The Partition of Bengal in 1947 divided Bengal into the two separate entities of West Bengal belonging to India, and East Bengal belonging to Pakistan. This was part of the Partition of India and officially took place during August 14 – August 15, 1947. East Bengal was renamed East Pakistan, and later became the independent nation of Bangladesh after the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. When plans for a separate Muslim state were first proposed, Bengal was not included. Supporters of Pakistan argued that only in their own state would Muslims be able to flourish, that they would be discriminated against in a Hindu-majority independent India. As Britain determined to grant independence and to do so as soon as possible after the end of World War II, the government began to see accepting partition as the quickest, most pragmatic solution. Bengal had been divided earlier, in 1905. This fueled an upsurge of nationalist sentiment across India. In 1911, Bengal had been reunified. Hindus had opposed the 1905 partition, while Muslims, who benefited from this, were more sympathetic. In 1947, when the two communities voted on remaining in India or joining Pakistan, it was the Hindus who voted for partition. The government of Bengal supported a unified, independent Bengal as a third state.
Partition of Bengal, 1947 is the latest major change in the political geography of Bengal. Myriad kingdoms and principalities of ancient eastern India had been always changing in their extent and influences until a trans-Bengal political unity was achieved by the Husain Shahi rulers under the imperial banner of ‘Shah-i- Bangala’. Under the Mughal and early British regimes, Bengal had also undergone frequent changes in its territorial boundaries. But all these changes and transfigurations had aroused little public curiosity until the partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon in 1905. The measure stirred so much public controversy that it had to be annulled in 1911 in order to keep the imperial control undiminished.
Other provinces would also want independence, resulting in too many non-viable states. The majority of Muslims did opt to join Pakistan but wanted to take the whole province with them. They did not choose partition. In 1971, they asserted their cultural difference from West Pakistan to become Bangladesh. Throughout all discussions about partition, some wanted a unified Bengal. Some Bengalis always stressed their cultural and linguistic identity across the religious divide, asserting Bengali solidarity. There is, indeed, a strong current in Bengali literature expressing human unity, beyond but including the unity of the Bengali people. Partition failed, in the case of Bengal, to respect a people’s affirmation of solidarity. A world community that aims to establish global cooperation, that wants to minimize and eventually abolish all conflict, needs to build bridges between communities, not to partition them. The potential for bridge-building resided deep within Bengali history and culture; tragically, circumstances conspired to ride rough-shod over this in the name of political expediency.