a1 University of Cambridge
In 1947 the fabric of Bengali rural society woven together by a common language and a syncretist popular culture was torn asunder on lines of religion. During the final two decades of colonial rule in India the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Jamuna deltaic tracts of east Bengal increasingly became the scene of tension and violent conflict between a Muslim peasantry and a predominantly Hindu landed gentry. The conflict between rival élites in a plural society over government jobs and positions of vantage in the legislative arena has been a subject of scholarly studies in twentieth-century Bengal. Successive ‘legislative attacks’ of one status and interest group upon another have been carefully identified and documented, and their significance assessed. The inner dynamics of the struggle in the countryside and the periodic outbursts of ‘communal’ fury that rent rural Bengal during this period have not come under the same systematic investigation. Yet, without the agrarian dimension to the Hindu–Muslim problem in Bengal, the politics of separatism would in all likelihood have proved ineffectual and been washed away by the strong tide of a composite nationalism.