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The Land - History

Referred to as Vanga in the Mahabharata, West Bengal has a long history that predates the Aryan invasions of India.

It was part of the Mauryan empire in the 3rd century before being overrun by the Guptas. For three centuries from around the 9th century A.D, the Pala dynasty controlled a large area based in Bengal and including parts of Orissa, Bihar and modern Bangladesh.

Bengal was brought under Muslim control by Qutb-ud-din, first of the sultans of Delhi, at the end of the 12th century. Following the death of Aurangzeb in 1707,Bengal became an independent Muslim state. Britain had established a trading post in Calcutta in 1698 which quickly prospered. Sensing rich pickings, Siraj-ud-daula, the Nawab of Bengal, came down from his capital at Murshidabad and easily took Calcutta in 1756.

Clive defeated him the following year at the battle of Plassey, helped by the treachery of Siraj-ud-daula’s uncle, Mir Jafar, who commanded the greater part of the nawab’s army. He was rewarded by succeeding his nephew as nawab but after the battle of Buxar in 1764,the British took full control of Bengal.Clive’s triumph enabled the British to install their own nominee on the throne of Bengal, which became a British client state governed by a puppet ruler whose only duty was to satisfy the East India Company’s financial expectations.

Between 1757 and 1765 a series of ruthless financial and commercial demands gradually drained Bengal of its seemingly inexhaustible wealth. Within a few years, the East India company had become the real ruler of Bengal and Calcutta became the seat of government for the whole province.

At this time,lots of religious and social movements were going on for the revival of Hinduism and one of them was the Brahmo Samaj founded by a brilliant and intellectual Bengali, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, who encouraged the growth of a new social consciousness by defending and reasserting the positive elements of Hinduism and purging Hinduism of its bad traditions, condemning the caste system, attacking rituals like animal sacrifice and idol worship and abolishing child marriage and sati.

The last great reforming movement of the 19th century was the Ramkrishna Mission, which was based on the teachings of Shri Ramkrishna, and led by his disciple, Swami Vivekananda who was a national hero and had acted as the spokesman of Hinduism in the West, preaching the virtues of Hindu civilization and proclaiming the greatness of India’s history.

A famous Bengali revolutionary and leader, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, who was inspired by radical Marxist ideas and who had given up the prospect of a brilliant career in the ICS to join the nationalist struggle, succeeded Nehru as Congress President in 1937 on a platform of uncompromising opposition to the new constitution and the federation and resigned from Congress in 1939 to form the Forward Bloc, adopted a policy of violent resistance to the British, and left India during the Second World War to broadcast from Germany and organize the Indian National Army out of Indian prisoners of war in Japan.

Another famous Bengali, Surendranath Banerjee was one of the first leaders of Indian Nationalist Movement and it was he who founded the first nationwide political organization in India, the Indian National Congress, in 1883. In 1905,the huge province of Bengal was partitioned. This was one of the last acts of Lord Curzon, who in order to make this large and populous province more manageable divided it into two halves-one half with a Hindu majority, the other with a Muslim majority.

This move was carried out without consulting Indian opinion, without any consideration of Indian feelings. The Indians saw it as yet another attack on their culture and the identity of the people, especially in Bengal, which was the centre of nationalist feeling. Bengal erupted in huge demonstrations and protests, demanding that every Bengali holding any kind of office under government auspices should resign at once.

By the middle of 1905,it became clear that the partition was going through in spite of the growing protest movement, so the protestors enlarged their activities, calling for a boycott of all British goods and the purchase of only the things that were swadeshi- Indian-made. The British retaliated by taking severe measures, but their drastic actions failed to check the nationalist movement.

The failure of these tactics led in 1909 to the first series of political reforms and two years later the partition of Bengal itself was revoked. In August 1947, Lord Mountbatten withdrew British rule from India after transferring power to two governments, not one and persuaded the Congress to accept the idea of a divided India and on August 15, India was finally partitioned. This resulted in Bengal getting divided between India and Pakistan.

There were large number of Hindus and Muslims living side by side in Bengal and because of the partition, half a million Hindus migrated from their homes matched by an equal number of Muslims and the whole state of Bengal was divided into West Bengal(Hindu majority) and Bangladesh(Muslim majority).