National and International Issues

Greater Bengal: History Repeat Itself

Bengalis are considered as one of the most politically aware people of the Indian sub-continent. Perhaps, it is the only nation in the Indo-Pak sub-continent in which the nationalist sentiments outstrip religious affiliation. History is witness to this fact. It was proven first in 1905 when the United Bengal territory was divided by the British Government of India on religious lines. This partition of United Bengal separated the largely Muslim eastern areas from the largely Hindu western areas on October 16, 1905 after being announced on July 19, 1905 by the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon on the pretext of administrative efficiency. This move was considered by the Bengalis as a part of ‘divide and rule’ policy of the British colonial power. Ultimately, after agitation and riots, the British Government had to reverse the division of Bengal in 1911. The British raj at the epitome of its administrative power could not resist the force of a united Bengali nationalist spirit.



Indian leadership forgot that what goes around comes around. The Bengali nationalist sentiments which were invoked by Indians in East Bengal (then East Pakistan) would ultimately culminate in the establishment of United Bengal, repeating what happened in 1911 despite the opposition of the British Empire. This would one day culminate in the creation of Greater Bengal, that being an irredentist concept of all the Bengalis. The latest development in this direction is the promulgation of Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 by the Indian parliament, commonly known as CAA. 


The second time history witnessed a strong manifestation of Bengali nationalist sentiments was in 1971, when East Pakistan (created on religious lines in 1947 out of British India) became Bangladesh. Admittedly, it happened with the active political and military intervention of India. In 1971, after the fall of Dhaka, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi swaggered: “Today we have sunk Jinnah’s Two Nation Theory in the Bay of Bengal.” But nobody knew that on that day the foundation for “Greater Bengal” was laid and it was only a matter of time that India would see a repeat of history. 
Indian leadership forgot that what goes around comes around. The Bengali nationalist sentiments which were invoked by Indians in East Bengal (then East Pakistan) would ultimately culminate in the establishment of United Bengal, repeating what happened in 1911 despite the opposition of the British Empire. This would one day culminate in the creation of Greater Bengal, that being an irredentist concept of all the Bengalis. 
The latest development in this direction is the promulgation of Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 by the Indian parliament, commonly known as CAA. According to the CAA, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh and Parsi migrants who have entered India illegally i.e., without a visa on or before December 31, 2014 from the Muslim-majority countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and have stayed in the country for five years, are eligible to apply for Indian citizenship. Indian nationality law is governed by the Citizenship Act, which was passed in 1955. Further Citizenship (Amendment) Acts were passed in 1986, 1992, 2003, 2005, 2015 and now in 2019. Why are the amended provisions of the Citizenship Act of India extended only to people of six religions, and not Muslims, and why does it apply only to people coming from these three countries? The Indian government claims that people of these six faiths have faced persecution in these three Islamic countries. It is, therefore, India's moral obligation to provide them shelter. 


Sushil Gautam, a Dalit rights activist based in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, alleged that they are being persecuted for voicing their opinions. Gautam was arrested for taking out a march against CAA on December 15 by the Uttar Pradesh Police. He said, “The proposed CAA clubbed with NRC is a step towards making India a Hindu Rashtra (Nation). First of all, it alters the basic structure of the constitution by granting citizenship on the basis of religion. Second, we understand very well what will be the status of Dalits and tribals in a Hindu Nation. Obviously, it will be governed by the rules of the caste system."


This so-called ‘moral’ reason given by the Indian Government is flawed. If this is the reason then why several non-Muslim countries around India, such as Sri Lanka, are not included in the Citizenship Ammendment Bill? The citizenship status of Tamil-speaking Hindus who were allowed to “legally” settle in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu due to discrimination in Sri Lanka is thus uncertain and under the threat of persecution in India. More than 100,000 Sri Lankan Tamils live in India, most of them settled in the southern states of Tamil Nadu (in the cities of Chennai, Madurai, Tiruchirappalli, and Coimbatore), Karnataka (in Bangalore), and Kerala where BJP has marginal support. Similarly, Nepal and Bhutan are also not included in CAA despite Bhutan being accused of discriminating against Hindus through its promotion of Buddhist-centric society.
Sushil Gautam, a Dalit rights activist based in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, alleged that they are being persecuted for voicing their opinions. Gautam was arrested for taking out a march against CAA on December 15 by the Uttar Pradesh Police. He said, “The proposed CAA clubbed with NRC is a step towards making India a Hindu Rashtra (Nation). First of all, it alters the basic structure of the constitution by granting citizenship on the basis of religion. Second, we understand very well what will be the status of Dalits and tribals in a Hindu Nation. Obviously, it will be governed by the rules of the caste system."
This black law has been condemned nationwide in India and internationally. In media it is perceived generally as a discriminating law against the Muslims in India but in essence it is also against the Bengalis, more specifically in the northeast of India. Due to this aspect of this black and discriminating law it is much agitated by Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of the West Bengal, popularly known as Didi (elder sister). Undoubtedly she is the charismatic nationalist leader of all Bengalis in India.  
Ms. Banerjee has demanded that an "impartial organisation" like the United Nations should form a committee to see how many people were in favour of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. "Let there be an impartial organisation like the United Nations or the Human Rights Commission... form a committee to see how many people are in favour or against the Citizenship Amendment Act," she had said while addressing a gathering in Kolkata on 19th December 2019.
Here the question arises why is Ms. Banerjee so adamantly against CAA? The answer is obvious that it is more targeting to “the Bengalis” as a community than others in India. Although CAA directly banned the acceptance of Muslims from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh (thus prohibiting them from entering India and seeking Indian nationality), one of its primary aim is the Bengali migrants to India, mainly in its northeast region.  


