‘No matter how, Jogendranath had to be defeated’: The Scheduled Castes Federation and the making of partition in Bengal, 1945–1947

‘No matter how, Jogendranath had to be defeated’: The Scheduled Castes Federation and the making of partition in Bengal, 1945–1947

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    http://ier.sagepub.com/  ReviewIndian Economic & Social History  http://ier.sagepub.com/content/49/3/321The online version of this article can be found at: DOI: 10.1177/0019464612455273 2012 49: 321 Indian Economic Social History Review  Dwaipayan Sen 1947 − Federation and the making of partition in Bengal, 1945'No matter how, Jogendranath had to be defeated': The Scheduled Castes  Published by:  http://www.sagepublications.com  can be found at: Indian Economic & Social History Review  Additional services and information for http://ier.sagepub.com/cgi/alerts Email Alerts:  http://ier.sagepub.com/subscriptions Subscriptions:  http://www.sagepub.com/journalsReprints.nav Reprints:  http://www.sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav Permissions: http://ier.sagepub.com/content/49/3/321.refs.html Citations: What is This? - Aug 28, 2012Version of Record >> at UNIV OF CHICAGO LIBRARY on October 29, 2012ier.sagepub.comDownloaded from   ‘No matter how, Jogendranathhad to be defeated’: The ScheduledCastes Federation and the making ofpartition in Bengal, 1945–1947 Dwaipayan Sen Department of HistoryThe University of Chicago, IL This article offers an explanation for the defeat of Jogendranath Mandal and the Scheduled Castes Federation in the context of partition-era Bengal. Departing from analyses of Scheduled Caste integration, it explores the Federation’s efforts at creating an independent  political platform through a strategic alliance with the Muslim League. To this end, it traces Mandal’s and the Federation’s trajectory through the following key moments: the anti-PoonaPact day and Day of Direct Action, the 1946 election, Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s election to theConstituent Assembly, the Calcutta and East Bengal riots, Mandal’s nomination to the In-terim Government and the agitation against Partition. In so doing, it tries to show how theFederation’s defeat in Bengal was at least in part a consequence of the Congress’ efforts toengineer its marginalisation, as well as the Congress’ and Hindu Mahasabha’s agitation for the Partition of that province. The Hindu majoritarian impulse that led to the Partition in Bengal thus crippled the Federation’s struggle for Dalit political autonomy. Keywords:  Jogendranath Mandal, Scheduled Castes Federation, partition, Bengal, the politics of caste and communalism Introduction The proposition is two-fold: first, that the success of the Congress’ and HinduMahasabha’s demand that Bengal be partitioned necessarily entailed their delib-erate defeat of Jogendranath Mandal and the Scheduled Castes Federation; se-cond, and following from this, that the partition itself be grasped as signifying a The Indian Economic and Social History Review  ,   49, 3 (2012): 321–64 SAGE Los Angeles/London/New Delhi/Singapore/Washington DC DOI:  10.1177/0019464612455273  at UNIV OF CHICAGO LIBRARY on October 29, 2012ier.sagepub.comDownloaded from   322  / D WAIPAYAN  S EN The Indian Economic and Social History Review , 49, 3 (2012): 321–64 moment that foreclosed possibilities for the further development of Mandal’sand the Federation’s advocacy of Dalit political autonomy. Inured as we are tounderstanding partition’s significance within the rubric of the communal impassebetween unmarked Hindus and Muslims, our historiographical sensitivities re-main insufficient to understanding the peculiar problematic that the partitionposed for Mandal and his hardly insubstantial following in the Scheduled CastesFederation. 1 Received historiography has it that Dalits were largely responsive to the Con-gress’ and Mahasabha’s anti-Muslim exhortations in their bid to consolidate Hinduunity. 