Radcliffe’s Surgery And After
Class War in East Bengal, 1946 and Communist Party
Cyrill Radcliffe, an
obedient servant to the
British imperial interests, wrote to his stepson: "Nobody in India will love me for the award about the Punjab and Bengal and there will be roughly 80 million people with a grievance who will begin looking for me. I do not want them to find me." (Sunil Khilnani. The Idea of India, Penguin, New Delhi, 2004) Radcliffe, one of the personifications of imperial conspiracy, wrote the letter on August 14, 1947. It was actually a confession about an imperialist act: under an umbrella of law, a jab by a dagger to inflict a fatal injury to a people's struggle for freedom, part of a class war the dominating interests was conducting against the people.
With shrewdness accumulated over centuries, and in collaboration with compradors, the imperial masters tore down a country—India—to create two. It was a well-planned imperial tact for retaining status quo, and for subverting a people's democratic struggle that was developing across the land. Antagonism, bloodletting and confusion were seeded among the people. "(There |were no] maps to help even the most well-informed English-speaking listener understand what was happening. It was left to the newspapers to publish their own creative interpretations of exactly where a new borderline, snaking through Bengal in the east and Punjab in the west, might fall once the country was divided. The real line would not be presented to the public until two days after the new states had come into existence, on 17 August, and would be hurriedly marked on maps using censuses of 'minority' and 'majority' populations. The border would be devised from a distance; the land, villages and communities to be divided were not visited or inspected by the imperial map-maker, the British judge, Cyril Radcliffe, who arrived in India on 8 July [I947] to carry out the task and stayed in the country only for six weeks." (Yasmin Khan. The Great Partition: The making of India and Pakistan, Yale University Press, 2007) The Radcliffe Report of 16 pages was released on August 17, 1947 although the Award on Bengal was submitted to Mountbatten on August 9, 1947. (Nitish Sengupta. Land of Two Rivers: A history of Bengal from Mahabharata to Mujib. Penguin Books. New Delhi, 2011)
The stabbing with dagger, crime against humanity indeed, overwhelmed a land with hatred, fatally burned a people with communal fire and drowned them in blood so that their struggle for liberation from all sorts of exploitation goes in vain.
The partition was paid with "the hundreds of thousands of dead", with "the twelve million displaced." (Yasmin Khan, op. cit.)
Bengal and the Punjab paid the most. It was paid with life, resource, and the struggle for liberty from the yoke of all forms of appropriation. "In 1947 the fabric of Bengali rural society woven together by a common language and a [...] popular culture was torn asunder on lines of religion." (Sugata Bose, "The roots of 'communal' violence in rural Bengal, a study of Kishoreganj riots, 1930", Modern Asian Studies, vol. 16, no. 3. 1982) The Kolkata killing was instigated.
"The Calcutta [Kolkata] disturbances marked a very crucial turn in the political developments during the last days of the British rule. (...) At the same time, the swelling tide of mass movements was beginning to scare the colonial authorities and the nationalist leadership alike. (...) The repercussions of the Calcutta riots were tremendous. (...) [T]hey (...) brought Hindu-Muslim antagonism to the point of no return (...) [T]he space of partition riots formed an arena in which the established political forces, such as the Congress, the Muslim League, the British raj, struggled for influence, survival, etc. (Nakazato Nariaki. "The politics of a partition riot, Calcutta in August 1946", in Sato Tsugitaka (ed.), Muslim Societies : Historical and comparative aspects, Routledge Curzon, London, 2004) The "struggle for influence, survival, etc." didn't hamper their class/factional collaboration against people.
Compradors were integral part of the collaboration. In addition to their political parties there were other organizations representing their interests and/or under their control.
There were the Associations of Municipal Commissioners, Union Boards, Zamindars' Associations, Bar Associations, Trade Associations, Ratepayers' Associations. (Joya Chatterji. Bengal Divided : Hindu Communalism and Partition. 1932-1947. Cambridge University Press, 1994) None of these organizations stood against the stream of mutual hatred flowing through the floodgate of divisive politics instigated by the colonial masters and their lackeys. On the contrary, they strengthened the atmosphere of hatred and killing as it was their class war against the people.
Most of the huge mainstream literature on the issue focuses on the role and responsibilities of the parties involved—the colonial masters and their friends, the Congress, the Muslim League and others—with the act of carnage and destruction. A bulk of mainstream literature concentrates on individuals—individual's role at individual moments. It carries on its entire dissection and discourse on the following funny way : Party A said this and Party B opposed this, leader C was doing this and leader D was doing that, E proposed and F opposed, etc. It places its magnifying glass of deep searching research on minute by minute details while misses the basic position: the class(es), the factions within the class(es), the interests that pulled together the class(es) on a position opposed to the masses of people, and opposed to the advancement of a society.
