20th June, 1947– A watershed day for Bengal and the Bengali Hindus as, on this day a homeland for them was curved out, where they can stay safe and secure without the fear of being killed or being discriminated against. One man who stood tall amongst all, despite the odds against him, despite resentment and betrayal from his own people, despite feeling low at times out of despair, seeing his mission to save the Bengali Hindus from imminent genocide being crushed due to apathy and selfishness of his co-warriors, yet never gave up and fought till the end to give the Bengali Hindus their home, was the lion-hearted Bharat Kesari, Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. This is also the day to pay our heartiest tribute to him for his grit, courage and determination to achieve his goal to protect the Hindus, not only of Bengal but from all over India, specifically Kashmir, Punjab, Sindh, Assam and Tripura. The following paragraphs will provide a short glimpse into the journey of the man, who received the baton of leading the hindus from none other than Swami Pranavananda Maharaj, the founder of the Bharat Sevasram Sangh and spiritual as well as intellectual guide of the freedom fighters, his journey towards curving out West Bengal and the hurdles faced in the path of doing so.
Dr. Mukherjee had gone through the worst low in his socio-political career between 1944-1946, when he faced hurdles on multiple counts- Firstly, when Gandhiji refused to pay heed to his multiple requests of not meeting Jinnah and putting forth C.Rajagopalachari’s formula of partition to him,this despite the fact that Dr.Ambedkar was against the partition of India, too: Secondly, by the betrayal of his brethren from the Hindu Mahasabha, who were in two minds regarding their continuance with the Mahasabha and some of them joining the Congress, noteworthy being Meherchand Khanna from Punjab: Thirdly, the electoral losses of the Hindu Mahasabha in the provincial elections which included his own loss by a huge margin, which made him totally crestfallen on losing the confidence of the very people for whom he always fought: Fourthly, the treachery of the Congress leaders, who after being released from Jail after they were arrested during the Quit India Movement began delivering pro Hindu statements thus gaining in the confidence of the Hindus, despite not shedding their secularist image. Their hypocrisy was in display when Nehru, who had never practiced law before, decided to done the legal attire to defend the INA men charged by the British as ‘traitors’ & prisoners of war for siding with Japan during the World War II, this despite the fact that it was they who had shunned Netaji and was responsible for his disappearance and ultimately leading a life of recluse till his last breath. The Communists, who have traditionally been against the interests of our nation, too cast a spanner on his efforts by sabotaging his meeting at Calcutta University. They scathingly criticize him to this day: Fifthly, Sarat Chandra Basu, Netaji’s elder brother, refusing to join hands with him. All of this did not deter Dr.Mukherjee from his path of standing by the Hindus when they needed him the most. He was the only one, who along with Radha Binod Pal lent a strong support to the Student revolutionaries of Kolkata who were stopped from holding a procession in Central Calcutta, even when other leaders, specifically Sarat Basu refused to stand by them.
Direct Action Day call by Jinnah, which triggered the Suhrawardy sponsored Great Calcutta Killings on 16th August, 1946 was Dr.Mukherjee’s Litmus test. Gandhiji’s meeting with Jinnah bore the results as predicted by Dr. Mukherjee and Jinnah’s Muslim League gained strength with even the anti Muslim league leaders accepting him as the sole Muslim voice and ultimately joining the league. Muslim League’s increased strength gave it the confidence to go ahead with the inhuman bloodbath by butchering the Hindus in Calcutta on 16th August, 1946, known as “The Great Calcutta Killings”, masterminded by the Prime Minister of Bengal, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, triggered by the meeting held by him and Khawaja Nazimuddin at Ochterhlony Monument (Shahid Minar) with the Muslim community, after their midday prayers and post the inflammatory speech delivered by Nazimuddin, instigating them to go for the kill. The purpose of the mission was to compel the hindus to leave Kolkata. Hindus were slaughtered, the women raped and tortured- the noteworthy incident being the rape of hindu nurses in a Nurses hostel in Harrison Road (now M.G.Road), Central Calcutta. Suhrawardy never tried to stop this civil war like situation and bloodshed, while sitting quietly at the Lalbazar Police Control Room with the Dy.Commisioner of Police, Doha, while the Police Chief, Niyaz Muhammad Khan’s men stirred up the riot more than trying to stop it. Suhrawardy was not keen to call in the Army even, nor was the Commander-in- Chief of Bengal, Brigadier Mckinnel keen to send in the Army to quash the rioting. Rather Shurwardy was roaming around Calcutta with the Army Chief instead of making an attempt to end the bloodbath. It was during such a dire time for the Hindus of Bengal, that Dr.S.P. Mukherjee stood by their side as their savior rushing in to provide relief to them and rescuing those in need. A notable name who emerged as the messiah of the hindus at that time was Gopal Chandra Mukherjee, popularly called Gopal Pantha, because he owned a meat shop in North Kolkata, who organized gangs of young men rescuing the hindus from the clutches of the barbaric Islamists.
