Thursday, November 03, 2005

Bande Mataram

On October 16, 1905 — the day of Lord Curzon’s Partition of Bengal — is regarded as a turning point in British India’s history. Indian opinion has always viewed the viceroy’s act as a Machiavellian measure to ‘divide and rule’ India by tearing apart the province along communal lines, giving birth to a Muslim-majority province in the east. There was widespread protest throughout the country that the partition was politically motivated. Overnight, a new spirit of patriotism filled the air. Bonfires were made of British goods, swadeshi schools sprang up and indigenous companies began to manufacture swadeshi goods. So charged was the air that it became dangerous to appear in foreign clothing.
By day, brave young men came out on the streets to picket bazaars and enforce the boycott. At night, the streets were eerie and deserted; sometimes the flames of burning Manchester cloth could be seen glowing in the darkness. An aggressive new militancy was taking over the reins of nationalism. Even before sunrise on October 16, the day of the partition, Calcutta’s streets had begun echoing with the cries of ‘Bande Mataram’. Patriotic sentiments shot up to an all-time high. Virtual strangers stopped each other on the streets to tie rakhi, symbolising brotherhood.
By February 1906, the lean and fanatical Aurobindo Ghose had returned to Calcutta to set into motion revolutionary terrorism on Irish lines. He became the leader of the extremist group in the Congress party and was soon demanding “the absolute right of self-determination for the people of India”. Overnight, the towns and the countryside in Bengal were honeycombed with terrorist societies, the Dacca Anushilan alone boasting 500 branches. The severity of the agitation further aggravated the growing divide, drawing the Nawab of Dacca into closer cooperation with the Aligarh group of Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan, who had sought a separate platform for Muslims as early as in 1869. Historian professor Ikram, in his book Modern Muslim India and the Birth of Pakistan (Delhi, 1950), was prophetic when he said, “The Nawab’s invitation brought the Aligarh leadership to the heart of Muslim Bengal… which marked the turning point in the history of the subcontinent.” This was the genesis of Pakistan.
Nayana Goradia » Editorial » The Big Idea » Story October 22, 2005 The writer is author of Lord Curzon: Last of the British Moghuls (OUP)

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