As an appendage, losses—death, etc.—are presented on table of discussion. The mainstream discussions abstain from discussing two aspects of the dagger-act: the harm to people's struggle for a democratic life free from injustice, exploitation and indignity, and resistance by and suffering of the Communist Party to the dagger-job.
Subverting of people's struggle is a fundamental loss to a people striving for building up an advanced democratic society. Assault on people's struggle shows dominating interests' (1) far-sightedness; (2) cruelty; (3) hostile attitude to people's interests and organizations; and (4) the ulterior motive to perpetuate the shackles of exploitation. Considering the hardship born and sacrifice made by people to build up their organizations and struggles help perceive the extent of loss they faced with the negative effect on these. Moreover, overwhelming an environment of struggle with an atmosphere of hatred is a bigger loss than the loss of a struggle and organization as the atmosphere of hatred makes organizing struggles more difficult. The pre- and post-partition East Bengal, now Bangladesh, is a burning example of the injury to people's struggle and the Communist Party's resistance and suffering. Igniting the communal fire in the period was a blitzkrieg by the exploiters. The people and the political party upholding their interests—the Communist Party—were not politically and organizationally equipped to counter the full throttled campaign by the dominating interests. The jab was made in 1946, and the job continued in post-'47 East Bengal.
[T]he promises of Pakistani nationalism had fired the imagination of Muslim tenants who hoped to improve their lot at the expense of their erstwhile masters. (Yasmin Khan, op. cit.) It was the head of the coin.
The tail carried mark of reaction, an onslaught by reaction shrouded with sectarianism. "Fears of outright persecution were strengthened by real assaults and murders of East Bengalis in the grievous riots in Khulna, Chitta-gong, Barisal and Sylhet in 1950 and the ruthless requisitioning of Hindu property by a partisan and unaccountable state administration. [...] Rich and poor Bengali Hindus became fused in a new collective consciousness of their vulnerable minority status." (ibid.)
It was not only the case of the rich and poor Hindus. The people, as a whole, found them betrayed and persecuted. The Hindus were the immediate target. But, ultimately, it was the people irrespective of caste and creed who were targeted to rob of awareness and organization, sense of solidarity and fraternity. Awareness and organization of people are their resources they build up slowly. These are much needed resources for people in all societies. The resources were robbed by the masters in command of the situation as part of the class war it was conducting.
Sectarianism is a "nice" way to confuse people, to keep them blindfold, and to deprive them. "East Bengal Muslims in their enthusiasm wanted bread and they have by the mysterious working of the Islamic Slate and the Shariat got stone instead from the arid deserts of Sind and the Punjab." (Resignation letter of Jogendra Nath Mandal, addressed to the Prime Minister of Pakistan Liaquat Ali Khan, October 8, 1950, referred in Dilip Hiro, The Longest August : The unflinching rivalry between India and Pakistan. Nations Books, New York, 2015)
"Even when communal violence was rampant in Calcutta and Noakhali, the Muslim and Hindu peasants of the Tebhaga movement in predominantly Muslim Rangpur and Dinajpur were fighting [...] and opposing Partition."
(Nitish Sengupta, op. cit.)
But the people's political destiny was appropriated by a reactionary clique with its political power and the coercive power of state although the people faced persecution, torture, deprivation over ages. A retinue of niggling thieves and hoodlums joined the notorious clique with the motive of theft and loot.
The situation that pulled the people into it was beyond their control. "Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past." (Karl Marx. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte) The people in East Bengal found them "under circumstances" existing already, given and transmitted from the past." And, the Communist Party, the party standing by them, wns struggling there. That phase of struggle is mostly unknown and unsung yet. The following narrations tell only a small part of that heroic, persistent struggle, and defeat in a class war.
