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Divide and Quit

Sabyasachi Bhattacharya

By Bidyut Chakrabarty
Routledge, London, 2004, pp. x 278, price not stated.


The author, a professor of political science at Delhi University, has contributed substantially to historical literature earlier and the present work is a very well documented study of the immediate background to the partition of Bengal and Assam. A remarkably industrious study of the sources available in archival depositories in India and England, this book frames in the first few pages the following agenda: “Given the vast scope of the subject, far being [sic] a complete account of the event and its outcome, the book is merely an attempt to understand partition in terms of the complex unfolding of socio-economic and political processes in the context of a declining colonial order….The exercise is therefore a matter-of-fact narration of those forces that promote or impede this process in an imperial context” that had undergone changes following the institution of separate Muslim electorates (p. 20).   Such a narrative is offered in the first three chapters in a mode different from the chapters which follow. The early chapters depict with a broad brush the background to the partition game. The two initial chapters are on the ‘socio-economic and cultural dimensions of Hindu-Muslim differences’ and the ‘Communal Award’, i.e. Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald’s decision in favour of electorates on communal basis in 1932 (this explains the periodization, commencing from 1932, adopted in the book).   Some of the views in the second chapter appear a little puzzling to those uninitiated in the intricacies of Bengal politics. For instance, one of the author’s ‘Concluding observations’ in Chapter II is that “Bengal Congress had long been dominated by rentier Hindus. When these nationalists were forced to choose between their opposition to foreign rule and the loss of their long-standing social and economic class interests, most of them opted for protection of these class interests” (p. 79). It is not clear how this is consistent with the author’s comments elsewhere in the book in criticism of Joya Chatterji. “There is denying [sic, presumably it should read ‘no denying’] that Hindu communalism became a force in the 1930s and 1940s in Bengal. What is not true is that the ‘the organized Hindu opinion became less anti-British’” (p. 21). Perhaps, in hot pursuit of a decisive refutation of the latter point made by Joya Chatterji in her work on Bengal partition, Chakrabarty makes a statement that cannot be reconciled with his own conclusions elsewhere. Another thing that might have received ...

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