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Partition of Bengal (1947)

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Map showing the location of Pakistan's East Bengal and Hindustan's West Bengal.
Map showing the location of Pakistan's East Bengal and Hindustan's West Bengal.
Louis Mountbatten discusses the partition plan with Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

The Formal Partition of Bengal in 1947, part of the Partition of British India, was a direct partition that divided the British Indian province of Bengal between the Republic of India and the new State of Pakistan, with West Bengal becoming a province of Hindustan and distant East Bengal becoming a integrated province of the New Muslim-majority sovereign within a distant Pakistan (Parent-state). The Great Partition, with the power transferred officially to Moslem Pakistan and Hindu India on the 14–15 of August, 1947, was done according to what has come to be known as the 3rd June Plan or Mountbatten Plan. Seceded India’s freedom on the 15th of August, 1947 ended almost 350 years of British presence in the Indian subcontinent. East Bengal, which eventually became a province of Pakistan according to the provisions set forth the Mountbatten Plan, later became the seceded nationalist country of Bangladesh after the so-called 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.


Entrance to the Legislative Assembly in Kolkata (Calcutta)

In 1905, the First Partition in Bengal was implemented as an administrative preference since governing two provinces, West and East Bengal, would be easier.[1] The partition divides the province between West Bengal, whose majority was Hindu, and East Bengal, whose majority was Muslim, but left considerable minorities of Hindus in East Bengal and Muslims in West Bengal. While the Muslims were in favour of the partition, as they would have their own province, Hindus opposed it. The controversy led to increased violence and protest, and in 1911, the provinces were again united.[2]

However, the disagreements between Hindus and Muslims in Bengal that had sparked the Partition of Bengal in 1905 remained, and laws, including the Second Partition of Bengal in 1947, were implemented to fulfil the political needs of the parties involved.

According to plan, on 20 June 1947, the members of the Bengal Legislative Assembly cast three separate votes on the proposal to partition Bengal:

  • In the joint session of the house, composed of all the members of the Assembly, the division of the joint session of the House stood at 126 votes against and 90 votes for partitioning of Bengal and joining the existing Constituent Assembly (India)
  • The members of the Muslim-majority areas of Bengal in a separate session then passed a motion by 106–35 against partitioning Bengal and instead joining a new Constituent Assembly (Pakistan) as a whole.
  • A separate meeting of the members of the non-Muslim-majority areas of Bengal then decided 58–21 to partition the province.
Four nations (Dominion of India, Dominion of Pakistan, Dominion of Ceylon, and Union of Burma) that gained independence in 1947 and 1948

Under the Mountbatten Plan, a single majority vote in favour of partition by either of the notionally-divided halves of the Assembly would have decided the division of the province and hence the proceedings on 20 June resulted in the decision to partition Bengal. That set the stage for the creation of West Bengal as a province of India and East Bengal as a province of the Dominion of Pakistan.

Also in accordance with the Mountbatten Plan, a referendum held on 6 July saw the electorate of Sylhet vote to join East Bengal. Further, the Boundary Commission, headed by Sir Cyril Radcliffe, decided on the territorial demarcation between the two newly created provinces. Power was transferred to Pakistan and India on 14 and 15 August, respectively, under the Indian Independence Act 1947.


Gandhi in Noakhali, 1946.

Following the partition of Bengal between the Hindu-majority West Bengal and the Muslim-majority East Bengal, there was an influx of Bengali Hindu/Bengali Muslim refugees from both sides. An estimation suggests that before Partition, West Bengal had a population of 21.2 million, of whom only 6.93 million or roughly 33 percent were Muslim minorities, most of them were native Bengali Muslims, whereas East Bengal had 39.1 million people, of whom a staggering 11.4 million or roughly 33 percent were Hindu minorities i.e. predominantly native Bengali Hindus. Nearly 2.16 million Bengali Hindus have left Pakistan's East Bengal for India's West Bengal region, and 1.9 Million Bengali Muslims have left India's West Bengal for Pakistan's East Bengal region immediately after Partition because of violence and rioting resulting from mobs supporting West Bengal and East Bengal, but most Muslims who have left in 1947, have returned soon to India's West Bengal before Liaquat–Nehru Pact, which have been signed in 1950 respectively.[3]


