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Modern History Of West Bengal

Explore the dynamic tapestry of West Bengal's modern history, from its socio-political transformations to cultural resurgence. Uncover the state's journey through colonial rule, independence, and post-independence challenges. Delve into the vibrant era of Bengal Renaissance, the partition, and the formation of the state. Witness the evolution of politics, economic shifts, and the rich cultural heritage that defines West Bengal today.

modern history of west bengal

The Pala and Sena dynasties, as well as other Muslim dynasties, dominated Bengal's mediaeval history. Development in late mediaeval history was crucial not just for Bengal, but it also influenced the history of the entire Indian subcontinent. Following the Battle of Buxar in 1765, the British East India Company emerged as a dominant power. Following the Revolt of 1857, Bengal was directly controlled by the British crown until 1947. Following independence, the Food Movement, the split of the Communist Party of India, and the Naxalbari Movement were the most significant events in West Bengal.

British Rule in West Bengal

After the Battle of Buxar, the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II formally granted the East India Company the Diwani of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa on August 12, 1765. In less than two years, Clive had reformed the internal administration of the Company's affairs and placed its relation to the Government of Bengal on a definite legal basis, laying the foundation for the British supremacy.

Dual System of Administration of Bengal

In AD 1765, a dual government system was established. In the Treaty of Allahabad, Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II awarded the Company the Diwani privilege instead of a 26 lakh per year annuity. As a result, the Company (under Governor Robert Clive) obtained Diwani and Nizamat rights in Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa.

This organisation, known in history as the Dual or Double System of Administration, was established by Clive in Bengal and existed until AD 1772. Under this structure, administration was divided between the Company and the Nawab, but the Company maintained complete control. The system collapsed in 1772, and the British assumed direct control of Bengal.

Bengal Presidency

The British Empire's colonial area in East India was referred to as the Bengal Presidency. It included the current East Bengal (now Bangladesh), West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Meghalaya, Odisha, and Tripura.

This presidency was founded by the contract of 1765 (also known as the Diwani of Bengal) between the English East India Company, Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II, and the Nawab of Awadh. Lord Warren Hastings (1772–1785) integrated the presidency, establishing British Imperial control over Eastern India. He also established the framework for civil service in India.

Lord Cornwallis established the Permanent Settlement in Bengal in 1793. Permanent Settlement was an arrangement between the British East India Company and Bengal's landlords to pay land revenue. The landlords were granted land rights in exchange for paying a fixed revenue to the British government. This Permanent Settlement was unsuccessful, and it was not implemented in the North-Western provinces. These districts were theoretically part of the Bengal Presidency, but they remained administratively separate.

modern history of west bengal

Partition of Bengal

Lord Curzon decided to partition the huge province of Bengal, and it was carried out on October 16, 1905. Lord Hardinge was responsible for the cancellation of the Partition of Bengal. The divisions of Chittagong, Dhaka, and Rajshahi, as well as the Malda district and the states of Hill Tripura, Sylhet, and Comilla, were relocated from Bengal to a new province called Eastern Bengal and Assam.

This decision was immensely controversial since it resulted in a primarily Hindu West Bengal and a predominantly Muslim East Bengal. The British stated that the partition was due to the difficulty of managing a big province.

This divide is followed by popular agitation. The locals believed that the division of Bengal was part of the British's 'divide and rule' tactic. People were outraged that Calcutta, Bengal's economic and political hub, would be separated into two regimes.

People's unrest increased significantly between AD 1906 and 1909. Due to political protests, the British reunited East and West Bengal in AD 1911. The two partitions of Bengal in the twentieth century left indelible scars on the history and psyche of the Bengali people.

The primarily Hindu West Bengal became an Indian province, whereas the predominantly Muslim East Bengal became a Pakistani province. Following the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, East Bengal gained independence and became known as Bangladesh. The territory connecting West Bengal in India and Bangladesh is known as the 'Teen Bigha Corridor'.

Chuar Rebellion

The Chuar Rebellion happened in 1798–99. The Chuar insurrection was a huge insurrection that erupted in both the South-West Bankura and North-West Midnapore districts. The British East India Company and certain Zamindars from Midnapore were violently suppressing the insurrection. In 1798, over 1500 rebels led by Durjan Singh established their dominance over Raipur Pargana villages.

