Monday, July 13, 2009

"The Spoils Of Partition"

Review by A.G.Noorani
The distinguished scholar Joya Chatterji, Lecturer in History of Modern South Asia at Cambridge and Fellow of Trinity College, established in her widely acclaimed work Bengal Divided the communal divide that afflicted the province. Its subtitle was “Hindu Communalism and Partition, 1932-1947” (Cambridge University Press, 1995). The present work is, in a sense, a follow-up to the earlier one and reflects the same qualities of stupendous research and rigorous analysis. She belongs to a very small band of scholars in South Asia whose commitment to the truth is not overcome by false notions of “patriotism” or by communal bias. She explains the rationale behind the partition of India, and in particular of Bengal, and its consequences. Concentration on the partition of Punjab led to the neglect of the fate of Bengal. As with the partition of India, the advocates of Bengal’s partition lived to face the consequences of their miscalculations. She writes with wit and verve.
Earlier, in an article on the boundary award by Cyril Radcliffe, Joya Chatterji exposed the follies and worse of the two commissions over which he presided to demarcate the boundaries of the divided provinces of Bengal and Punjab (“The Fashioning of a Frontier”; Modern Asian Studies; 33(1) 1999; pages 185-242).
To this day, not a single Pakistani writer has dared or cared to question Jinnah’s preference of Radcliffe, a British conservative lawyer, to an impartial three-member commission comprising judges from other countries. By June 1947, Jinnah’s relations with Mountbatten had deteriorated steeply. The Radcliffe Report accepted many of the Congress’ claims in Bengal and was unfair to Pakistan, as Professor R.J. Noore has documented (Making the New Common wealth; Clarendon Press, Oxford; 1987; pages 27 and 37). Suhrawardy-Sarat Bose Plan
The Congress and the Hind.
The Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha opposed the Suhrawardy-Sarat Bose Plan for a United Bengal, which Jinnah accepted in a talk with Mountbatten on April 26, 1947. Gandhi prescribed impossible curbs which he would have rejected for the Central government. On May 27, 1947, Mountbatten’s Principal Secretary Eric Mieville “asked him [Nehru] how he viewed the discussions now going on about an independent Bengal. He reacted strongly and said there was no chance of the Hindus there agreeing to put themselves under permanent Muslim domination which was what the proposed agreement really amounted to. He did not, however, rule out the possibility of the whole of Bengal joining up with Hindustan [sic.]” (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; Second Series, Volume 2; page 182).
This writer has attempted an essay on the move for United Bengal (“United Bengal Plan: Pipe Dream or Missed Opportunity” in The Partition in Retrospect edited by Amrik Singh, Anamika Publishers & Distributors, 2000). The subject awaits scholarly attention which only scholars like Joya Chatterji can bestow.

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