Free from riot : Communist activists under the leadership of Jiten Ghosh carried on publicity work in villages of the western part of Bikrampur, formerly a part of Dhaka district, for months during the period. They organized meetings in villages, and made people aware of the curse of communalism. The efforts kept the area free from communal riot. (Gayan Chakrabarty. Krishak Neta Jiten Giosh [Jiten Ghosh, the Peasant Leader], Jiten Ghosh Kalyan Trust, Dhaka. February 1994)
Political activity affected : However, in areas the situation was different. "Communal riot in Dhaka was organized by the reactionary forces in August 1946. It continued up to mid-December, 1946. The riot disrupted normal life in the town. Areas in the town virtually got demarcated on the basis of community—Hindu or Moslem. No Hindu dared to move into Moslem areas. The same was with the Moslems. The riot disrupted trade and commerce. It became very difficult to conduct political activities by the Communist Party." (Gayan Chakrabarty, Dhaka Jelaar Communist Aandoloner Ateet Joog (The Yester Years of Communist Movement in Dhaka District), Jatio Shahitya Prakashanee, Dhaka. August 1987)
Workers and students : The Party tried to make a breakthrough in the hostile situation. "The primary activity of the Communist Party turned out as peace keeping through peace committees. Hindu and Moslem workers of the Dhaka Cotton Mills brought out peace processions twice in the town. They defied Section 144 to march in the processions. The marches decreased mutual mistrust between the two communities in the town to some extent. But basically the situation didn't change. The abnormal situation persisted even in January-February 1947 although the riot ceased in December 1946. People were yearning for a change in the situation. For about six months, there was no public meeting in Dhaka town; no mass organization could properly carry on its activities; none could move without fear. Trains, boats, and even steamers were not spared by rioters. Even within this situation, we [the Communist Party) decided to observe the first anniversary of Rashid Ali Day in February 1947. It was not possible to organize any meeting or procession in the town due to the situation. So, it was planned to organize procession at early in the morning, and squad meetings and meetings at neighborhood level. Students flocked in huge numbers and joined the early-morning procession the student activists of the Communist Party in the Dhaka University organized. About 90 percent students from Salimullah Hall, Jagannath Hall, Dhaka Hall and Fazlul Huq Hall took part in the procession. At the end, the number of participants in the early-morning procession stood at around one thousand. The students' procession decided to proceed towards the town with the purpose of restoring normalcy there although Section 144 was still in force. Armed police obstructed the procession as it advanced. But the students could not be deterred. They marched ahead. Police didn't dare to open fire in view of the charged situation all over the country. Thousands of citizens irrespective of religious identity joined the procession. It seemed the entire town people were joining the procession like a deluge. At last, the number of participants in the procession stood around 15,000. Moslem and Hindu people were dancing with joy as the procession was marching forward. Citizens, from rooftops, were showering flower petals on the procession. Hindu and Moslem citizens were embracing each other. The situation in the town returned to normal within a day. In neighborhoods, Moslems and Hindus were shaking hands of each other. This procession cast away the environment of mistrust between the feuding communities to many extents in not only in the town, but also in the entire province. The main slogan in the procession was 'Hindu-Moslem are brothers, down with the British imperialism'", (ibid.)
People's struggle : Initiatives were not ceased to organize people's struggle in areas in East Bengal. "A powerful movement was organized in Mymensingh demanding abolition of Tonko, an exploitative system imposed on the peasantry of the area. In Sylhet. another movement was organized demanding abolition of Naankaar system, a system of perpetually bonded labor. The movement in Mymensingh ultimately turned into armed clashes between police force and armed peasants. Hundreds of thousands of peasants joined the movement. These movements were led by respective district branches of the Communist Party. It was not possible to extend support to these movements from urban areas and by the laborers due to Congress-Muslim League rivalry, and the prevailing atmosphere of communal riot in the country. However, these movements saved rural areas from fratricidal riot to much extent. Congress and Muslim League opposed the movements with their full force. Despite the opposition, influence of the Communist Party increased widely for the leadership the Party provided in the movements. Most of the district branches of the Party in the northern and eastern parts of East Bengal got strengthened as a result of these movements. It was not possible to organize a strong peasants' movement in the district of Dhaka due to land system in the district. Despite the fact, a strong Tebhaga movement was organized in Kookooteeaa union under Bikrampoor and in its surrounding areas. In Chaalkaarchar under Nara-yanganj subdivision (now Narayanganj is a district) another movement was organized against jotedaars, the big landholders The jotedaars changed share croppers of their plots of land every year. The share croppers' struggle was to retain respective plots of land they tilled. In their struggle to retain their right to tilling the lands they tilled the previous year, they continued with tilling the respective plots of land. Litigations by the jotedaars were filed against many peasants and peasant activists. Warrants of arrest were issued against many peasant leaders, activists and peasants." (ibid.)
Decreasing strength : Organizational activities were carried on regularly despite the hostile environment. "In April 1947, the second conference of the Dhaka district committee of the Communist Party was held at a girls' school compound in Narayanganj. The conference elected a district committee with 30 members and a district secretariat with five members. A number of industrial workers and peasants were elected in the committee. The number of party members during the conference was eight hundred. The number was about one thousand during 1945. But the number decreased due to many reasons. One of the reasons was quite a number of members left the district. Moreover, a strict measure was followed to bestow membership of the party. Recruitment in the Party turned difficult due to strong anti-party propaganda by Congress and Muslim League. The Party had to carry on its political work within the hostile environment of communalism. There was the British imperialism on one end, and the Hindu-Moslem communal division among the people created by Congress and Moslem League propaganda." (ibid.)
