The historic day of June 20th that ought to be celebrated as West Bengal Day, goes unnoticed almost every year, barring the last few recent ones, due to the Hindutva awakening after the formation of the Narendra Modi led NDA government at the center in May 2014.
The elite and intellectuals of West Bengal, who are convinced about their supremacy in knowledge and education, have conveniently forgotten the significant date of 20th June for decades. Reveling in the borrowed glory of Marx, the communist-minded intelligentsia has overlooked, even slighted, the stellar contribution of Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee.
But lest we stay ignorant lifelong, it’s time we look back to the year 1905 when the British had bifurcated Bengal into the Muslim-majority ‘Eastern Bengal and Assam’ and Hindu-majority region encompassing today’s states of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Odisha. Playing the diabolical game of deceit, the British handed over Hindu-dominated districts of Bengal, like Goalpara and Cachar to ‘Eastern Bengal and Assam’, relegating the Hindu demography to a status of a religious minority in the united Muslim-dominated region.
The ill-motivated move generated massive discontent and triggered huge protests with eminent stalwarts like Tagore leading them; the Brits were compelled to annul the partition in 1911.
After the first provincial elections of 1936-1937, Congress declined to form a government in Bengal province, despite emerging as the largest single party with 54 seats secured. This refusal had cascading consequences on the fate of Bengali Hindus who had trusted the Congress. It aided A. K. Fazlul Huq of Krishak Praja Party to emerge as the Prime Minister of Bengal after forming a coalition government with the Muslim League.
Bengal witnessed a shocking reversal of communal bonhomie during his term; after his government collapsed, Bengal fell into the lap of Jinnah of the Muslim League. Jinnah’s government didn’t stop at just providing relief to Muslims during the Bengal Famine of 1943 and leaving the Hindus to starve to death. He called for organized Hindu pogroms and supervised the slaughtering of the Bengali Hindus during the Great Calcutta Killings and Noakhali Riots with H. S. Suhrawardy as the new elected Prime Minister of Bengal in 1946.
Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, a staunch nationalist, who had always been averse to the idea of Bharat’s partition, was deeply anguished seeing the misery of Bengali Hindus under various Muslim elected leaders. As much as S P Mukherjee wanted the country to remain united, with the formation of Pakistan becoming inevitable, he was convinced that Hindus needed a homeland of their own. His foresight found resonance in the vision of other revolutionaries who formed the Bengal Partition League by the end of 1946.
On 15 March 1947, in an impassioned speech, Dr. Mukherjee stressed the need of securing a land of the Hindus in Bengal. Intrepid Hindu leaders including Nirmal Chandra Chatterjee, Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, Dr. Pramatha Nath Banerjee, and Kshitish Chandra Neogy concurred with Mukherjee’s idea of partitioning Bengal as the only way of survival for Bengali Hindus.
Turning Jinnah’s demand for Bharat’s partition in his favor, he questioned, that if 24 percent of Muslims cannot live with 76 percent non-Muslims in Bharat, how could 45 percent non-Muslims stay with 55 percent Muslims in Bengal. He cited the Great Calcutta Killing and Noakhali genocide to drive his point home.
Almost all Bengali Hindu lawyers, Hindu business establishments, including the legendary Ghanshyam Das Birla, rooted for Mukherjee’s demand and eventually, British Viceroy Mountbatten also relented.
On 20 June 1947, legislators of the Bengal Legislative Assembly met to decide if the United Bengal presidency would stay with Bharat, go to Pakistan, or be divided. With 120 votes against 90, it was first decided that Bengal will stay united and be merged with Pakistan. A separate meeting of the members of the non-Muslim-majority areas of Bengal voted for the partition of the province, with non-Muslim dominated provinces staying with Bharat, thus giving the Hindus a homeland where they could live with assurance and dignity and practice their Hindu Dharma with pride.
It has been over 70 years since that eventful day, Hindus in Bangladesh are still being persecuted, looted, killed, and the ones that manage to get away, seek shelter in the natural home for all Hindu Bengalis – West Bengal, Bharat, birthed on June 20th, 1947.
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