Context: The Bardhhaman municipality has decided to erect a statue of Bardhhaman’s Maharaja Bijay Chand Mahatab and his wife Radharaniin front of the landmark Curzon Gate in the city.
- This imperialist former viceroy continues to trigger outrage and revulsion 117 years after he left India.
Who was Lord Curzon?
- Born in 1859, George Nathaniel Curzon was a British conservative politician who was educated at the elite institutions of Eton and Oxford.
- He served as Under-Secretary of State for India (1891-1892), and for Foreign Affairs (1895-1898), before being appointed Viceroy of India in 1899.
- Of all the Viceroys of India, Curzon is possibly the most criticised — he is the man who partitioned Bengal in 1905, and triggered a wave of Bengali nationalism that contributed to the wider Indian national movement.
- 1900, Curzon famously stated, “We could lose all our [white settlement] dominions and still survive, but if we lost India, our sun would sink to its setting”.
Why was he disliked then?
- A staunch imperialist, he took a series of extremely unpopular measures, including passing, in 1899, the Calcutta Municipal Amendment Act which reduced the number of elected representatives in the Calcutta Corporation.
- The Indian Universities Act (1904), that placed Calcutta University under government control, and the Indian Official Secrets Amendment Act (1904) that reduced the freedom of the press even further.
- He believed that the Indian National Congress had lost its influence and appeal amongst the Indians, and in 1900 declared that the organisation was “tottering to its fall”.
- Ironically though, it was his biggest and most reviled decision — to partition Bengal in 1905 — that led to a spurt in nationalist sentiment and revitalized the Congress.
How and why did the partition of Bengal take place?
- Calcutta was the capital of the British Raj, and Bengal Presidency was one of the largest provinces in India.
- Calcutta was the nerve centre of the educated nationalists, the resistance to colonial rule
- Home Secretary H H Risley noted in 1904, “Bengal united is a power; Bengal divided will pull in several different ways.”
- In July 1905, Curzon announced the partition of Bengal into two provinces. East Bengal and Assam, with a population of 38 million, was predominately Muslim, while the western province, called Bengal, was reduced to 55 million people, primarily Hindus.
- Protests began almost immediately after the announcement, with meetings taking place in more than 300 cities, towns, and villages across Bengal.
What were the consequences of the partition?
- In opposition to the partition, nationalist leaders organized a campaign of boycott of British goods and institutions, and encouraged the use of local products.
- After a formal resolution was passed at a meeting in Calcutta in August 1905, the Swadeshi movement began.
- Students were at the forefront of the movement, which was characterized by boycotts of British educational institutions and law courts, and large bonfires of imported cotton textiles.
- There was a surge in nationalist rhetoric, and the song ‘Bande Mataram’, set to music by Rabindranath Tagore, became the informal anthem of the movement.
- The Swadeshi movement and boycott was soon spread other parts of the country, including Punjab, Maharashtra, and parts of the Madras Presidency.
- Several secret societies, such as the Anushilan Samiti of Bengal, sought to overthrow British rule through violent means.
- Revolutionary groups used bombs, attempted to assassinate colonial officials, and engaged in armed robberies to finance their activities.
In 1905, Curzon resigned and returned to England after losing a power struggle with the commander-in-chief of the British Army, Lord Kitchener.
The protests continued after his exit, and the colonial government in 1911 announced the reunification of Bengal, and the capital of the Raj was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi.
Source: Indian Express
Previous Year Question
Q.1) With reference to the Swadeshi Movement, consider the following statements: (2018)
- It contributed to the revival of the indigenous artisan crafts and industries.
- The National Council of Education was established as a part of the Swadeshi Movement.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
- 1 only
- 2 only
- Both 1 and 2
- Neither 1 nor 2
Q.2) The Partition of Bengal made by Lord Curzon in 1905 lasted until (2014)
- The First World War when Indian troops were needed by the British and the partition was ended.
- King George V abrogated Curzon’s Act at the Royal Durbar in Delhi in 1911.
- Gandhiji launched his Civil Disobedience Movement.
- The Partition of India in 1947 when East Bengal became East Pakistan.