Ideology at bay : Muslim high politics in Bengal’s last colonial decade
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This dissertation argues how the imperative of surviving colonial legislative politics left little room for furthering of any ideology. As my primary tool of inquiry I use the political careers of Bengal’s only three chief ministers before independence, Fazlul Huq (1937-1941 and 1941-1943), Khwaja Nazimuddin (1943-1945) and Huseyn Suhrawardy (1946-1947).The four central chapters of my dissertation each deal with one ministerial tenure. I successively document how Huq, Nazimuddin and Suhrawardy resorted to different political techniques to confront the vicarious world of provincial politics. Huq’s contingent politics was a response to the new grant of provincial autonomy, under the penultimate Constitutional Act of 1935. Nazimuddin had to renegotiate a restrictive political space, caused by war calculations and the catastrophic 1943 famine. Suhrawardy’s transition from politics of exclusion to politics of inclusion, in what became the last year of British rule in India, was a desperate attempt to fight against partition of Bengal. Some ideologies were abandoned, some new ones embraced, and to some, only lip-service was paid. This dissertation is the first exploration of the parting of rhetoric and action in the tumultuous pre-Independence/partition decade in Bengal. To present this new understanding I use official documents and non-official sources such as journals, diaries, newspapers and letters from archives in Cambridge, London, Delhi, Kolkata and Dhaka. While the last colonial decade in Bengal has generated a lot of intriguing scholarship from social scientists, there has yet to be a substantial work on the Bengali Muslims for the period under study. Before the time of “history from below,” North India, Punjab specifically, was deemed to be most important for the pre-partition decade. By the time scholars started engaging with Bengal, a region that also underwent partition, the fascination with subaltern studies dictated a certain kind of work narrating people’s experiences. Consequently, the provincial high politics of Bengal never got the attention it deserved. My work fills this gap up by answering questions that have never even been asked. In the process I have brought to light neglected documents that I bring in dialogue with materials better known to scholars.
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