Following a tough struggle with the British East India Company's forces, they invaded the company's headquarters. But they were vanquished. However, the rebels were triumphant in Shalbani, where they burned the British East India Company's army barracks. Finally, the British were able to put down the Chuar Rebellion by ruthless repression and the standard divide and rule approach.

Santhal Rebellion

This uprising began in 1855. The Santhal insurrection originated as a tribal reaction against Britain's oppressive revenue system. Before the British arrived in India, the Santhals lived in the highland areas of Manbhum, Barabhum, Chhotanagpur, Palamau, and Birbhum. They led an agrarian lifestyle. However, in the British period, landlords and moneylenders enticed them with commodities and loans, and they gradually became bonded labour for them.

The Santhals detested outsiders' persecution of revenue officials, police, moneylenders, and landowners in general. In 1854, the Santhals led by Sidhu and Kanhu rose up against their oppressors, declaring the end of the Company's control and asserting their independence. The insurrection swept throughout Bengal.

Indigo Revolution

This was a peasant movement. Indigo farmers rose against the Indigo planters in 1859 because they made little money cultivating Indigo. Indigo plantations were mostly found in Burdwan, Bankura, Birbhum, North 24 Parganas, and Jessore (now in Bangladesh).

Harish Chandra Mukherjee's journal, "The Hindu Patriot," chronicled the farmers' plight. Dinabandhu Mitra penned 'Neel Darpan' to protest this exploitation, which was later translated by Michael Madhusudan Dutta. 

 modern history of west bengal

Socio-Religious Movements in West Bengal

Fakir-Sannyasi Resistance Movement

Majnu Shah, a sufi saint from the Madaria sect, planned and led the Fakir-Sannyasi Resistance Movement. The Fakir resistance began in 1760 and gained momentum in 1763. Their primary targets were the Company kuthi, revenue kacharis of zamindars loyal to the Company overlords, and official residences. The rebels wielded swords, spears, guns, fire throwers, hawai, and even spinning cannons.

The rebels assaulted the Company's commercial kuthi in Bakerganj (1763), imprisoned factory chief Calley for several days, and plundered the kuthi. By 1767, insurgent attacks had intensified in Rangpur, Rajshahi, Kuch Bihar, Jalpaiguri, and Comilla. In 1767, Captain De Mackenzee led an English army to Rangpur to quell rebel operations in North Bengal.

Fakir-Sannyasi raids increased in 1776 in the districts of Bogra, Rajshahi, Dinajpur, and Chittagong. Majnu Shah marched towards Mahasthangarh in 1785, but was defeated in battle.

The following year, Majnu Shah planned a simultaneous invasion in Eastern Bengal and North Bengal with his Lieutenant Musa Shah. Majnu Shah lost a huge number of his followers in a battle against the Company army led by Lieutenant Brenan near Kaleswar on December 8, 1786. He was wounded in the fight of Kaleswar and died on January 26th, 1788.

Brahmo Samaj

Brahmo Samaj was one of the most stringent reformist movements that shaped modern India. Raja Rammohan Roy established the institution in Calcutta in 1828.

The Brahmo Samaj rejects the Vedas' authority, has no confidence in avatars (incarnations), and does not believe in Karma (the accidental consequences of previous actions) or samsara. The Brahmo dharma rejects Hindu ceremonies and incorporates some Christian traditions into its worship


It condemns polytheism, image worship, and the caste system. It incorporates some of the best characteristics of various religions, including Islam and Christianity. Rammohan Roy sought to reform Hinduism. His successor, Debendranath Tagore, believed in Vedic authority and saw reason and intuition as the foundations of Brahmanism.

In 1839, he created Tattwabodhini Sabha as a tiny organisation of the Brahmo Samaj, but he dissolved it in 1859. He attempted to preserve some of the traditional Hindu rituals. He also opposed idol worship and forbade pilgrimages, rites, and penances among Brahmos.

Under his direction, Brahmo Samaj built branches across the country. Keshab Chandra Sen joined the Brahmo Samaj in 1858 and rose to the position of Acharya. Under his energetic leadership, branches were established outside of Bengal in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Bombay, Madras, and other cities.