2  No doubt there exists evidence of their participation in communal vio-lence and their receptiveness to ideologies and practices of Hindu communal unity.It is indeed true that many amongst them supported the demand for Partition. Yetit is necessary to place within the same analytical field the substantial evidencethat exists of their deep-seated reservations with the Congress’ and Mahasabha’sprojects of anti-Muslim Hindu unity orchestrated by caste Hindu leaders, as wellthese nationalist parties’ efforts to nullify the Federation. Reconceived thus,I suggest that Mandal and the Federation’s protracted marginalisation, which srci-nated in the critical period under consideration, might well be grasped as a neces-sity conjoined to the majoritarian imperatives of Indian nationalism in Bengal. AsI will show, Mandal’s was a critique of the constitutively communal terms onwhich the transfer of power and Partition were decided. Achieving the long soughtafter Hindu unity of these years entailed manufacturing the defeat of Dalit politi-cal autonomy in Bengal.In what follows, I attempt to defend these propositions by locating theFederation’s participation in the Muslim League’s Direct Action Day against thebackdrop of the two parties’ recent strategic political alliance; detailing the cir-cumstances of the 1946 elections which resulted in the Congress winning themajority of reserved Scheduled Caste legislative seats; documenting Mandal’sattempts at getting Ambedkar elected to the Constituent Assembly; narratingMandal’s quite exceptional view on the Calcutta riots; discussing his role in theInterim Government of India; elucidating the significance of unity between Dalitand Muslim political parties at a time when this was near unthinkable; andfinally, by assessing the fate of Mandal’s anti-partition campaign. In so doing, 1  I have described Mandal’s following thus, because of the debatable view that Mandal and theFederation were essentially marginal political forces amongst Dalits in Bengal. It should also beborne in mind that Mandal and the Federation drew on support from some of the veteran ScheduledCaste MLAs of the time, who either did not contest, or lost, in the 1946 elections. I am thinking inparticular of leaders like Amulyadhan Ray, Anukul Chandra Das or Rasik Lal Biswas, some of whom,despite being elected Congressmen, subsequently experienced a deep disillusionment with theCongress. 2  See, in particular, Bandyopadhyay, Caste, Protest and Identity ; Chatterji,  Bengal Divided  .  at UNIV OF CHICAGO LIBRARY on October 29, 2012ier.sagepub.comDownloaded from   ‘No matter how, Jogendranath had to be defeated’  / 323 The Indian Economic and Social History Review , 49, 3 (2012): 321–64 I touch on key moments in Mandal’s and the Federation’s trajectory through thesefinal two years of British rule in India.Another view of the partition is possible, by bringing to bear his and the Fed-eration’s critique of the Congress’ claim to represent the Dalits on the processesthrough which the decision to divide Bengal were reached. I hope to show thatthe partition in Bengal was as much about a nationalist resolution of the castequestion, as it undoubtedly was about the politics of religious conflict betweenHindus and Muslims. Papering over caste-difference was constitutive of the seem-ingly united Hindu demand for partitioning Bengal. Too long has the analyticaltyranny of communalism overshadowed the insights Mandal might have offeredon this troubled moment. The Dalit–Muslim Alliance The events of mid-August 1946, while typically understood to confirm caste Hin-dus’ fears about Muslim domination and thus the justification behind the parti-tion, have yet to be adequately situated in the context of the three years of Dalitand Muslim political alliance that preceded them. Although these years are oftenused to explain the growing apprehensions amongst the Hindu intelligentsia theywere also the only time in the history of Bengal, (including right up to the presentmoment) that governmental power in Calcutta was wielded by representativesof communities socio-economically most disadvantaged, namely, Dalits andMuslims. In the political history of Bengal then, they constitute a short periodanalytically untapped for their  potentially  radical vision. Mandal was at the cen-tre of this novel political aspiration. He joined the previous Nazimuddin ministryshortly before founding the Bengal branch of the Federation in 1943, and wassubsequently chosen to join the Suhrawardy cabinet, as Minister in charge of theJudicial and Legislative department and Works and Buildings. 3 Mandal grounded the solidarity between Dalits and Muslims, significantly, inthe perceived political–economic congruence of the two communities. In his view,the spirit animating his alliance with the Muslim League was closely linked to thesocio-economic circumstances experienced by Dalits and Muslims alike. Theshared experience of the grinding poverty of rural Bengal was common to boththeir communities. 