Hemanta Kumar Sarkar, a peasant leader. Then, shall we deduce that it is Shyama Prasad who caused the partition of Bengal?
No, it was not a one-man show. Shyama Prasad was the charioteer in the chariot of Hindu Bengali sentiments. He was the priest of the Durga Puja collectively organised by the Hindu Bengalis of all strata irrespective of party, caste, occupation or income. Shyama Prasad only manifested this idea of the Hindu Bengalis through his skills, no more no less.
Nirmal Chandra Chatterjee, the father of prominent communist leader Somnath Chatterjee, described partition of Bengal as the question of life and death for Hindu Bengalis. The majority of the leaders of the Bengal Congress such as Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, Kshitishchandra Niyogi, Dr Pramathnatha Banerjee argued in favour of the partition of Bengal in the provincial Congress meeting on April 4, 1947. Atulya Ghosh, another Congressman of distinction, was in charge of finalising the boundaries of the West Bengal. It is Ghosh’s effort that paid off to keep the districts of Malda and Murshidabad including Farakka in West Bengal in the interest of navigability of the Kolkata port. Nowadays many fictitious history writers attempt to project Sarat Bose who argued for a united Bengal, as the voice of the Bengali Hindus. Hindu Bengalis saw no leader of theirs in Bose.
76 public meetings were held to gather the momentum of public opinion towards the partition of Bengal. Only 12 out of these 76 were organised by Shyama Prasad’s Hindu Mahasabha with another 5 being jointly organised by Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha. Most of the meetings were organised by Bengal Congress. The largest assembly happened in Kolkata, presided over by Sir Jadunath Sarkar, the doyen of historians. Eminent scientist Meghnad Saha who was socialist and later elected to Loksabha with the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) affiliation, advocated for the partition of Bengal. Other noted non-political personalities like historian Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, linguist Suniti Kumar Chatterji all were in favour of the partition of Bengal. Among the Dalit leaders an ex-schedule caste minister of Bengal Premahari Barman and P. R. Thakur, the leader of the Matua community, all advocated for the partition of Bengal. Jogendra Nath Mondal who self-admittedly committed a blunder in joining Pakistan was not the most prominent face of the dalits.
The Communist leadership had advocated for Pakistan and handing over the entire Bengal to Pakistan, however, the grassroots workers were realising the folly of this stand. Kalyan Dutta, a communist ideologue and professor, noted in his autobiography that in the Khidirpur dockyard the Hindu communist workers were attacked by their Muslim party comrades on the fateful day of August 16, 1947. The Hindu workers were utterly perplexed. They did show their party membership card to their Muslim comrades and begged for their own lives. Their lives, however, were not spared. Was it a reason that the communist Tram employees union of Kolkata observed a strike called by Shyama Prasad on 23 April 1947 to gather momentum for the movement in defiance with their communist party line?
The elite Hindu Bengalis and landlords were members of the British Indian Association. Among them were the kings of Bardhman and Kasimbazar. They expressed their support for the partition of Bengal in their annual convention held in March 1947.
All these point out to the fact that Hindu Bengalis of all economic class—labourer, peasant, urban middle class or landlord— and of all political opinions—Congressi, Hindu Mahasabha-ite and Socialist—were solidly in favour of the partition of Bengal. It was not a one-man show.
This is the age of statistics. 23 April 1947, the Amritabazar Patrika published a Gallup poll held on the previous day in which more than five and a half lakh people participated. Among them, more than 98 percent were in favour of the partition and only about half a percent against it. This data squarely shows the isolation of the likes of Hemen Biswas, Yogen Mandal or Sarat Bose among Bengali Hindus. As a matter of fact, the non-Muslim assembly of Bengal endorsed the proposal of the partition of Bengal by a majority of 58 to 21. Among these 58 votes, only one came from the Hindu Mahasabha.
The depth of the Hindu Bengali emotion was summarily expressed by noted litterateur Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, the author of Pather Panchali on 25 June 1947. It was only five days after the creation of West Bengal. In a letter, he wrote (translation mine),
নতুন বঙ্গ ভাগ হয়ে গেল ভালই হল। বাঙালী হিন্দুরা হাঁপ ছেড়ে বাঁচবে।
Good that Bengal was partitioned. Bengali Hindus will heave a sigh of relief.
The Hindu Bengalis went for the partition of Bengal on a united force for a single reason. It was for the preservation of their existence. Our ancestors were not stupid. Never did they think that being a slave to Arab imperialism abandoning own rich heritage is a hallmark of humanity. Nor were they without scruples. They saw above their narrow self-interest and cared for their heritage and cultural identity. It is this love for own culture that made Prafulla Sarkar, the founder of the ABP group, write the book Kshayishnu Hindu (the waning Hindus). If someone calls them communal for their love for own rich culture, that adjective is as vain as calling revolutionary Kshdiram Basu or Bhagat Singh a terrorist.
The study of history is for learning the right course of action to unveil a bright future. West Bengal was founded as a homeland for Hindu Bengalis. No Bangladeshi Muslim has any right over this Hindu homeland. However, each and every Hindu refugee from Bangladesh is entitled to a place in this homeland. A violation of this understanding of our forefathers is most unwelcome. Calling out our ancestors as communal fools and drumming upon own liberal nature is egoistic and idiotic too. Our ancestors did not conceive of a West Bengal for providing shelter to Rohingyas and Bangladesh Muslims. They never saw a future West Bengal with citizenship of Hindu refugees being questioned.
In this context, Citizenship Amendment Bill is pending in the parliament. This bill may have one or two lacunas but this bill is definitely one step forward towards acknowledging the historical truth. This bill joins history and the present perspective. Citizenship Amendment Bill in the present form or an even more advanced version of this bill must immediately be passed for preserving the existence of the Bengali Hindus. In this hour of transition, let us take an oath to continue with the culture of Gaudapada.
(This article was originally published in Bangodesh.com in Bengali)