The conditions for the emergence of militant nationalism had thus developed when in 1905 the partition of Bengal was announced and the Indian national movement entered its second stage.
On 20 July 1905, Lord Curzon issued an order dividing the province of Bengal into two parts: Eastern Bengal and Assam with a population of 31 million and the rest of Bengal with a population of 54 million, of whom 18 million were Bengalis and 36 million Biharis and Oriyas.
It was said that the existing province of Bengal was too big to be efficiently administered by a single provincial government. However, the officials who worked out the plan had also other political ends in view.
They hoped to stem the rising tide of nationalism in Bengal, considered at the time to be the nerve centre of Indian nationalism. Risley, Home Secretary to the Government of India, wrote in an official note on 6 December 1904:
Bengal united is a power. Bengal divided will pull in several different ways. That is what the Congress leaders feel: their apprehensions are perfectly correct and they form one of the great merits of the scheme. One of our main objects is to split up and thereby to weaken a solid body of opponents to our rule.
The Indian National Congress and the nationalists of Bengal firmly opposed the partition. Within Bengal, different sections of the population zamindars, merchants, lawyers, students, the city poor and even women rose up in spontaneous opposition to the partition of their province.
The nationalists saw the act of partition as a challenge to Indian nationalism and not merely an administrative measure.
They saw that it was a deliberate attempt to divide the Bengalis territorially and on religious grounds for in the Eastern part Muslims would be a big majority and in the Western part, Hindus and thus to disrupt and weaken nationalism in Bengal.
It would also be a big blow to the growth of Bengali language and culture. They pointed out that administrative efficiency could have been better secured by separating the Hindi-speaking Bihar and the Oriya-speaking Orissa from the Bengali-speaking part of the province.
Moreover, the official step had been taken in utter disregard of public opinion. Thus the vehemence of Bengal's protest against the partition is explained by the fact that it was a blow to the sentiments of a very sensitive and courageous people.