Ms. Banerjee has demanded that an "impartial organisation" like the United Nations should form a committee to see how many people were in favour of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. "Let there be an impartial organisation like the United Nations or the Human Rights Commission... form a committee to see how many people are in favour or against the Citizenship Amendment Act," she had said while addressing a gathering in Kolkata on 19th December 2019.


Whether the official statement of Modi government is a smokescreen to camouflage the attempt to persecute Muslims of India or for that matter any minority of India, but in fact it is an attempt to Brahminize some territories of India?  To get the right answer we have to analyze the statistics. Although there are no official authentic statistics regarding the ‘illegal’ immigrants in India, the accounts vary.
The Indian government has reluctantly allowed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in India to operate a program for them. In 2015, the Indian government granted citizenship to 4,300 Hindu and Sikh refugees from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Similarly, according to some western media and westernized media of Pakistan there are almost 400 Pakistani Hindu refugees in Indian cities.  But the so called estimates of the number of Bangladeshis in India also vary widely. A census carried out in 2001 by the Indian government estimated there were 3.1 million Bangladeshis residing in India. A different estimate of 2009 claimed that there were 1.5 million Bangladeshis residing in India. In 2012 Mullappally Ramachandran, the Minister of State for Home Affairs claimed that nearly 1.4 million Bangladeshi migrants entered India in the last decade alone.



This empirical data about the refugees in India makes the picture pretty much clear and non-inclusion of Hindu and other immigrants from Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan further elucidate the objectives of CAA introduced by the Modi Government that it only wants to Brahminize India for its own political gain and specifically curtailing Trinamool Congress (TMC) of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal.
This was the reason why on the day Home Minister Amit Shah tabled the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) in the Lok Sabha, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee gave a call to oppose the "divisive" bill "at any cost", and said not a single citizen of the country would be allowed to turn into a refugee.
She has made a commitment that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and CAB will never be allowed in Bengal as long as the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is in power and that the register of citizens and the new legislation are two sides of a coin. She said, “We will not allow anyone to deport any person from the country. There will be no NRC and no division. There can't be a divide and rule policy; nothing is bigger than the country. People can have big political slogans but the country should not suffer due to it. It's a divisive bill and shall be opposed at any cost”. 
"There is no need to worry about NRC and CAB. We will never ever allow it in Bengal. They can't just throw out a legal citizen of this country or turn him/her into a refugee," Mamata Banerjee said while addressing a rally at Kharagpur where her party won the recent bypolls.
"Not a single citizen of this country will turn into a refugee. Some people are trying to create panic with their political rhetoric but let me make one thing very clear there will be no NRC and CAB. You cannot implement NRC or CAB on the basis of caste and religion," Mamata Banerjee further said.


History is repeating itself as we hear the resonance of Suhrawardy’s statement in every corner of a Greater Bengal. Only this time much stronger and united against discrimination and division than that which caused the resignation of a British Viceroy who initiated the idea of the division of Bengal on the pretext of administrative efficiency.


The TMC has 22 members in the Lok Sabha and 13 in Rajya Sabha. Wondering why was the Centre seeking so many documents as proof of citizenship, Mamata Banerjee said that ‘the BJP government is only interested in harassing the masses’. Reacting to Mamata Banerjee's allegation, BJP state General Secretary Sayantan Basu has said that she is worried as her minority vote bank might get affected if NRC is implemented. 
In fact, Mamata Banerjee is not only a leader of Hindus, she is a leader of Bengalis irrespective of their religion. Ms. Banerjee in West Bengal and Hasina Wajid in East Bengal i.e., Bangladesh lead their people under the all-inclusive banner of Bengali nationalism. These are the ground realities due to which we hear the long suppressed desire of Bengalis for the creation of Greater Bengal once again as was once expressed in a press statement on April 27, 1947 by Mr. Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy:
“Let us pause for a moment to consider what Bengal can be if it remains united. It will be a great country indeed, the richest and the most prosperous in India capable of giving to its people a high standard of living, where a great people will be able to rise to the fullest height of their stature, a land that will truly be plentiful. It will be rich in agriculture, rich in industry and commerce and in course of time it will be one of the powerful and progressive states of the world. If Bengal remains united this will be no dream, no fantasy.”
History is repeating itself as we hear the resonance of Suhrawardy’s statement in every corner of a Greater Bengal. Only this time much stronger and united against discrimination and division than that which caused the resignation of a British Viceroy who initiated the idea of the division of Bengal on the pretext of administrative efficiency.


The writer is an Islamabad based Supreme Court Lawyer, Ex-Deputy Attorney General Pakistan and heads an independent think tank, Maritime Study Forum – MSF.
E-mail: [email protected]
 

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