The Division of Bengal, 1905-12

Bangladesh Table of Contents

In 1905 the British governor general, Lord George Curzon, divided Bengal into eastern and western sectors in order to improve administrative control of the huge and populous province. Curzon established a new province called Eastern Bengal and Assam, which had its capital at Dhaka. The new province of West Bengal (the present-day state of West Bengal in India) had its capital at Calcutta, which also was the capital of British India. During the next few years, the long neglected and predominantly Muslim eastern region of Bengal made strides in education and communications. Many Bengali Muslims viewed the partition as initial recognition of their cultural and political separation from the Hindu majority population. Curzon's decision, however, was ardently challenged by the educated and largely Hindu upper classes of Calcutta. The Indian National Congress (Congress), a Hindu-dominated political organization founded in 1885 and supported by the Calcutta elite, initiated a well-planned campaign against Curzon, accusing him of trying to undermine the nationalist movement that had been spearheaded by Bengal. Congress leaders objected that Curzon's partition of Bengal deprived Bengali Hindus of a majority in either new province--in effect a tactic of divide and rule. In response, they launched a movement to force the British to annul the partition. A swadeshi (a devotee of one's own country) movement boycotted British-made goods and encouraged the production and use of Indian-made goods to take their place. Swadeshi agitation spread throughout India and became a major plank in the Congress platform. Muslims generally favored the partition of Bengal but could not compete with the more politically articulate and economically powerful Hindus. In 1912 the British voided the partition of Bengal, a decision that heightened the growing estrangement between the Muslims and Hindus in many parts of the country. The reunited province was reconstituted as a presidency and the capital of India was moved from Calcutta to the less politically electric atmosphere of New Delhi. The reunion of divided Bengal was perceived by Muslims as a British accommodation to Hindu pressures.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress