Looking Back

1905 Partition and Bangladesh

Badruddin Umar

There is little doubt that the 1905 partition of Bengal was a British conspiracy. Through this scheme the British wanted to draw a new schism between the Hindus and the Muslims and incite the old division. It is true prevailing conditions in the region were propitious for hatching such a conspiracy and executing it. In the 19th century for various reasons in economic, educational, cultural and social aspects Muslims were trailing the Hindus. It is in such a context a large segment of the upper and middle class Muslims wanted East Bengal to be a separate province from West Bengal so that they could establish their own administration and bring about quick change and development. It may be noted such conditions existed in the early 1920s, long before the Lahore Resolution of 1940. A few years after the partition of Bengal in 1905 the British government was forced to annul the partition due to fierce opposition from the Hindu zamindars and the middle class who in turn were guided by their communal interests. The British were compelled to restore the provincial government in united Bengal abrogating the new province of East Bengal and Assam.

Conditions prevailing in current day Bangladesh makes one wonder if the 1905 plan of a separate province of East Bengal and Assam would have been a better arrangement in all aspects. Firstly, that would ensure growth and development of a Muslim middle class under the British which could not occur until 1947. If that were the case then the communalism that pervaded the whole of Bengal in the 1940s could have been averted. Secondly, in the 1940s the Muslims of Bengal would not have backed the demand for the creation of Pakistan with as much vigour as they did. It would mean that Bengal would not have been the bastion of support for Pakistan. Therefore, the conditions that favoured the division of India in 1947 would have been largely absent.

The annulment of 1905 partition of Bengal may be considered as harmful if one takes into consideration the conditions in today's Bangladesh. Very little economic progress took place in East Bengal during the 24 years it was a province of the state of Pakistan. Due to Pakistan's unmitigated economic exploitation of East Bengal and oppression of its people such conditions would not have changed even in the next 50 years. Bangladesh emerged as an independent state after a long drawn struggle against such exploitation and struggle.

During this period no organised class was formed that could take over the reins of power. The middle class was small in size and its leaders lacked the maturity that the West Bengal based Bengali middle class had. This resulted in the transfer of authority to a class (or a group of people) who largely lacked necessary education, culture and administrative capacity. The past economic condition of the middle class rulers of the independent Bangladesh was poor. Essentially, they were the first generation as rulers and social leaders. In broad terms it may be stated that 85 percent of them were of first generation, 10 percent were of second generation and 5 percent were of more than two generations.

If the leaders of independent Bangladesh came to power through a socialist revolution, under a socialist leadership and guided by socialist thought as was the case in Russia, China and Cuba then there would not have been a problem. Their lack of education, culture, financial solvency, political maturity and administrative capacity has created a huge chaos in post 1971 Bangladesh.

After assuming power without any prior preparation the new ruling class created an anarchic situation in every aspect of life. Overwhelming bulk of the senior and middle order leaders of the ruling party Awami League was illiterate or half literate. Their cultural level was also very low.

Social backwardness and appalling condition of the ruling party have thrown the country into unfathomable crisis. From the very beginning instead of good governance, the country was subjected to poor rule, plunder and terror. As a result dire conditions prevail in today's Bangladesh under the Awami League rule. It can be said with great certainty the country would not have reached this stage if partition of Bengal of 1905 would not have been annulled.

The issue has been discussed in brief. There is a need for a detailed and documented discussion on the topic.

[Originally published in March, 2021 issue of Sangskriti, Dhaka. Translated by C R Abrar]

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Vol. 53, No. 42, Apr 18 - 24, 2021