Most of us have heard Dr Sachchidananda Sinha’s name only as the interim President of the Constituent Assembly. However, it was not the only achievement for him. As the senior-most member of the assembly, he had to act as interim President. His achievements lie in his contribution as an educationist, politician and an ardent advocate for the cause of Bihar. He was instrumental in the formation of the province of Bihar and its subsequent rise in the national arena.
Dr Sinha was born in Arrah district of present-day Bihar in a relatively well off Kayastha family. After his early education in Arrah school, he went on to complete his graduation from Patna College. Later in 1889, he moved to London to study Law. It was there that he came in contact with leaders such as WC Bannerjee, George Yule, SN Bannerjee, etc. He even campaigned for Dadabhai Naoroji, who was fighting elections to enter the British House of Commons.
But what marks a turn in his life is the experience he had in Britain regarding his birthplace Bihar. There he faced an identity crisis—as he found that no one even knew about a place called Bihar, as it was a part of Bengal Presidency. He himself recalls it as, “It would be difficult for me to convey the Bihari of today the sense of shame and humiliation which I, and some equally sensitive Bihari friends, felt while prosecuting our studies in Britain, on realizing that we were people without any individuality, without any province to claim as ours, in fact, without any habitation with the name.” (His British friends used to show him the map of India, asking if there’s any place called “Bihar”).
Not only the Englishmen, while returning from Britain, he even found a man from Punjab who was unaware of any place called Bihar. After discussing it at length, they would still recognize it as Bengal. Further, on returning to Bihar, he found a Bihari policeman at the railway station with the badge of “Bengal Police”. All these events, along with the administrative, political and historical discrimination and neglect, made Sinha resolute about creating a separate province for the Biharis.
In the ancient times, Bihar was the centre of Indian civilization, with the seat of power for dynasties like the Haryanka, the Maurya and the Gupta. It not only saw the great rulers in the form of Bimbisara Ashoka, Chandragupta, Samudragupta, etc. but was also the centre of socio-religious movements in the form of Buddhism and Jainism. The great scientists like Aryabhatta, Bhaskaracharya, Varamihira, Charak, etc., were the products of this great land.
Bihar faced a reversal of fortune after the fall of the Gupta empire, with the centre of power shifting towards Kannauj, Agra and Delhi in the west and Bengal in the east. It was reduced to just a buffer zone between eastern powers like Palas and Senas in Bengal and the Rajputs and Sultanate in Agra-Delhi. Its development, both cultural and economic, was compromised as there was no state patronage. As a result, Bihar was pushed into oblivion.
Sher Shah, with his brief interregnum after defeating Humayun, did try to restore Bihar’s glory, but again, the rise of Mughals in Agra pushed Bihar to the margins. Although Akbar carved the suba of Bihar, it was sandwiched between the politically important subas of Awadh and Bengal. The treaty of Allahabad (1765), following the Battle of Buxar, was the final nail in the coffin for Bihar as its Diwani rights, along with Odisha, were given to the English company at Calcutta. From here on Bihar became completely subordinate to Bengal.
In the decades to come, feudal Bihar, which had faced historical neglect, was overrun by the “newly enlightened” Bengalis who controlled both the economic and political activities of Bihar. They dominated the educational institutions as well as the government services. Even the Patna College, which was set up to promote higher education in Bihar, was dominated by the Bengalis.
The feudal-minded people of Bihar are also partly to be blamed for their antipathy towards English education, but at the same time, it needs to be acknowledged that the enlightened Bengalis did not in any way try to impart education to their Bihari “brothers”. All they were interested in was to dominate the political and economic landscape of Bihar. Even if there were some educated Bihari men like Govind Charan, they found jobs with much difficulty.
Further, Bihar was culturally and linguistically completely different from Bengal, and their union was only an artificial one. All these things were argued by the advocates of Bihar, which besides Dr Sinha, included the likes of Mahesh Narayan, Hasan Imam, etc. Together, they published the newspaper called “The Bihar Times”, which tried to mould the public opinion in favour of a separate state. In fact, Dr Sinha called the birth of this newspaper the starting point of Bihari Renaissance.
The dream of a separate province of Bihar received a setback in 1905 when Lord Curzon went on to partition Bengal on communal lines to weaken the National Movement (However, the official reason was administrative convenience). Like any other Indian, Bihari leaders did criticize this communal partition, and Dr Sinha in ‘Hindustan Review’ came up with the article titled “The Partition of the lower provinces – An alternative proposal”.
He, along with Mahesh Narayan, also came up with the book titled “Partition of Bengal and Separation of Bihar”, in which they denounced the Bengal partition of 1905, and instead, argued that separating Bihar and Odisha would be a better decision from the administrative point of view. For that, they provided statistical data of representation in the government services and also the linguistic and cultural angle.
Gradually, the government also came to recognize the discrimination and poor representation of Biharis, and thus made knowledge of Hindustani language compulsory for serving in Bihar.
In 1910, Dr Sinha was elected to the Bengal Legislative Council, where he strongly raised the demand for a separate province of Bihar. He further convinced Ali Imam to become a part of Governor General’s Executive Council, which was again used to argue the cause of Bihar. All these efforts finally led Lord Hardinge to annul the communal partition of Bengal of 1905 and announce the creation of the separate province of Bihar and Odisha in the Dilli Durbar of 1911. Thus, on 1st April 1912, the province of Bihar and Odisha came into being with Patna as its capital. It was, in fact, the first British Indian province to be carved out on linguistic basis (Andhra Pradesh was the first one after independence).
Dr Sinha continued to work for his motherland in the years to come. Some of his achievements after the creation of Bihar include: becoming the first Deputy President of Central Legislative Assembly (1921), member of Governor’s executive council of Bihar and Odisha as well as President of its Legislative Council, chairman of Odisha Boundary Commission (1930) and Vice-Chancellor of Patna University from 1936 to 1945.
The above article was first published here.