Class enemy's assault : Repression by state was unabated during the period. "Hundreds of industrial workers, peasants and political activists were behind bar on the day of August 14, 1947, the day the state of Pakistan was created. There were warrants of arrest for many also. The Communist Party joined a number of functions organized to celebrate the Pakistan Independence Day, and raised demands for release of the prisoners, and withdrawal of warrants of arrest. On August 14, 1947, a big procession was brought out from Chak Bazaar in Dhaka town by the pro-Pakistan political forces. About one thousand Communist Party activists with red flags joined the procession and raised slogans in support of the demands. The entire procession supported the demands. Within a day or two, a meeting of Party members and supporters was organized at North Brook Hall in the town. About eight hundred comrades joined the meeting. Party's attitude towards Pakistan and its government was explained in the meeting. Within seven days, a public meeting was organized by the Party at the Coronation Park in Dhaka town. People's rights and demands were raised in the big public meeting. Bhavani Sen, secretary of the provincial committee of the Party, addressed the meeting. Big public meetings in the areas under the Party's political influence were also organized after the creation of Pakistan. People were paying attention to the Party stand on issues of the day. But the reactionary bureaucracy of the Pakistan state and the ruling clique were eyeing the Party publicities including these meetings with fear, and were propagating that we were anti-Pakistan, and lackeys of India. They were propagating that the only purpose of our publicity is to destroy Pakistan by creating indiscipline." (ibid.)
Diminishing activities : But a future with uncertain situation was looming in the horizon. "Workers of political parties, especially of RSP (Revolutionary Socialist Party] and Forward Block left East Bengal after the partition of 1947. They were many in Dhaka district. Most of our (Communist Party] activists and supporters [in Dhaka] were from the Hindu community. Almost all of our comrades were staying in the country, and there was no inclination among them to leave the country. However, question about future was creeping into their mind as they were related in many ways to the Hindu community. Publicity campaign was widely carried on among the Hindus, especially the families connected to the Communist Party so that they don't leave the country. As a result, many of the families decided not to leave the country. Our publicity was effective in areas under influence of the Party. But an environment of fear started to spread among the Hindus as a result of organizing of the Ansar, an auxiliary force, and ultra-communal activities carried by the Ansar. Sense of uncertainty also spread among the Hindus as a result of discriminatory activities by a section of government employees who were targeting the Hindus. More-over, confidence of the Hindus was seriously shaken by the Indo-Pak war on Kashmir, and communal riots in the Punjab, Central Province, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Kolkata, and in other areas, and because of death of a few hundreds of thousands of Hindus and Moslems in the communal riots. Despite all these our Party was not seriously harmed by exodus for quite some time after the creation of Pakistan. However, activities of the mass organizations of the Party squeezed down as most of the activists in these organization were Hindus. Their initiatives lessened after the creation of Pakistan." (ibid.)
Lies propagated : The process of protest and struggle continued. ''In early-1948, the eastern province of Pakistan, East Bengal, experienced a number of incidents that included police strike in Dhaka and peasants-police clash in Madarasha, a rural area in Chittagong. Moreover, many militrnt processions by laborers and students were organized in Dhaka. After the creation of Pakistan, people assumed that the government in Pakistan will solve many of their basic demands. But those remained unfulfilled. Consequently anguish of the people surfaced. They began to express their anguish through these political acts. The Communist Party assumed, on the basis of these manifestations of discontent revolution can be organized immediately by transforming these discontents if Party activists move forward with courage and initiative. On the basis of this assumption, directive was issued to Party comrades to transform these discontents into anti-government demonstrations. They took part in demonstrations and processions. They organized demonstrations, etc. of laborers and peasantry. Slogans with tint of adventurism were raised in the processions and demonstrations. This made adverse impression about the Party among the masses. The slogans included Yie aazaadee jhootaa haay, this independence is false. The public began considering the Party as the enemy of Pakistan; and our isolation from the people began. On the other hand, the Pakistan government, the Muslim League, and the Ansars, carried on incessant propaganda against the Party. The following example shows the type of propaganda carried against the Party: At the later part of 1948, there was a train accident in Bhairab, a river port and trading center on the river Meghna. Many passengers died. Within hours of the accident, Liaquat Ali Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, announced from Karachi, the capital of Pakistan at that time, and at least a thousand miles away from Dhaka: it's a subversive activity by the communists. At a later stage, the railway authorities found in its enquiry that a band ol dacoits organized the 'accident' to loot the passenger train. But the railway authority's enquiry was not made public as that would have exposed the lie told by the prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan." (ibid.)