Suhrawardy had underestimated the Bengali hindus, considering them to be meek and thought that he and his hoodlums can terrorize the hindus into leaving Kolkata. But with the Hindu majority refusing to give in, fighting back and forcing Suhrawardy’s main to retreat, his plan failed totally. Now faced with imminent partition of India and subsequent partition of Bengal which would cause Kolkata to remain on the Indian side, he shifted from playing the religious card to playing the regional card, proposing to create a separate Bengali homeland, which will neither be a part of India nor of Pakistan. The reasons for this were aplenty: 1.Such a homeland would be a Muslim majority one 2.The major crunch of Trade & Commercial activity was based in Kolkata and the industrial belt of Asansol-Durgapur making it imperative to hold on to those areas. 3.Suhrawardy had a lot of unnamed property in his favour, the transfer/sale of which would have been difficult due to their shady nature. He received support for his proposal from unlikely quarters, that of Congress leaders, Sarat Basu & Kiran Shankar Roy, who thought they would come into prominence if a separate Bengali homeland materialised.
It was during and post the Great Calcutta Killings that the Hindus started regaining confidence and faith in Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and the Hindu Mahasabha as the saviour of the Hindus. Dr. S.P. Mukherjee’s acumen, leadership and dedication towards the cause of the hindus bore fruit. He, in his series of interactions with the Hindu community reminded them of the brutal killings on 1946 and how the Muslim majority govt of Bengal, now affiliated to the Muslim League failed to protect their lives and property. He even succeeded in getting the Congress to join hands with him for the welfare of the hindus. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was a staunch nationalist and was strongly against the partition of our mother India, so much so that he desperately tried to convince Gandhiji many times not to accede to Jinnah’s partition proposal or agree to Rajagopalachari’s partition formula. But when he realized that partition was imminent, he decided to go with the partition of Bengal as that was the only option to save the Bengali hindus from being persecuted and slaughtered from the Muslim majority that Bengal would have become if it were not partitioned. He also wrote a letter to Lord Mountbatten with a proposal of either to go with the recommendations of the Cabinet Mission or accept his proposal to divide Bengal, knowing fully well that, since the former had become obsolete, the latter would be highlighted as his wish.
Towards the end of 1946, the Bengal Partition League was formed by eminent Bengali Hindu intellectuals as an association for the partition of Bengal. The key people among them were Hemanta Kumar Sarkar, Nalinakshya Sanyal, Major General A. C. Chatterjee, Jadab Panja, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Upendranath Banerjee, Dr. Shishir Kumar Banerjee, Subhodh Chandra Mitra and Shailendra Kumar Ghosh. The Bengal Partition League later came to be known as the Bengal Provincial Conference. In February, the Bengal Provincial Hindu Mahasabha constituted a committee for the creation of a separate province for the Hindus of Bengal and began their campaign in the districts. On 29 March, at the annual meeting of the British Indian Association a proposal was passed for the constitution of a homeland for the Bengali Hindus. Maharaja Udaychand Mehtab of Burdwan, P.N.Sinha Ray, Maharaja Srish Chandra Nandy of Cossimbazar, Maharaja Prabendra Mohan Tagore, Maharaja Sitangshukanta Acharya Chaudhuri, Amulyadhan Auddy and Amarendra Narayan Roy were among the eminent persons who supported the move.
