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The Root of Bangladesh

Part-6


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The Root of Bangladesh

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Faced with the economic and cultural domination of the Hindu intermediaries in Bengal (bhadralok), the ashraf (traditional Muslim aristocracy), the newly created Muslim jotedars who constituted the vernacular elite and Muslim peasants (atraf) closed ranks. Despite their outward unity, the coalition of various Muslim interest groups in Bengal was fragile. The interests and ideological orientations of these groups were dissimilar. Unlike the jotedars and peasants, the ashraf in Bengal spoke Urdu. The vernacular Muslim elites and peasants in Bengal wanted agrarian reforms; the ashraf was a staunch proponent of absentee landlordism. The Muslim vernacular elite and atraf identified themselves with the local culture and language, the ashraf was enthralled by Islamic universalism. The internal contradictions of the Muslim society in Bengal were naturally mirrored in their political life.

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Initially, the leadership of the Muslim community in Bengal belonged to ashraf for two reasons. First, the size of the vernacular elite was too small in the beginning of the twentieth century and the vernacular elite itself tried to imitate the traditional aristocracy. Secondly, because of the institutional vacuum in the rural areas, it was very difficult to mobilise politically Muslim masses in the Bengal region. The easiest means of arousing such masses was to appeal to religious sentiments and emotions. In this charged atmosphere the natural leadership of the Muslim masses in Bengal lay with the immigrant ashraf who monopolized the religious leadership.

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The rivalry between Muslim ashraf and Hindu bhadralok first surfaced in the political arena, when the British partitioned the province of Bengal in 1905 for administrative reasons. The nascent Muslim middle class under the leadership of the Muslim Nawab of Dhaka supported the partition in the hope of getting patronage of the British rulers. To the Hindu bhadralok who had extensive economic interests on both sides of partitioned Bengal, the move to separate the Bengali-speaking areas in East Bengal and Assam was a big jolt. They viewed it as a sinister design to weaken Bengal which was the vanguard of struggle for independence. The bhadralok class idolized the "Golden Bengal". Though initially the anti-partition movement was non-violent, the dark anger of the Hindu middle class soon found its expression in terroristic activities. The emotionally charged atmosphere culminated in communal riots. The partition of Bengal ultimately turned out to be a defeat for all. The Raj had to eat the humble pie and annul the partition in 1911. To the Muslims, the annulment of the partition was a major disappointment. It virtually shook their faith in the British rulers. To the Hindu bhadralok of Bengal, the annulment was a pyrrhic victory. "The net result of these developments in Bengal during the first decade of this century, so far as the bhadralok leadership of Bengal was concerned, lay in the exposure of its isolation, its inner contradictions and the essentially opportunistic character of its politics".

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The communal politics of confrontation and violence which erupted during the partition of Bengal was interrupted by a brief honeymoon during the non-cooperation movement led by the Indian National Congress and the Khilafat movement of the Indian Muslims in the second decade of 20th century. Bengal witnessed in the twenties the emergence of the charismatic; leadership of Chitta Ranjan Das who had the foresight to appreciate the alienation of the Muslim middle classes. In 1923 Das signed a pact with Fazlul Huq, Suhrawardy and other Muslim leaders. This pact which is known as the Bengal Pact provided guarantees for due representation of Muslims in politics and administration. The spirit of Hindu-Muslim rapprochement evaporated with the death of C.R. Das in 1925. However, even if Das were alive he might not have succeeded in containing the communal backlash. The communal problem was not unique to Bengal, it became the main issue in all India politics. As the communal tension mounted in the 1930s, the Muslim ashraf in Bengal which had close ties with the Muslim leadership in other parts of the sub-continent pursued a policy of communal confrontation.

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The Road to Pakistan
The Pakistan Resolution of 1940 at Lahore was the outcome of the political confrontation between Hindus and Muslims. The Lahore Resolution demanded that geographically contiguous units "be demarcated into regions which should be constituted with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary so that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority should be grouped to constitute "Independent States" in which the constitutional units be autonomous and sovereign". From the constitutional point of view, the Lahore Resolution asserted that South Asia consisted of many nations and not of two nations. It was, in effect, a blueprint for the balkanization of South Asia and not merely for its partition into two units.

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