Labor terrorized : The time could not be escaped. And, to put it simply, the time influenced activities. "Despite solid condition of our organization it began to squeeze due to desperate and unrealistic activities of the Party. The following incident is an example of our desperate activities : A meeting was convened at the Coronation Park in Dhaka town in mid-June, 1948. The meeting was convened by our women activists as it was not possible to convene the meeting in the name of the Party. Muslim League workers and police simultaneously attacked the meeting, and one responsible comrade woman was arrested from the meeting. Consequently our women front was lost. Many activists in the railway workers front and student activists were arrested within 1948 as they were distributing leaflets without any precaution. As a result, work of the railway workers union and the Students Federation was harmed seriously. Many laborer comrades were arrested as a result of assaulting intelligence agents, and for bringing out procession without considering whether that was the appropriate time or not. Many laborer comrades were terminated from their job, and a number of laborer comrades had to leave their job due to assaults by goons and police. Brutal tortures were carried out on our comrades in mills. Members of the EPR [East Pakistan Rifles, the border guard force in East Pakistan] and Ansar entered mills areas together, drag out our comrades from their places of work, mercilessly beat them in front of other laborers, burned their belongings, arrested a number of them, and those considered Party workers were dismissed from jobs. This created widespread panic among other laborers, and they started to keep distance from our workers. This was not only in industrial areas. In the rural areas under the influence of the Party, brutal torture was carried on on our comrades." (ibid.)
Shackled organizers : "Warrants of arrest were issued against communist leaders and activists immediately after the First Language Movement in 1948. Hundreds of communist leaders and activists, peasant, labor, women and student organizers were arrested. Jiten Ghosh went underground, and was moving from village to village in an effort to keep peasant organizations active. The situation was totally hostile with the overwhelming environment of communalism, repression by the Muslim League led government and the threat of arrest." (Gayan Chakrabarty. Krishak Neta ...op. cit.)
Torture & terror : "Jiten Ghosh was arrested in December 1948. In the jails, the Muslim League government imposed a reign of torture and terror on the democratic, progressive and communist prisoners. There were physical and psychological tortures. Its purpose was to physically and mentally demolish the political prisoners. Hunger strike was the only effective form of struggle the imprisoned political leaders and activists could resort to. Public support to hunger strike is a primary condition for its success. It was not possible to organize public support at the prevailing situation in East Bengal. It was a situation of threat-suppression-oppression by the Muslim League government. Despite the hostile situation the imprisoned leaders and activists initiated a heroic struggle to safeguard their political dignity and existence. In 1949, there were four hunger strikes. The last hunger strike in 1949 was waged for 58 days. At last, the Muslim League government bowed down. The imprisoned leaders and activists were recognized as political prisoners." (Gayan Chakrabarty, ibid )
Villages tormented : On March 9, 1949, a railway strike was called. "A number of workers were arrested during the preparatory phase of the strike. The strike was not successful. A part of railway track was uprooted near Joydebpur, a few miles from Dhaka, to forcefully disrupt railway connection as there was no support from railway workers. As a result of the sabotage, police began massive torture in the villages surrounding the place of sabotage." (Gayan Chakrabarty, Dhaka Jelaar ...op cit.)
Dwindling party mechanism : "The situation worsened with the massive communal riot in Dhaka district in the February 1950. The riot was fully organized and provoked by the government. About 1,200 Hindus were killed in Dhaka town only. Many were killed along the railway tracks from Dhaka to Bhairab and Mymensingh. It was not possible for the Party to take any initiative to resist the riot. University student activists of the Party organized a peace procession in the Kamna area in Dhaka town at the early phase of the riot. But it failed to make any impact in countering the riot. However, a part of the commoners came forward to save the Hindus, and at later phase, to help them in many ways. Despite this help the Hindus were completely devastated mentally. Up to the riot, all the secret mechanisms of the Party were based on the comrades coming from the Hindu community. The major part of the active workers of the Party was also from the community. These arrangements broke down as a result of the riot. Wide part of the Party workers and supporters left the country after the riot. The Party squeezed down as a result of the loss. Comrades in underground had to pass days by roaming along roads due to lack of shelters. Financial crisis of the Party also took worst shape. (Gayan Chakrabarty, ibid.)