Dr.Mukherjee’s popularity and acceptability amongst the hindus of Bengal kept soaring. The Bengali daily, Amrita Bazar Patrika conducted a survey, wherein it was observed that more than 98% of the Hindus supported partition of Bengal.
Meanwhile, Sarat Basu and K.S.Roy’s blatent support for Suhrawardy’s Bengali homeland plan didnot cut ice with some of the Congress Leaders at the National level, primarily Sardar Patel. He practically rebuked them for moving away from national politics. Ultimately Dr. S.P. Mukherjee’s resolve, focus and dedication to protecting the hindus in securing them with a homeland of their own bore fruit.
Suhrawardy’s Bengali homeland proposal, vilely supported by Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan with the hope that this homeland would soon merge with Pakistan, being a Muslim majority land fell flat as it was vetoed by not only Sardar, but Nehru too, under pressure and Gandhiji, despite being indifferent in the beginning, went against it. Later Sarat Basu and Suhrawardy too, moved apart due to differences of opinion regarding Bengal’s fate.
On June 20th, 1947, the members of the Bengal Legislative Assembly cast three separate votes on the proposal to partition Bengal:
• In the joint session of the house, composed of all the members of the Assembly, the division of the joint session of the House stood at 126 votes against and 90 votes for joining the existing Constituent Assembly (i.e., India)
• Then the members of the Muslim-majority areas of Bengal in a separate session passed a motion by 106–35 votes against partitioning Bengal and instead joining a new Constituent Assembly (i.e., Pakistan) as a whole.
• This was followed by the separate meeting of the members of the non-Muslim-majority areas of Bengal who by a division of 58–21 voted for partition of the province. The names of all those men who voted for West Bengal , are given in the attached photograph. We are indebted to all of them for giving us our homeland within our Mother India.
Under the Mountbatten Plan, a single majority vote in favour of partition by either notionally divided half of the Assembly would have decided the division of the province, and hence the house proceedings on 20 June resulted in the decision to partition Bengal. This set the stage for the creation of West Bengal as a province of India and East Bengal as a province of the Dominion of Pakistan.
Also in accordance with the Mountbatten Plan, in a referendum held on 7 July, the electorate of Sylhet voted to join East Bengal. Further, the Boundary Commission headed by Sir Cyril Radcliffe decided on the territorial demarcation between the two newly created provinces, which was as follows:
- Pakistan: East Dinajpur, Rangpur, Rajshahi, Bogra, Pabna, Mymensingh, Sylhet (except Barak valley), Khulna, Bakerganj, Tippera, Noakhali, Chittagong, Jessore, East Nadia, Chittagong Hill Tract.
- India: West Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Malda, Murshidabad, West Nadia, Calcutta, 24 Pargana, Burdwan, Birbhum, Midnapore, Howrah, Hooghly and Barak Valley in Assam.
It is believed that the hindu majority Chittagong Hill tracts were given to Pakistan in order to please Jinnah, as stated by Alex Vonn Tunzelman in his book the Indian Summer. This has ultimately resulted in the persecution and severe torture of the hindu tribals living there in the hands of the current Bangladeshi regime.
Our best homage to Dr.Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and all of the leaders who made the formation of West Bengal possible would be to give back our state it’s lost glory in intellectual, moral, cultural and socio economic spheres.
Ref : 1. Bharat Kesari Jugpurush Shyama Prasad by Tathahata Roy, 2.The Calcutta Riot, 1946 by Suranjan Das, 3. Indian Summer by Alex Vonn Tunzelman