By Chhanda Chatterjee
July 5, 2019
The Congress High Command at this time was busy trying to secure the unfettered control in the provincial ministries, where it had won an absolute majority i.e. the Hindu majority provinces, by staying away from ministry formation to pressurise the British into pruning the control given to the Governor over the working of these ministries in the Act of 1935.
In the process it lost the chance to combine with the Krishak Praja Party of Fazlul Haq and keep Muslim League out of power in the province. Congress attempts to woo the Muslims into the party’s fold through the Muslim mass contact programme rather exacerbated the dormant conflicts of the Hindus and the Muslims and roused the Muslim League into a vigorous defence of the interests of their own constituents with the full cooperation of the KPP. The communalization of the province had its roots in these complex developments and not in Bhadralok contempt for their Muslim cohorts. The Muslim Ashraf probably had no less contempt for their Atrap co-religionists, but they were quick to grasp the implications of the extended franchise granted in the Act of 1935 to the lower rungs of Muslims, the increase in the number of rural constituencies for Legislative Assembly seats and the necessity for mobilising support in the Union Boards and District Boards from the rural Muslim voters concentrated in the districts of East Bengal. The Muslim mass contact programme of the Congress roused them to action and the leaders from Ashraf background did not delay in approaching the Atrap masses concentrated in the villages.
To emphasise their distinctiveness, the Muslims of Bengal evolved a new language with sprinklings of Urdu and Arabic words instead of the Sanskrit based language of the Hindu Bengalis and started preparing text books using that language by using their control on primary school education. Educational grants and scholarships were utilised to favour the Muslim students in particular to redress the imbalance in the progress of education among the two communities. The Secondary Education Bill sought to liberate secondary education from the control of Calcutta University and wanted to vest it in a new Board where the nominees of the provincial government or ex-officio members would hold sway. The Calcutta Municipal Amendment Act sought to bring the Calcutta Corporation under the control of the Muslims through the introduction of a separate electorate for the Muslims. The ultimate aim of the Bill was to reserve jobs for the Muslims, which Fazlul Huq as Mayor had attempted but failed to achieve in 1935 through the intransigence of Congress councillors. The enforcement of the Communal ratio in the services and the embargo on the appointment of Hindus till the Hindu-Muslim ratio was brought at par also created a deep sense of frustration among the educated Hindus. Huq now became a captive in the hands of the Muslim League. All Huq’s oratorical skill was now directed to implementing the Muslim League agenda in every sphere of administration. This brought the clash of interests of the middle classes of the two communities in the open. Mohammad Shah has called it a ‘struggle within an elite group, between those in power (the dominant Hindus) and those seeking it (the nascent Muslim middle class). As Congress was not a communal organisation it could not speak in favour of Hindus in particular.
The non-committal attitude of the Congress brought the Hindu Mahasabha into action in the province. The Hindu Mahasabha president, Savarkar, started visiting Bengal since 1939 and held the All India Hindu Mahasabha session in Calcutta in December 1940. Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, who had left the Congress in 1939 following the party’s decision to quit office in protest against the British Government’s unilateral decision to involve India as a belligerent in the Second World War without consulting the Ministries, offered his services to Savarkar. He toured the countryside along with BC Chatterjee and drew up a list of grievances after the manner of the cahiers de doleances, drawn up by the leaders of the Third Estate on the eve of the French Revolution and submits the report during the All India Hindu Mahasabha session in December 1940. Thus while the Muslim League started opening local offices all over the villages in East Bengal, officially announced the formation of the Muslim National Guard in the Lucknow session of the Muslim League in 1938 and started organising the Muslims from the mosques, the Hindu Mahasabha too took care that the Hindus of Bengal were not taken unawares. They organised gymnastic societies under the aegis of various organisations like the Arya Vir Dal, the Mahavir Dal, the Bharat Sevasram Sangha, the Hindu Mission and above all the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangha. Thus the ground was being prepared for a head-on collision between the two communities. Congress withdrawal from the provincial ministries in protest against the involvement of India in the Second World War by the Viceroy’s diktat spruced up the Muslim League’s sagging fortunes and Jinnah could manipulate the two heavyweight Premiers from two Muslim majority provinces, Sir Sikander Hyat Khan and Fazlul Huq into proposing and seconding the Lahore Resolution, which floated the idea of Pakistan for the first time.
The resolution proposed two ‘Independent States,’ one on the west and other on the east with contiguous territories. This was also the time when the Bengal Provincial Muslim League had been secretly working on a plan of a greater Bengal including the Bengali speaking areas of Singhbhum, Manbhum and Assam. The scheme known as the Bangasam scheme was expected to provide the Bengali Muslims with ample lebensraum for unfettered expansion.
Chief Minister Fazlul Huq’s sudden rift with Jinnah in September 1941 opened new vistas for a Hindu-Muslim understanding when the Krishak Praja Party headed by Fazlul Huq formed an alliance with its staunch rival, the Hindu Mahasabha, led by Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee. The latter, who had been dubbed as an ‘arch communalist’ by HarunOr-Rashid, a renowned historian from Bangladesh, had been given a clean chit on that count by Fazlul Huq, who had been in touch with Shyama Prasad since his boyhood days in course of his legal articleship with Shyama Prasad’s father, Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee. The renowned KPP leader Abul Mansur Ahmad recounted Fazlul Huq’s statement in that respect in his well known reminiscences, Amar Dekha Rajnitir Panchas Bachhor (p. 224). However, the poison of communalism had already invaded the Muslim psyche in Bengal. Bengal had already experienced the terrible Dacca riots of 1941. Dacca city had become divided into two warring zones since then and the people of one community were always scared to trespass into the zone of another. They had become very sensitive on the questions of music before mosques or cow sacrifice during korbani. Police firing inside the Jame Masjid in Kishoreganj in Mymensingh on 24 October 1942, killing several people put matters beyond repair. People renamed the mosque ‘Shahidi mosque’ and blamed the Hindu District Magistrate Banerjee for it. Shyama Prasad was already irritated with the Governor and the Viceroy on several counts. These were the years of the Second World War.
The Japanese were advancing fast towards India. Burma had already been taken. But the British lacked the resources to offer a vigorous resistance. They therefore decided to resort to a scorched earth policy in the coastal districts on the Burma border by removing all means of transport and all food from these districts. Medinipur district was the worst affected as it fell victim to an attack of cyclone in October 1942 and the District Magistrate delayed relief to punish the Congress rebels of the Quit India Movement. Shyama Prasad realised that it was time for him to quit and submitted his resignation in November 1942.
Source: The Statesman