Stray resistance : The environment of communal hatred was not kept limited in Dhaka. "Attempts were made to organize communal riot in the hill areas [northern part] of Mymensingh. But the Moslems in the area opposed the riot-effort. As a result, riots could not be organized. Moreover, our [Communist Party's] volunteer force was also alert and prepared to resist riot. A group of rioters in Kalmakanda came out to begin riot. Our comrades chased them away by making blank shots from guns. As a result of riot in Jamalpur, hundreds of Hindus left the area, and came to the hill areas. However, our volunteers restrained them, and told them that they were not to go to India; rather they were to live in Pakistan. A number of persons among the group from Jamalpur [at that time a part of Mymensingh district] sent us a letter through our volunteers. They wrote: It was not possible for them to stay in their villages in Jamalpur; but the volunteers were obstructing them on their way to India. They sought a solution to the problem. We the leaders discussed the issue, and it was decided not to obstruct them. Volunteers helped them in many ways, and arranged their journey to India after receiving the decision." (Moni Singha, Jeeban Sangraam [Life Struggle] Jatio Shahitya Prakashanee, Dhaka. July 1986)
Communist Party, the target : Chittagong, the port-town, had a similar story. Sharadindu Dastidar writes: The organization of Congress in Chiitagong was not strong. For this reason, Congress was not the target of attack by Muslim League in Chittagong. In the district, Muslim League and Communist Party had strong organizations. The two parties were competing with each other for expanding influence in urban and rural areas of the district. However, Muslim League gained popularity because of its demand for Pakistan, and communists slowly began to get isolated from the commoners. Communal riots began in areas of Chittagong. But common people from the Moslem community didn't participate in the riots. The commoners didn't consider the communists as anti-Moslem. They considered the communists as sympathetic to the demand for Pakistan. They perceived only the communists stood by them during famine and epidemic. On the opposite, the rioters were the gang of hoodlums under the leadership of Fazlul Kader Chowdhury, a local Muslim League leader. Mr Chowdhury engaged this armed gang as a tool to expand his influence among the people and to impose his dominance on Muslim League. This gang was used not only for committing communal riots, but also to counter the competing group within Muslim League. Communal riots spread with the partition of the subcontinent. It was wider than the 1946-riot. Chittagong was not spared. The Communist Party organized Peace Committee against Communalism with Congress and Muslim League leaders and prominent citizens of the town. It was not possible for Fazlul Kader Chowdhury to organize communal riot widely due to active role of the committee. The problem faced by the Chittagong branch of the Communist Party was to keep up the spirit of the Party leaders and activists coming from the Hindu community. They were getting demoralized. The question that haunted them was: Would it be possible to stay in Pakistan? The demoralization deepened after the communal riot in 1950. The 1950-riot was widely devastating. Daily Azad, Baanglaa pro-Muslim League daily, and other newspapers were presenting news of the riot widely. The Moslem youth in Chiitagong were getting agitated with the news reports carried by the dailies for days. Communal riot spread into neighborhoods in the Chillagong town. Flames rose at night from parts of the town. Hindus were killed in the town, and in Noa Para Chowdhuree Haat, BoalKhali, Sitakunda, Patia, and in other areas. Almost all the Hindu passengers of a train were killed in Pahartali. Later it was found through investigation that the main organizer and instigator of the communal riot in Chittagong was Fazlul Kader Chowdhury. The exodus began after the riot. It turned impossible to get a seat in passenger trains as the number of persons leaving their motherland was huge. The exodus was centered not only in Chittagong. All the districts in East Bengal experienced this. Hindus were going to Paschim Banga, India. It was like opening a floodgate. The number was hundreds of thousands. Land, homestead and other properties of the Hindus were being snatched away. The I950-5I exodus impacted the Communist Party. The main population in the areas under the influence of the Party was Hindu. Most of shelters of the Party leaders and activists were lost as many of the Hindus left the country. Many leaders and activists had no home as their families left the country. The main source of income of the party came from the members of the Hindu community. That source was also lost. At the same time, the Muslim League continued its torture. These two made the communist leaders and activists helpless. It negatively affected the Party. District leadership of the Party was influenced with this. The Chitiagong branch of the Communist Party lost many of its leaders and activists after the partition. (Jeebansreetee, [Reminiscence from Life], Shiihitya Prakash, Dhaka, 1999)
Class movement harmed : Barin Datta writes: The communal Two-Nation theory, and the communal conflict during 1946-47 seriously harmed class movement and class awareness. Government and the vested interests used the two tools of communal rift and oppression to counter class movement. (Sangraammookhar Deengoolee [Days Resonant with Struggles], Jatio Shahitya Prakasrunee, Dhaka, February, 1991)
Jhaandaa nehee chalegaa : Jasimuddin Mandal writes: Our comrades from the Hindu community were facing humiliation all the moments since the creation ol Pakistan. It was due to religion-based ultra-nationalism. The railway workers from Bihar coming to East Bengal couldn't tolerate Hindus. The Muslim League goons carried on powerful anti-Hindu propaganda among the workers from Bihar. Jinaah declared in Dhaka as he stepped in the capital of the new province of East Bengal : Heeaa kai ism-usam nehee chalegaa. Aagar kai bale to sheer kuchal denggaa—No 'ism, socialism, would be allowed here in Pakistan. The person would be beheaded if he dares to raise the issue. Most of our leaders coming from the Hindu community left for India. The rest in underground were not safe also. Kamaniya Dasgupta. Mohammad Ismail, Somnath Lahiri, Dhiren Dasgupta and other leaders attended a workers' meeting at Saidpur, a railway town in the northern part of East Bengal. The meeting was organized by the Railroad Workers Union. Suddenly, at one stage of the meeting, a group of Bihari workers started shouting: Heeaa kai' jhaandau-undaa nehee chalegaa Haamlog meettee khaake rahegaa. Tor do meeting-uteeng—No red flag will be allowed here, we'II survive without food. Smash down the meeting. Armed with sticks and iron rods they started rushing towards the dais of the meeting. Our activists with red flag turned puzzled at the initial moments. However, the leaders were saved. Our Bihari comrades didn't join the pro-Pakistan Bihari workers. Our leaders reached Parbatipur, a railway junction miles away from Saidpur, walking along the railway tracks at late night. (Jeebaner Relgaaree: Sangraa-mee Sreeteekathaa [The Train of Life, Reminiscence of Struggle], Shahitya Prakash, Dhaka, November, 1992)
Many other East Bengal districts went through similar experiences of people, their organizations and their movements targeted with vandalism and smashing, threat and assault, torture and denial. Questions thus emerge:
Which meeting (organization) was smashed? Which flag (politics) was denied? It's workers', poor peasants', people's. Isn't the class war visible?
