Good or bad, the work for which Lord Curzon earned an immortal fame in Indian history was his Partition of Bengal. That was the greatest event of his rule. Around that event there began in India an organized national movement, for the first time against the British.
Till the time of Curzon, the whole area covering Bengal, Bihar and Orissa remained under one administration. It was too big in size. Its population was nearly double the population of England. Lord Curzon thought it unwise to keep such a huge area as one province.
Therefore, he thought of a partition. Taking the eastern half of Bengal, namely, the Dacca, Chittagong and Rajshahi division and uniting those areas with Assam, Curzon formed a new province, named as ‘Eastern Bengal and Assam’. Dacca became the capital of the Province. The western half of Bengal with Bihar and Orissa remained as another province. Calcutta remained its capital.
Lord Curzon justified the partition on administrative grounds. To him it was impossible for one Lt. Governor to bear the burden of a province which contained 80,000,000 people. He also saw how the administration of the eastern part of Bengal was thoroughly neglected. He, therefore, decided to have two provinces instead of one, with two Lt. Governors to rule. So, he added Eastern Bengal to Assam, created a new province and placed it under a Lt. Governor. The partition was announced in 1905.
Curzon’s justification might be valid. But the partition of Bengal resulted in one serious thing. The Bengal proper with Bengali speaking population got broken into two parts and passed under two different provincial administrations. That is to say the Bengalis of eastern Bengal were separated from the Bengalis of Western Bengal. The Bengali race had a common language and culture for centuries. They had a strong feeling of unity within an integrated economic life. Thus the partition of Bengal proper was a matter of grave concern for the Bengali people. If Curzon wanted to break the province for administrative purpose he could have better taken out Bihar and Orissa to form a separate province. That could have kept the Bengalis undisturbed as a linguistic or cultural group. In that arrangement Curzon’s administrative measure to create two provinces should have passed without criticism.
But, the way in which Curzon partitioned Bengal appeared to many people as a politically motivated affair.
- Firstly, as it appeared, Curzon had a deep hatred towards Bengalis and, therefore, he wanted to break their solidarity as a people.
- Secondly, he divided Bengal in such a manner that the new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam became a Muslim majority Province. Thus, the Bengali Muslims were separated from the Bengali Hindus.
To the Indian mind, Curzon’s partition involved two serious issues.
- In those days, the spirit of nationalism was growing in Bengal rapidly. The educated Bengali youth began to adopt revolutionary methods. It was suspected that in order to check the rising tide of anti-British feelings in Bengal. Lord Curzon decided to divide the Bengali-speaking people.
- Secondly, Curzon wanted to introduce communalism in the name of administration. The partition was so cleverly done that the Hindus and Muslims were separated from each other in Bengal. With the growth of nationalism, the two communities were coming closer and closer to stand united against the foreigners. Curzon knew the value of ‘divide and rule’ theory, which he wanted to apply to counteract nationalism. Curzon himself toured Eastern Bengal and addressed the Muslim gatherings about the merit of their new province. He held before them a bright future of ‘Eastern Bengal’ where the Muslims would enjoy many benefits as Muslims.
Thus, the germs of communalism were introduced among the people to break their unity. It became clear that the Government adopted a policy of partiality towards the Muslims in order to keep them aloof from the national movement, or, to set them against the Hindus.
Thus, Curzon’s partition of Bengal in the year 1905 raised a great political storm in India. Grounds were prepared for a country-wide agitation. The National Congress took up the issue. The president of the Congress in 1905, Gopal Krishna Gokhale declared the scheme of partition “as a complete illustration of the worst features of the present system of bureaucratic rule” .
The Congress gave a call for agitation. “Vande Mataram” or “I bow to thee, Mother-land” became the slogan of the time. Soon, the agitation against partition assumed the shape of a national movement which became famous in history as the Swadeshi Movement.