West Bengal Foundation Day?! Bengal CM calls it "ahistorical, unconstitutional"
CM Mamata Banerjee accused the Centre of rekindling bitter memories of the Bengal Partition with its "arbitrary" 'State Foundation Day' celebration
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday, June 20, lashed out at Governor C.V. Ananda Bose for organising an event to celebrate what is being termed the 'Foundation Day of West Bengal', despite strong objections raised by her and without consulting, far less obtaining any consent from, the state cabinet or the state legislature.
"I am shocked to know that you have decided to organise a programme on 20.06.2023 at the Raj Bhavan, commemorating what you have peculiarly chosen to describe as the state's Foundation Day," Banerjee wrote in a letter to Bose.
Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Benerjee also mentioned a telephonic conversation with the West Bengal governor earlier in the day, where Bose purportedly admitted that a unilateral and non-conclusive decision to declare a particular day as the 'foundation day' of West Bengal was not warranted.
The programme was held on Tuesday afternoon at the Raj Bhavan in Kolkata and a similar event is set to be held in Guwahati, Assam in the evening. It is unclear why Assam should be celebrating Bengal's foundation in particular, especially given the contentious history many Assamese citizens have had with Bengal and Bengalis.
The event poster features Syama Prasad Mookerjee, president of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha and largely credited as the founder of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), featured dead centre in a line-up of Bengali icons, alongside Rabindranath Tagore, Sri Aurobindo, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Swami Vivekananda. The poster is also stamped with an Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav logo and talks of celebrating "one best India". It is unclear how either notion is relevant to Bengal's foundation, or vice versa.
At the event held in Kolkata, where no representative of the state government was present, Bose spoke of 'zero tolerance' for violence and emphasised the right of the common people to vote freely, possibly in reference to the upcoming panchayat polls. "I'm dedicated to the well-being and welfare of the people. Bengal has immense potential and is loaded with talents," he said.
Terming the 'celebration' an "ahistorical, unconstitutional and unilateral decision" taken by the Central government, Banerjee slammed Bose for moving ahead with the "so-called Foundation Day of West Bengal" on June 20.
Banerjee contested that the state was not founded on any particular day. Rather, she noted, West Bengal's statehood was granted through the infamous Radcliffe Award, which was given legitimacy by the departing British colonial forces.
In her letter, she wrote that the state emerged out of the undivided State of Bengal in 1947 "through a painful and traumatic process". She also highlighted that the people of the state have historically never celebrated any particular day as their 'foundation day' for the same reason.
The TMC also put out a statement on Twitter that "The division of Bengal being a tragedy for millions of people, must not be celebrated." It also added that the governor's decision to 'commemorate' the day was "perplexing" as it was also not "historically accurate".
Banerjee's letter also said that positioning the Partition as the state's 'foundation day' goes against the ethos of Bengal, which sees "Partition as a result of unleashing of communal forces that could not be resisted at that point of time".
"The process involved uprooting millions of people across the border and death and replacement of innumerable families. The economy of Bengal was destroyed and the truncated State of West Bengal suffered a sudden disruption of communication and infrastructure, too," the letter continued.
"As agreed by you, I request you to kindly not hold any such programme which will rekindle the bitter memories of crores of people in West Bengal and re-incite undesirable forces," Banerjee had urged Bose in her letter.
The Assam poster's headlining of SP Mookerjee is perhaps worth noting here, as the person who led Bengali Hindus to oppose the United Bengal plan of then-Bengal prime minister Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, half a century after the state opposed Lord Curzon's proposed partition in 1905. The United Bengal proposal would have created a separate nation-state of Bengal, independent of both India and Pakistan.
On this day in 1947, two meetings of separate sets of legislators in the Bengal Assembly were held — those who wanted West Bengal as part of India voted in favour of the resolution by a majority. The other set of legislators belonged to the areas which eventually became East Pakistan — now Bangladesh.
"The Bengal Legislative Assembly held this meeting to decide if the Bengal Presidency would stay united with Pakistan or with India, or be divided, having the Hindu-majority districts staying with India as West Bengal and the Muslim-majority areas forming East Pakistan," said Professor Sujata Mukherjee of the history department, Rabindra Bharati University.
"After it became apparent that the division of India on the basis of the two-nation theory almost certainly would result in the partition of Bengal along religious lines, the Bengal provincial Muslim League leader H.S. Suhrawardy came up with a new plan to create an independent Bengal state, which would join neither Pakistan nor India but remain unpartitioned. The Hindu Mahasabha, under the leadership of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, vehemently opposed it. The lack of any other significant support caused the United Bengal plan to be discarded," Mukherjee added.
Alleging that this move will "insult and defame the millions of people in West Bengal today", anonymous TMC sources told National Herald: "We strongly protest against this unconstitutional and unilateral decision of the government of India. This decision has been taken without the state's approval and the spectacle held at Raj Bhavan excluded the state itself."
Responding to the TMC's objections, leader of the opposition in Bengal and BJP stalwart Suvendu Adhikari told ANI, "On this day in 1947, a resolution was passed in the West Bengal Assembly that Bengal would remain with India and not Pakistan. It (Foundation Day) should be celebrated in a grand manner."
The celebration of this 'foundation day' adds to the long-list of disputes between the Bengal government and governor Bose, who have been tussling over the ongoing violence ahead of the panchayat elections and the appointment of vice-chancellors in state government universities, among other contentions.