But, astonishingly, and amazingly, it's difficult to find references of the party and politics that was standing with the people's cause—the Communist party and its politics—while 1946- and consequent riots are dissected and re-dissected in voluminous literature by the dominant stream of scholarship. The party had at least a newspaper. It's difficult to find any reference from the newspaper. It's difficult to find any reference of any related resolution taken in any meeting of the Party. Is it ignorance? Or, is it an attempt to ignore facts of a people's fight? It's, actually, an attempt to hide the dominant interests' misdeed : a class war waged against a people.
Class war at a critical juncture
A critical juncture, as defined by a group of political scientists, is "a period of significant change, which typically occurs in distinct ways in different countries (or in other units of analysis) and which is hypothesized to produce distinct legacies". (Ruth B Collier and D Collier, Shaping the Political Arena: Crilical Junctures, the Labor Movement, and Regime Dynamics in Latin America, Princeton University Press, 1991) Critical moments of actions find reactions in areas of economy, society, politics and organization form a stream with ingrained forces while part of the stream appears as critical juncture although it's difficult to separate one moment from another, and isolate a critical juncture from the rest of the moments forming the stream that takes part in shaping a broader historical phase. "Critical junctures may range from relatively quick transitions [...] to an extended period [...]" (ibid.)
Bengal along with the subcontinent was passing through a critical juncture since the end of the World War II. There were political atmosphere charged with sharpened conflict, poor peasants' and share croppers' unprecedented mobilization/struggle, incited communal rage, intensified competition between factions of compradors and their gangs of vandals in their wagons, questions related to transfer of power, weakening of state machine and attempts to re-enforce the machine/authority, after-ellects of the World War and famine, increased repression, assault on people by formal and informal political instruments of power, competing publicity by political actors, and expansion and decline of influence of the political party upholding people's cause—the Communist Party.
In those years, class struggle was intensifying in rural, urban and industrial areas as working people were getting mobilized, and politicization of the people was widening. In the first six months of 1946, Bengal experienced 242 labor strikes. It's more than one strike each day! There was a strike by the postal workers union on July 11 that effectively cut off Kolkala from the rest of India in the weeks preceding the 1946 riot. Pranab Kumar Chatterjee in Struggle and Strife in Urban Bengal 1937-1947 : a study of Calcutta-based urban politics in Bengal (Das Gupta & Co. Calcutta, 1991) cites further facts.
Pro-people cultural activities were expanding from urban to rural areas. Not only East Bengal, the broader area of the sub-continent was also awakening including rebellions in the local armed forces of the colonial masters, and was getting mobilized in the political fight of the day.
This perspective experienced a coup de main by the dominant interests, the 1946 riot—a fratricidal fight completely devoid of anti-imperialism and anti-feudalism, but loaded with medieval sense of sectarianship.
"From his earliest report to the Viceroy on the 16th, (Bengal) Governor Burrows warned that events in Calcutta were serious, but reassured Delhi that the 'disturbances have so far been markedly communal and not—repeat not—in any way anti-British or anti-Government'." (N Mansergh and P Moon, ed. The Transfer of Power 1942-47. (henceforth TOP) vol. VII, Burrows to Wavell, August 16, 1946, in Janam Mukherjee, Hungry Bengal : war, famines, riots and the end of empire 1939-1946, dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, University of Michigan, 2011) "In his final report of the 22nd, he again celebrated the fact that 'though "Direct Action Day" was intended to be a gesture against the British the violence had remained entirely 'communal.'" (TOP, vol. VIII, Burrows to Wavell, August 22, 1946, in ibid.) The lords were happy as happy were their chaapraashees, orderlies. Lumpens were organized to carry on the dagger-job on people, especially the working people.
