The Swadeshi movement launched in the early 20th Century was a direct fallout of the decision of the British India government to partition Bengal. Use of Swadeshi goods and boycott of foreign made goods were the two main objectives of this movement. In this post we shall learn about the facts and significance of the swadeshi and boycott movements in detail.
[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=”Partition of Bengal”]The decision to partition Bengal was the brainchild of Governor General Lord Curzon. In the words of Risley, the Home Secretary to Government of India, [pullquote align=”normal”]Bengal united is power, Bengal divided, will pull (in) several different ways. [/pullquote]
Although it was announced that Bengal is being partitioned on linguistic basis since it has become unwieldy administratively but the real, and hidden, agenda was to divide the Bengali speaking population on the basis on religion.
The Bengal province had a population of nearly 78.5 million. It comprised of West Bengal with a Hindu majority and East Bengal and Assam with a Muslim majority. It included the Hindi-speaking regions of Bihar, the Odia-speaking regions of Odisha as well as the Assamese-speaking region of Assam, making it a huge administrative entity.
The former province of Bengal was divided into two new provinces “Bengal” (comprising western Bengal as well as the province of Bihar and Orissa) and Eastern Bengal and Assam with Dacca as the capital of the latter.
The partition of the state was intended to curb Bengali influence by not only placing Bengalis under two administrations but by reducing them to a minority in Bengal itself as in the new proposal Bengal proper was to have 17 million Bengali and 37 million Odia and Hindi speaking people. Also, as mentioned earlier, the partition was meant to foster another kind of division – this time on the basis of religion.
The partition of Bengal took effect on 16th October 1905.
This decision to partition Bengal led to resentment among the Bengali intelligentsia who clearly saw through the British ploy of dividing Indians on communal lines.
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Before the launch of the Swadeshi movement, the main form of protest techniques adopted by the moderate nationalist leaders were petitions, speeches, memoranda, public meetings and press campaigns. However the main moderate leaders like Surendranath Banerjea, Krishna Kumar Mitra and others realised that the usual moderate methods of protest were not working and something larger in scope, with different strategy, was required.
Facts About the Swadeshi and Boycott Movements
On 7th August 1905, a Boycott Resolution was passed in the Calcutta town hall where it was decided to boycott the use of Manchester cloth and Liverpool salt. In Barisal district, this message of boycott of foreign made goods was adopted by the masses and value of the British cloth sold there decreased sharply.
Bande Mataram became the theme song of the boycott and swadeshi movements.
Among the several forms of struggle thrown up by the movement, it was the boycott of foreign made goods that met with the greatest visible success at the practical and popular level. Boycott and public burning of foreign cloth, picketing of shops selling foreign goods, all became common in remote corners of Bengal as well as in many important towns and cities throughout the country.
Corps of volunteers (samitis) were another form of mass mobilization widely used by the Swadeshi movement. The Swadesh Bandhab Samiti set up by Ashwini Kumar Dutt, a school teacher, in Barisal was the most well-known volunteer organization of them all.
Lokmanya Tilak organized the Shivaji and Ganapati festivals in Western India (Maharashtra) to spread the message of the swadeshi and boycott movements among the masses.
The Swadeshi and boycott movements gave great emphasis upon ‘Atmasakti‘ or self-reliance in different fields as a means to re-assert national dignity.
This emphasis on self-reliance was most evident in the field of National Education. The Bengal National College was founded with Aurobindo as its Principal. Scores of national schools were established in a short period all over the country. In August 1906, the National Council of Education was established.
Self-reliance was also evident in the entrepreneurial zeal of Indians. The period saw an explosion of Swadeshi textile mills, soap and match factories, tanneries, banks, insurance companies, shops etc. While most of these Swadeshi enterprises were established and run owing to patriotic fervour than any real business interest and were unable to survive for long, some others such as Acharya P.C. Ray’s Bengal Chemicals Factory, became successful and famous.
In the field of culture Rabindranth Tagore’s Amar Sonar Bangla, which he wrote in protest against the partition of Bengal, became a rallying point of the Swadeshi and boycott movements and later inspired the liberation struggle of Bangladesh.
Spread to other parts of the country
The swadeshi and boycott movements caught the popular imagination and soon spread to other parts of the country. Let us look at the areas/regions where the movement spread and the principal actors behind its spread.
|Poona and Bombay||Lokmanya Tilak|
|Punjab||Ajit Singh & Lala Lajpat Rai|
|Delhi||Syed Haidar Raza|
Significance of the Swadeshi and Boycott Movements
- The Swadeshi and boycott movements were the first movements of the 20th Century India that encouraged mass participation of a large section of the society in modern nationalist politics.
- Women came out of their homes for the first time and joined processions and picketing of shops selling foreign made goods.
- The Swadeshi and boycott movements also changed the character of the Indian National Congress (INC) from being driven largely by moderates to, now, the primary agenda being set by the ‘Extremists’ who gave the call of ‘Swaraj’ or self-rule at the 1906 Calcutta session of the Congress.
- The ideas of non-cooperation and passive resistance, which Mahatma Gandhi applied successfully many years later, found their genesis in the Swadeshi and boycott movements of the early 20th Century.
End of the Swadeshi and Boycott Movements
The British had sown the seeds of communalism into the social fabric of India quite deep and the Swadeshi movement was not able to garner support of the Muslim masses, especially the Muslim peasantry which was in an inverse class relationship with the Hindu zamindars in large parts of Bengal.
By mid-1908, the mass character of the swadeshi and boycott movements had almost ended and government repression took its full force. Student participants in public meetings, processions, which were banned, were expelled from Government schools and colleges. Severe controls were imposed on the press. Police force was used to break up public gatherings and meetings.
The Congress split in 1907 at the Surat session which further weakened the swadeshi movement.
The government swiftly moved against the leaders of the movement, including Ashwini Kumar Dutt, Krishna Kumar Mitra, Lokmanya Tilak, Ajit Singh, Lajpat Rai, Chidambaram Pillai, and rendered it leaderless. Bipin Chandra Pal and Aurobindo Ghosh retired from politics.
The Swadeshi and boycott movements lacked an effective organization and party structure. Although it had thrown up almost the entire gamut of Gandhian techniques from passive resistance to constructive work, it was however unable to convert these techniques from theory into practice by mobilising the masses along political lines as Mahatma Gandhi did much later on.
However, it should be remembered that no mass movement can sustain at the same tempo for an endless time without pausing, especially, when faced with severe repression, and this is true of the swadeshi and boycott movements as well.