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History |

tagore s painting

Remnants of civilisation in the greater Bengal region date back 4,000 years, when the region was settled by Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic peoples. The exact origin of the word Bangla or Bengal is unknown, though it is believed to be derived from the Dravidian-speaking tribe Bang that settled in the area around the year 1000 of before Christ.

The kingdom of Magadha was formed in 7th century of before Christ, consisting of the Bihar and Bengal regions. It was one of the four main kingdoms of India at the time of Mahavira and the Buddha, and consisted of several Janapadas. During the rule of Maurya dynasty, the Magadha Empire extended over nearly all of South Asia, including Afghanistan and parts of Persia under Ashoka the Great in the 3rd century of before Christ.
One of the earliest foreign references to Bengal is the mention of a land named Gangaridai by the Greeks around 100 years of before Christ. The word is speculated to have come from Gangahrd (Land with the Ganges in its heart) in reference to an area in Bengal. Bengal had overseas trade relations with Java, Sumatra and Siam (modern day Thailand). According to Mahavamsa, Vijaya Singha, a Vanga prince, conquered Lanka (modern day Sri Lanka) in 544 years of before Christ and gave the name "Sinhala" to the country. Bengali people migrated to the Malay Archipelago and Siam (in modern Thailand), establishing their own colonies there.
From the 3rd to the 6th centuries AD, the kingdom of Magadha served as the seat of the Gupta Empire. The first recorded independent king of Bengal was Shashanka, reigning around early 7th century. After a period of anarchy, the Buddhist Pala dynasty ruled the region for four hundred years, followed by a shorter reign of the Hindu Sena dynasty. Islam was introduced to Bengal in the twelfth century by Sufi missionaries.Invasion by the Turkish Muslims started in about 1206.The Hindu Bengali kingdoms held on in various parts of south and east bengal till about the 1350s.After that Hindu political power was limited to the area of Koch Bihar in North Bengal and as baronships and vassal chiefdoms in west bengal and western areas of east bengal. Subsequent Muslim conquests helped spread Islam throughout the region. Bakhtiar Khilji, a Turkic general of the Slave dynasty of Delhi Sultanate, defeated Lakshman Sen of the Sena dynasty and conquered large parts of Bengal in about 1206.The process of conquest continued till about the 1350s. Consequently, the region was ruled by dynasties of sultans and feudal lords under the Delhi Sultanate for the next few hundred years. In the sixteenth century, Mughal general Islam Khan conquered Bengal. However, administration by governors appointed by the court of the Mughal Empire gave way to semi-independence of the area under the Nawabs of Murshidabad, who nominally respected the sovereignty of the Mughals in Delhi.
European traders arrived late in the fifteenth century. Their influence grew until the British East India Company gained taxation rights in Bengal subah, or province, following the Battle of Plassey in 1757, when Siraj ud-Daulah, the last independent Nawab, was defeated by the British. The Bengal Presidency was established by 1765, eventually including all British territories north of the Central Provinces (now Madhya Pradesh), from the mouths of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra to the Himalayas and the Punjab. The Bengal famine of 1770 claimed millions of lives. Calcutta was named the capital of British India in 1772. The Bengal Renaissance and Brahmo Samaj socio-cultural reform movements had great impact on the cultural and economic life of Bengal. The failed Indian rebellion of 1857 started near Calcutta and resulted in transfer of authority to the British Crown, administered by the Viceroy of India. Between 1905 and 1911, an abortive attempt was made to divide the province of Bengal into two zones. Bengal suffered from the Great Bengal famine in 1943 that claimed 3 million lives.

Bengal played a major role in the Indian independence movement, in which revolutionary groups such as Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar were dominant. Armed attempts against the British Raj from Bengal reached a climax when Subhash Chandra Bose led the Indian National Army from Southeast Asia against the British. When India gained independence in 1947, Bengal was partitioned along religious lines. The western part went to India (and was named West Bengal) while the eastern part joined Pakistan as a province called East Bengal (later renamed East Pakistan, giving rise to independent Bangladesh in 1971). Both West and East Bengal suffered from large refugee influx during the partition in 1947, leading to the political unrests later on. The partition of Bengal entailed the greatest exodus of people in Human History. Millions of Hindus migrated from East Pakistan to India and thousands of Muslims too went across the borders to East Pakistan. Because of the immigration of the refugees, there occurred the crisis of land and food in West Bengal; and such condition remained in long duration for more than three decades.The politics of West Bengal since the partition in 1947 developed round the nucleus of refugee problem. Both the Rightists and the Leftists in the Politics of West Bengal have not yet become free from the socio-economic conditions created by the partition of Bengal. These conditions as have remained unresolved in some twisted forms have given birth to local socio-economic, political and ethnic movements.

In 1950 the Princely State of Cooch Behar merged with West Bengal after King Jagaddipendra Narayan had signed the Instrument of Accession with India. In 1955, the former French enclave of Chandannagar, which had passed into Indian control after 1950, was integrated into West Bengal; portions of Bihar were subsequently merged with West Bengal.
In the fifties, it was decided by the then Congress Government to shift industries from the state to other parts of the country. The value of freight tax and other taxes were also kept higher for the state by the central Government till the eighties ( see for example this article). This contributed to very few manufacturing industries being set in the state from 1950 to 1969.
During the 1970s and 1980s, severe power shortages, strikes and a violent Marxist-Naxalite movement damaged much of the state's infrastructure, leading to a period of economic stagnation. The Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 resulted in the influx of millions of refugees to West Bengal, causing significant strains on its infrastructure. The 1974 smallpox epidemic killed thousands. West Bengal politics underwent a major change when the Left Front won the 1977 assembly election, defeating the incumbent Indian National Congress. The Left Front, led by Communist Party of India (Marxist), has governed for the state for the subsequent three decades.
The state's economic recovery gathered momentum after economic reforms in India were introduced in the mid-1990s by the central government, aided by election of a new reformist Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in 2000. As of 2007, armed activists have been organising minor terrorist attacks in some parts of the state, while clashes with the administration are taking place at several sensitive places on the issue of industrial land acquisition.

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