The five-day August-1946 Kolkata riot experienced 876 and 1,916 rounds of ammunition fired by police and military respectively. The police used 500 tear gas shells and grenades. (Government of Bengal, Report of the Commissioner of Police on the disturbances and the Action Taken by the Calcutta Police between the 16th and 20th August Inclusive, Alipore. 1946, Home (Political) Confidential Files. West Bengal State Archives (WBSA), Calcutta; Eastern Command. 'Report on the Muslim-Hindu Conflict in Calcutta Following "Direct Action Day" I6th August 1946, Home (Poll) Confl. WBSA, in Nakazato Nariaki. op. cit.) And, with the bullets, communal instigations and patronization, a class war was intensified by the dominant interests, especially its hardcore reactionary, backward-looking factions as the charged situation scared the interests.
Patronization to the riot was there. The form of patronization is evident from the following description:
"[T]he army had a sufficient force on standby to deal with civil disturbances in their Calcutta garrison on 16 August. Nonetheless, they displayed the greatest reluctance to come out in aid of the civil authorities. The long delay in the army's action forms another important feature of the Calcutta riots along with the break down of the police system. (...) It was not until midday of the eighteenth [August 1946] that an all-out effort to regain control of the whole of Calcutta was made. (...) He [F R R Buchar, army commander] (...) attended a meeting (...) where Indian cabinet ministers (...) and British officials met together to deliberate for the first time since the out-break of the disturbances. It was decided that military pickets would be placed at important points throughout Calcutta. This meant a virtual reversal of the lukewarm stance previously adopted by the British high officials, including military generals. (...] It soon became apparent that the 'troubles' were more of a communal nature than anti-British or anti-government (...) The question, therefore, persists as to why experienced politicians and administrators like Burrows and Walker as well as military commanders like Sixsmith and Mackinlny continued to display so much reluctance to call in the military on a full scale until the arrival of Bucher on the eighteenth. (...) [T]hey (the British) had attached greater importance to the prevention of anti-British riots, in other words, protection of British interests, than to other concerns such as suppression of communal riots. It is only in this context that the Emergency Action Scheme of the Calcutta police and the stubborn opposition displayed by such British high officials as Sixsmith and Walker to military intervention make any sense." (ibid.)
It was followed by Radcliffe's dagger-act, citing it allegorically that made an unprecedented change in the entire perspective. Two states came into existence, and dominating interests entered into their business : consolidate class interests. And, there was the class war waged openly, and in the guise of sectarian hatred.
The assault based on communalism—riot, arson, loot, carnage and displacement of a part of population—was a form of ruling cliques' class war although a part of discussion on the issue identifies communal riots as an attempt to transfer property from a section to another in the society. The dominating interests' class war against people is missed if property transfer—forceful, illegal—is considered as the primary aspect of the political act. The property transfer-proposition also misses the dominating interests' attempt to deform and divert contradictions antagonistic to it, thwart development of socio-economic formation antagonistic to the dominating interests, and transition to a new progressive system. Deactivating organizations and political party of the working people harms the act of carrying forward class struggle by the working people. The dagger-act did the job for a period.
This class war by the dominated interests distracted people's attention from political betrayals, consolidation of comprador power in the state of Pakistan. It weakened people's alertness, their political movements, organizations. People were made busy with the "game" the dominating interests designed. Simultaneously, the move strengthened the dominating interests' hold on the society and tried to broaden its support base as its propaganda identified a part of the society as enemy, and as it organized aggressive participation of a part of the broader society—hoodlums, lumpen elements, and fortune seekers. The narrations from East Bengal cited above support the assertion made here. Other formal and informal documents are also there that support the assertion.
The class war initiated by the dominating interests in East Bengal had another significant aspect: ideological. It showed the interests' condition and capacity.
"The ideas of the ruling class", Marx finds, "are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force." (The German Ideology) In East Bengal, the dominating interests in its class war against the working people had to resort to a backward idea: communalism. The interests' capacity—failure to resort to an advanced idea—is exposed. The failure was bound to get reflected in its latter acts of ruling that, in turn, had other reactions not helpful to it.
Resorting to the reactionary idea—communalism—in the job of ruling showed the dominating interests' weakness. In the middle age, identifying in the way—middle age—is not proper as Romilla Thapar argues, a number of rulers tried to avoid this sort of politics—politics with communalism, politics with exclusion. Crisis going beyond control pushed a ruler of the age to resort to the politics of exclusion. The dominating interests in East Bengal in the 20th century had to resort to that backward politics: exclusion. It had to resort to and fan up the politics of exclusion to have a practical basis for its backward ideology on which its state was standing and was trying to gain legitimacy. It was a show of its inner weakness, its failure to co-opt a major part of the populace the interests planned to dominate.
The jab with dagger on the back of East Bengal people's movements and organization had another aspect : the dagger's failure. Within a short time the failure became evident in East Bengal. Resilience of the people and the Communist Party, and their fighting spirit were resurfacing in practical terms. That's another chapter, another critical juncture.
Vol. 48, No. 14 - 17, Oct 11 - Nov 7, 2015