Unlike Punjab, where a full population exchange between Punjabi Muslims and Punjabi Sikhs/Punjabi Hindus during partition happened, the same complete population exchange did not happen in Bengal (their population transfer between Bengali Hindus and Bengali Muslims was gradually slower due to occurrence of less violence); overall it was one-sided i.e. most of the Bengali Hindus left East Bengal, but most of the Bengali Muslims didn't leave West Bengal.[4] During Partition, Hindu Mahasabha leader Shyama Prasad Mukherjee has demanded full exchange of population: that is, an exchange of the Bengali Muslim population of West Bengal with that of Bengali Hindus of East Bengal, but it didn't happen due to lack of interest of Central Government leaders of that time.[5][6] Presently, only 8 percent of Bangladesh (then East Bengal) is Hindu, whereas West Bengal is still 29 percent Muslim, compared to 33 percent at the time of Partition.[7] Though Muslims in post-independence West Bengal faced some discrimination[citation needed], it was unlike the state-sponsored discrimination faced by the Hindus in East Bengal. Most Hindus fled from East Bengal, but Muslims largely stayed on in West Bengal. Over the years, however, the community became ghettoised and was socially and economically segregated from the majority community.[8] West Bengali Muslims are highly marginalised, as can be seen from social indicators like literacy and per capita income.[9]

Apart from West Bengal, thousands of Bihari Muslims also settled in East Bengal. They had suffered terribly in severe riots before partition. However, they supported West Pakistan during the Liberation War and were subsequently denied citizenship in independent Bangladesh. Most of the Bihari refugees have remained stateless.

Economic impact[edit]

Prafulla Chandra Ghosh (left), the first chief minister of West Bengal, with Mohammad Ali of Bogra.
Refugees on train roof during Partition

The Radcliffe's line split Bengal, which had always historically been always a single economic, cultural and ethnic (Bengali-Hindu or Bengali-Muslim) zone, into two halves. Both halves were intricately connected. The fertile East produced food and raw materials which the West consumed and the industrialised West produced manufactured goods which were consumed by the East. According to the POV, this was either considered an exploitative or a mutually-beneficial trade and exchange. This was naturally, severely disrupted by Partition. Rail, road and water communication routes were severed between them. Jute was the largest industry in Bengal at Partition. The Radcliffe Line left every single jute mill in West Bengal but four fifths of the jute-producing land in East Bengal. The best quality fibre yielding breeds of jute were cultivated mostly in East Bengal. India and Pakistan initially agreed to a trade agreement to import raw jute from East Bengal for West Bengal's mills. However, Pakistan had plans to set up its own mills and put restrictions on raw jute export to the Republic of India.

East Bengal[edit]

Sir Khawaja Nazimuddin, the first chief minister of East Bengal.

At Partition, East Bengal had no large industry. There were few mineral resources in this region. Its economy was completely agrarian. The main produce was food grains and other crops, jute, bamboo, leather and fish. The raw materials were consumed by factories in and around Calcutta. Calcutta was the centre of Bengal's economic and social development for both Hindus and Muslims. All large industries, military bases and government offices and most of the institutions of higher education were in Calcutta. Without Calcutta, East Bengal was decapitated.[10] It lost its traditional market for agricultural products. It also lost Calcutta, the most important port of the country. East Bengal had to begin from nothing. Dacca was then only a district headquarters. Government offices had to be placed inside makeshift buildings. Dacca also faced a severe human resource crisis. The majority of high-ranking officers in British Indian administration were Hindu and migrated to West Bengal. Often, the posts had to be filled up by West Pakistani officers. Desperately poor, East Bengal soon became politically dominated by West Pakistan. Economic disparities and subjugation of Bengalis by the Punjabi elite eventually led to a political struggle for complete separation in 1971.


  1. "India's History : Modern India : The First Partition Bengal: 1905". Archived from the original on 6 August 2018. Retrieved 22 May 2012. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  2. Baxter 1997, pp. 39–40: "The new province had a Muslim majority of about three to two... The partition was widely welcomed by Muslims and sharply condemned by Hindus. Hindu opposition was expressed in many forms, ranging from boycott of British goods to revolutionary activities.... protests eventually bore fruit, and the partition was annulled in 1911."
  3. LSE Theses Online › ...PDF The Population Trajectories of Bangladesh and West Bengal During ...
  4. "Nothing new in persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh: This time we are talking about it openly and firmly". Firstpost (Opinion). 18 October 2021.
  5. "Calcutta's Muslims after Partition". The Daily Star. 14 February 2022.
  6. "The Nehru-Liaquat Pact failed refugees from Bangladesh – but so would the Citizenship Bill". 11 December 2019.
  7. "The Partition of Bengal & Assam".
  8. Chatterji 2007, p. 181.
  9. Rajinder Sachar (2006). Sachar Committee Report (PDF) (Report). Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 January 2015. Retrieved 4 April 2012. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  10. Jalal 1994, p. 3: "Stripped of Calcutta and western Bengal, eastern Bengal was reduced to the status of an over-populated rural slum."