This period can be seen as an aggressive policy taken by the British to carry forward their policy of divide and rule. In these 15 years, Lord Curzon (1899-1905), Lord Minto (1905-1910), and Lord Hardinge (1910-1916) played important roles. Policies taken by Lord Curzon 1. He had many objectives as part of his policy, such as the spread of communalism 2. Division of Bengal 3. Division of Indian National Congress
Motives behind the Partition of Bengal
- Thus, Curzon came up with the idea to suppress the rising tide of nationalism. Curzon wanted to spread the idea that the bitter attitude adopted by the British against the Muslims was now to be replaced by a benevolent attitude, and that the longevity of British rule in India can only be ascertained with the active alliance of the Muslims.
- Thus, if we trace the background of the communal scenario, after the revolt of 1857, some British scholars tried to prove, that it was a Muslim conspiracy.
- With the publication of the book, ‘Indian Musalman’, by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, and with his active alliance, the attitude of the British towards Muslims changed significantly.
- Thus Curzon wanted to ensure that the minority consciousness should be used against the majority, and that this would then break the solidarity of Indian society, and in turn, break the solidarity of the Indian National Movement as well. Thus, his active agenda was to create a feeling of minority consciousnesses. The ‘Partition of Bengal’ was at the core of his policies.
- Bengal was one of the largest states, and the most prosperous state. The population of Bengal was balanced- wherein Hindus and Muslims were numerically almost equal. Their consciousness was that of a Bengali consciousness and not at all a religious contradiction between Hindus and Muslims, and the Bengali intelligentsia was primarily responsible for the spread of nationalism in different parts of India.
- In the closing era of the 19th Century, there were various streams of nationalism such as moderate nationalism, extremist nationalism, revolutionary nationalism, all were all emanating from Bengal and were diverted to different parts of India.
- Curzon knew that Bengal was a nerve-center of Indian Nationalism, and the prosperity and the balanced pattern of demography of Bengal was the biggest strength of Bengal. Thus, Curzon wanted to divide Bengal, and the grounds for such a division were demographic inequality. The western part of Bengal was mostly a Muslim minority, and a Hindu majority, while the eastern part of Bengal was mostly a Muslim majority and Hindu minority. 8. Thus, in this context, it was very easy for the ruling system to play the card of minority consciousness. Curzon had said that since the days of Prophet Muhammad, Muslims have been fighting for their own homeland, and it was the right time to give it to them. Thus it was the ‘responsibility’ of the British to fulfill this demand of a separate homeland for the Muslims. It was this ‘appeasement’ policy that created a wave of communalism in Bengal. 9. Through this division, the economic crippling of Bengal was also possible, because, in eastern Bengal, there were Muslim majority peasants, who used to cultivate jute, and in western Bengal, there were many jute processing mills that were owned by Hindu mill owners, so the solidarity between them, was the basis of the jute economy of Bengal. 10. But, in the wake of communalism, this social solidarity was broken and that ultimately resulted in a rise of communalism, which in turn led to the crippling of the jute based economy of Bengal. Thus, Curzon wanted to divide Bengal in order to create a socio-economic crisis. This socio-economic crisis would, in turn, create local problems which would be enough to subvert the rising tide of nationalism.
But officially, Curzon mentioned that Bengal was a large state and that due to its large size, administrative manageability cannot be enforced properly. But in reality, it was the rising tide of nationalism in Bengal which was affecting various other parts of India, and thus, Curzon wanted to create a local crisis so that the feeling of nationalism would subside easily. Curzon had a brief conversation with the British Home Minister, Risley, who observed, “Bengal united is a power; Bengal divided will pull in several different directions”. This statement was very strong and important as it reflects the design of the British policy of divide and rule, and it also reflects Curzon’s motive. The announcement of Partition a) On 16th October, 1905, the plan of partition was announced. It was a dream that was converted into a nightmare. b) There were a series of protests that were triggered against this announcement, not only in Bengal, but in many parts of India. It was beyond the imagination of any political thinker that the partition of Bengal would be opposed in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and even in Punjab. c) This was a reflection of the rising trend of nationalism. Once the partition plan was announced, an ‘anti-partition’ movement was started in Bengal and also in many parts of India, and this expresses the solidarity of Indian nationalism.