An alternative to partition: the United Bengal Scheme

Bidyut Chakrabarty
South Asia Journal of South Asian Studies
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The 1947 British withdrawal from the Indian subcontinent led to the creation of two sovereign states, India and Pakistan. For Pakistanis, the justification for the Great Divide has always been the so-called 'two-nation theory', which holds that 'Hindus' and 'Muslims' in the subcontinent comprise distinct, homogenous collectivities, harbouring in their separate spheres the elements of nationality. As early as 1971 the proposition about Muslim homogeneity was thrown into doubt when erstwhile East Pakistan seceded to form an independent state after less than three decades as part of Pakistan. Now, a number of studies have shown the extent to which, in the lead-up to partition, religion was emphasised for political ends. But was religion-even then-the binding force Pakistani apologists have insisted it was? This essay looks at a relatively less known chapter in India's freedom struggle, namely, the demand of the Bengali political leadership for a third dominion of independent Bengal. Although the demand proved abortive, the fact that the idea of a United Bengal nation was seriously mooted, and actively pursued, by Hindu and Muslim politicians alike-often acting together-shows up the simplistic nature of the 'two-nation' view.