However, his liberal and cosmopolitan views sparked a split in the Brahmo Samaj. Keshab Chandra Sen and his followers left Samaj in 1866 to join the Brahmo Samaj of India. Debendranath's Samaj became known as the Adi Brahmo Samaj.

modern history of west bengal

Swadeshi Movement

The Swadeshi Movement arose from the anti-partition movement, which began with the partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India. This movement began in Bengal in 1905 and persisted until 1911. This movement signalled the start of a new type of mobilisation. It revolutionised politics with policies such as boycott, passive resistance, mass agitation, and so on.

It was the most successful movement during the Pre-Gandhian period. Its major architects included Aurobindo Ghosh, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal, and Lala Lajpat Rai. Swadesh Bandhab Samiti was created by Ashwini Kumar Dutta to promote the consumption of local products while boycotting imported items.

Formation of Muslim League and Anushilan Samiti

The Muslim League was founded in 1906 in Bengal. It was India's first Islamic community-led independence movement.

Pramathanath Mitra created the Anushilan Samiti in 1906. The Samiti attacked British rule in India through militant nationalism. They began stockpiling weapons and ammunition, as well as making indigenous bombs, in order to fight the British. They also attempted to get German weaponry. Anushilan Samiti had two major branches called as Dhaka. Anushilan Samiti was headquartered in Dhaka, whereas Jugantar Anushilan Samiti was based in Calcutta.

Dhaka Anushilan Samiti It pursued a radical programme and split from the Jugantar group in West Bengal due to disagreements with Aurobindo's policy of gradually establishing a mass base for future revolution. In 1911, the Dhaka Anushilan Samiti exacted retribution by assassinating sub-inspector Raj Kumar and Inspector Man Mohan Ghosh. This was followed by the murder of CID Head Constable Shrish Chandra Dey in Calcutta.

Jugantar Anushilan Samiti. It was led by figures like as Aurobindo Ghosh, Barindra Ghosh, and Bagha Jatin (Jatindranath Mukherjee). In February 1911, members of the Jugantar Anushilan Samiti bombed an automobile in Calcutta. During the 1912 move of the imperial capital to New Delhi, Viceroy Charles Harding's Howdah was bombed, killing his mahout and injuring Lady Harding.

The Communist Movement in Bengal

In the 1930s, Bengal was one of the Communist Party of India's main sites of operation. During the 1930s and 1940s, the Communist Movement in Bengal took shape. The Tebhaga movement, launched in 1946 by the Bengal Kisan Sabha, was the most important communist movement. The sharecroppers demanded two-thirds of the land's yield for themselves and one-third for the landlords. Tebhaga literally means 'three parts' of the crop. The movement led to conflicts between Jotedars and Bargadars.

Khadya Andolan (Food Movement)

The Food Movement of 1959 marked a watershed moment in the history of class struggle in West Bengal. Food insecurity had reached alarming levels in both rural and urban areas. On August 31, 1959, a massive mass rally was arranged in Calcutta, with hundreds of thousands of people arriving from rural led by the Kisan Sabha. At the end of the meeting, 80 people were killed and many more were injured as a result of police violence.

The Food Movement had such a significant impact that it altered the state's political landscape. It not only ensured a consistent fall in Congress support in the state, but it also became one of the elements that led to the breakup of the Communist Party of India(CPI). The Communist Movement in West Bengal suffered a significant setback in 1964, when the Communist Party of India split into two parties. A new party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), was established.

Naxalbari Movement

The Naxalbari peasant revolt began in 1972 in West Bengal's Darjeeling district. It was mostly headed by indigenous tribals and extreme communist leaders from Bengal. This event caused a split in the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) was founded.

The Naxalbari Movement attempted to preserve the interests of the peasant and labouring classes by encompassing all ethnic (including tribal) and caste groupings. The leader preached militancy on the peasant front and primed the peasants for military conflict.

The Nepali and Chinese communists provided spiritual support for the revolt. This movement's key leaders were Charu Mazumdar, Kanu Sanyal, Jangal Santhal, Mahadev Mukherjee, Vinod Mishra, Dipankar Bhattacharya, and others.

modern history of west bengal

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