4  The following reification held force: the British and casteHindus were capital, Dalits and Muslims, labour. 5  The vast majority of the Dalit 3  In a recent publication, Bandyopadhyay perhaps mistakenly dates the formation of the BengalFederation to 1945. Bandyopadhyay, Caste, Protest and Identity , p. 249. 4  There were, no doubt, earlier instances of their common cause, like Namasudra and Muslimindifference, even resistance, to the Swadeshi movement championed by leading Bengali nationalistsin the first decade of the century. 5  The point is somewhat akin to that made by Partha Chatterjee in his essay ‘Agrarian Relationsand Communalism in Bengal’. Therein, he wrote, ‘As far as agrarian relations in eastern Bengal were  at UNIV OF CHICAGO LIBRARY on October 29, 2012ier.sagepub.comDownloaded from   324  / D WAIPAYAN  S EN The Indian Economic and Social History Review , 49, 3 (2012): 321–64 population was poor, including agriculturalists, sharecroppers and workers, andhad been deprived of formal education—as were the majority of Muslims. Thespirit motivating the political alliance in the domain of elite politics then was todraw on this shared experience, crafting policies benefitting the vast majority of the population of Bengal. Mandal was:persuaded that my co-operation with the League and its Ministry would leadto the undertaking on a wide scale of legislative and administrative measureswhich, while promoting the mutual welfare of the vast bulk of Bengal’s popu-lation, and undermining the foundations of vested interest and privilege, wouldfurther the cause of communal peace and harmony. 6 The events that transpired in August of 1946 then, as a result of the call for theDay of Direct Action, must be placed in the context of the cooperation that de-veloped between the Scheduled Castes Federation and the Muslim League overthe previous three years. 7  Thus, the Star of India  on 13 August 1946 featured aposter calling for, ‘Representatives of minorities, suppressed and oppressed peopleand anti-Fascist parties who have been unjustly bypassed by the British govern-ment and who are ready to make common cause with the League in its fight forthe equal freedom of the Muslims, the Hindus, the Scheduled Castes, the Adibasis,the tribals, the Christians other peoples are welcome at the meeting’. 8 concerned, the available evidence seems to suggest that the crucial element which deflected peasantagitations into anti-Hindus movement was not that most zamindars were Hindu and that the grievancesof the predominantly Muslim tenantry consequently took on anti-Hindu overtones, but the fact thatMuslim rent-receivers where they did exist, were considered part of the peasant community whereasHindu zamindars and talukdars were not. The evidence points, in fact, to structures of political authorityand ideology quite autonomous from the straightforward representation of the agrarian structure’.Chatterjee, ‘Agrarian Relations and Communalism in Bengal, 1926–1935’, p. 11. Similarly, onemight argue that even if in class terms an elite had developed amongst caste-subalterns, they werenot considered sufficiently distinct from the communities they represented politically. There was noseeming contradiction in the elite amongst Dalits making demands on behalf of the masses of theireconomically less privileged communities. 6  ‘Mr Mandal’s Letter of Resignation to Mr Liaquat Ali Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan,9 October 1950’, in Indian Commission of Jurists,  Recurrent Exodus of Minorities , p. 354. 7  The Day of Direct Action was a Muslim League protest of the Cabinet Mission proposals. TheMission was mandated with overseeing the transfer of power. ‘Muslims through the country were “tosuspend all business... and to observe the complete hartal ”. Public meetings were to be held on thatday to explain the League’s rejection of the Cabinet Mission Plan and express the determination of Indian Muslims to “vindicate” their honour, to end “British slavery” and fight the “contemplatedcaste-Hindu domination’’’. Das, Communal Riots in Bengal, 1905–1947  , p. 165. 8   Star of India , 13 August 1946. There is a longer history of solidarity between leaders of the Dalitand Muslim communities that stands insufficiently treated. We seem, as it were, to be only able tocomprehend the League’s concerns for Dalits as cynical and instrumental.  at UNIV OF CHICAGO LIBRARY on October 29, 2012ier.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
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