Annulment of Partition

Towards the end of 1910 India had a new Viceroy, Lord Hardinge, and a new Secretary of State, Lord Crewe, in place, respectively, of Lord Minto and Lord Morley. Both Lord Hardinge and Lord Crewe felt that the unrest in India was chiefly due to the Partition of Bengal, and there would be no peace until this grievous wrong was remedied. The initiative in the matter was taken by the Secretary of State, Lord Crewe, but the new Viceroy, Lord Hardinge was afraid to take any step as it was opposed by all the high officials whom he consulted. But as soon as Lord Hardinge realised the seriousness of the situation in the two Bengals, he made up his mind and carried his whole Council with him. Advantage was taken of the visit of their Royal majesties, George V and Queen Mary, to India to announce the new proposals in the Delhi Durbar on 11th December, 1911.
Photo showing the grand Delhi Durbar held in 1911
File Photo of Lord Hardinge
So far as Bengal was concerned, the status quo was not restored. The Capital of British India was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi and the territories comprised in the two Bengals were redistributed as follows:
  • Bihar, Chhotonagpur, and Orissa were constituted into a province under a Lieutenant-Governor,
  • Assam was reverted to a new Chief-Commissionership,
  • the rest of the territory constituted the Province of Bengal, under the administrative control of a Governor.
The annulment of the partition of Bengali-speaking region was, no doubt, highly welcome in Bengal. But it came too late to check the growth of nationalism, particularly the militant nationalism, to which that unfortunate measure gave birth. This was highlighted by the bomb thrown at Lord Hardinge on 23 Dec, 1912, on the occasion of his State entry into Delhi, the new capital- city of British India. Lord Hardinge was badly wounded; the man holding the umbrella over him was killed, and another servant seriously wounded. (Delhi Conspiracy Case)

 

 

A painting showing assassination attempt at Lord Hardinge in Delhi

Background

Partition of Bengal

Bengal, Bihar and Orissa were a single province under British India. British control extended from Eastern Bengal across the entire Ganges plain, to the Indus valley in distant north-western India, with Calcutta as capital. In 1901, census was conducted which revealed that Bengal had a population of 78.5 million. Curzon and his administration had given the reason that Bengal was being partitioned because it has become too big to be administered. Although, the real motive behind the partition plan was the British desire to weaken Bengal, the nerve centre of Indian nationalism. Home Secretary Herbert Risley made his point clear in his note that "Bengal united is a power" and "Bengal divided will pull in several different ways."
The Government's decision to partition Bengal was made public in December 1903. This it sought to achieve by putting the Bengalis under two administrations by dividing them:
(i) on the basis of language (thus reducing the Bengalis to a minority in Bengal itself as in the new proposal Bengal was to have 17 million Bengalis and 37 million Hindi and Oriya speakers), and
(ii) on the basis of religion, as the western half was to be a Hindu majority area (42 million out of a total 54 million) and the eastern half was to be a Muslim majority area (18 million out of a total of 31 million).
Trying to woo the Muslims, Curzon, the viceroy at that time, argued that Dacca could become the capital of the new Muslim majority province, which would provide them with a unity not experienced by them since the days of old Muslim viceroys and kings.
The Congress had then started Swadeshi Movement to protest against the decision of partition of Bengal in August, 1905. And to popularise swadeshi goods and foreign goods were boycotted.
On 16 Oct 1905, through a Royal Proclamation, a new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam with its capital at Dacca and subsidiary headquarters at Chittagong was formed. The partition thus created two provinces: Eastern Bengal and Assam, with capital at Dhaka, and West Bengal, with its capital at Calcutta (which at that time was the capital of British India).
Extremism in Bengal
Thus, Swadeshi Movement failed to stop the partition of Bengal. This was the time when extreme nationalists came to the forefront. Though the revolutionary nationalists did not lead mass struggles against the British, their acts and sacrifices won them enormous popularity among the common people. Among the major groups were the Abhinav Bharat (centres in Nasik, and led by V. Savarkar), the Anushilan Samity (based in Dacca and led by Pulin Das), the Jugantar group (led by Jatindranath Mukherji) and the group led by Rash Behari Bose and Sachindranath Sanyal. These groups carried out several armed raids to raise funds and executions of English officials. The Swadeshi movement in Bengal also saw the emergence of labour unions and professional agitators. Bombay, Madras and Punjab also witnessed the growth of a spontaneous anti-imperialist labour movement, the most famous example being the 1908 strike of Bombay textile workers in protest against Tilak's arrest.
The Congress and political activity in general, were strongest in Bengal. The leadership of the Indian National Congress viewed partition tantamount to vivisection of their Mother. Vande-Mataram (Hail Motherland) became their national anthem and agitation against partition started in the form of mass meetings and rural unrest. Pujas offered to emphasize the solemn nature of the occasion. Hindu religious militancy reached its peak on 28 September 1905, the day of Mahalaya, the new-moon day before the puja, and thousands of Hindus gathered at the Kali temple in Calcutta.
Such religious fervour aroused hostility in average Muslim minds. Protest rallies were held by them urging its educated co-religionists to remain faithful to the government. Communal disturbances became a familiar feature in Eastern Bengal and Assam. The 1907 riots represent a watershed in the history of modern Bengal.
Meanwhile, the All India Muslim League founded in 1906 supported the partition.
While Hindu-Muslims relations deteriorated, political changes of great magnitude were taking place in the Government of India's policies. In the new province, Lt.Governor Bampfylde Fuller was accused by the anti-Partition movement leaders as partial to Muslims. Lord Curzon had resigned as Viceroy in 1905 following dispute with the Commander-in-Chief of Indian Army, Kitchner. Coordinated and successful campaign and political protests and agitation led to the ouster of the Lt. Governor of East Bengal and Assam Sir Bampfylde Fuller. He resigned in August 1906. His resignation and its prompt acceptance were considered by the Muslims, a victory for the Hindus.
The civil disobedience and Swadeshi movement snowballed to such proportions that Viceroy Curzon's scheme, ostensibly for administrative convenience, to divide Bengal into Eastern and Western provinces (whatever be the hidden reason divide and rule alleged by the proponents of anti-partition) was nipped in the bud. In the face of rising opposition to colonial rule the British ended the division and the partition had to be annulled.

Annulment of Partition and its Impact

According to the suggestion of the Governor-General-in-Council, King George V at his Coronation Durbar in Delhi in December 1911 announced the revocation of the Partition of Bengal and the two parts of Bengal were reunited. At the same time, certain changes were made in the administration, the Government of India was to have its seat at Delhi instead of Calcutta.
The annulment of the partition sorely disappointed and had a negative effect not only the Muslims of Bengal but also the Muslims of the whole of India. The Muslims thus felt that loyalty did not pay but agitation would. Thereafter, the dejected Muslims gradually took an anti-British stance. The aim of annulment was to combine appeasement of Bengali sentiment with administrative convenience. This end was achieved for a time, but the Bengali Muslims, having benefited from partition, were angry and disappointed. This resentment remained throughout the rest of the British period. The final division of Bengal at the partitioning of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, which split Bengal into India in the west and East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) in the east, was accompanied by intense violence.

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