The swadeshi movement was started as a response to the partition decision taken by Lord Curzon. The reason given was administrative but the truth was the actual reason was political. The British wanted to crush the national movement at its nerve center “Calcutta”. The partition would have divided Bengal and turned it into a minority and prop up Muslim communalists as an alternative to the congress.
Protests against the Partition
When the partition proposals became public there was a furor of activity. 500 public meetings were held in East Bengal. Pamphlets were distributed, strong press support was seen, and numerous petitions were signed and sent to the British rulers.
Even the big zamindars, loyalists of the raj, turned towards congress. The moderate thinking and style of leadership were at their height i.e. petitioning, speeches, memorandums, public meetings, and the purpose was to turn public opinion in India and England against the British.
When the government was unmoved and went ahead with partition it became clear that moderate methods weren’t working. At numerous meetings held in small towns, it was decided to boycott foreign cloth and the swadeshi movement had started. Processions, hartals, protests, and fasts were common. Bande Mataram became a cry for unity.
Women, who were traditionally home-centered, especially those of the urban middle classes, took an active part in processions and picketing. From now onwards, they were to play a significant role in the national movement.
Congress and the Partition
The movement spread outside Bengal too and the congress in its session presided by GK Gokhale supported the swadeshi call.
The extremist leaders Lal, Bal, and Pal were interested in extending the movement to all of India with the objective to get Swaraj. The moderates were not keen to do it.
At the 1906 session, the president Dadabhai Nauroji declared that the goal of INC was self-government in the line of colonies like Canada and Australia.
The difference between the moderates and extremists regarding pace and objectives finally led to a split in 1907 under Congress President Rash Bihari Ghosh.
Rise of Extremism
In the swadeshi movement now extremists had a greater sway and politics of mendicancy was on a retreat. The purpose was to now extend the swadeshi call into fully-fledged noncooperation and passive resistance. The boycott call extended to boycott of government schools, colleges, jobs, and titles. This period saw the rise of swadeshi industries and schools and colleges too.
The base of the movement now extended to Zamindari sections and the lower middle class in schools and towns. Though the movement failed to mobilize peasants in rural areas for the first time the peasants were exposed to modern political ideas.
Failures of the movement:
- They weren’t able to garner the support of mass Muslims especially the Muslim peasantry. This was due to the British strategy of divide and rule. All India Muslim league was propped up as a competitor to the congress. The British used communalism to turn Muslims against congress.
- By 1908 the movement was a spent force. This was due to heavy-handed repression by the government. The internal squabbles and the split within the congress also affected the movement. The entire leadership was imprisoned in one stroke making the movement leaderless.
- It lacked an effective organization and a party structure.
- Also, the very nature of mass movements is that they can’t be endlessly sustained at the same pitch of militancy and self-sacrifice.
Most of the upper and middle-class Muslims stayed away or, led by Nawab Salimullah of Dacca, supported the partition on the plea that it would give them a Muslim-majority East Bengal.
To further government interests, the All India Muslim League was propped up in 1907 as an anti-Congress front and reactionary elements like Nawab Salimullah of Dacca were encouraged.
Aftermath of Partition
The end of the movement saw a rise in revolutionary terrorism as the youth who participated in the swadeshi movement weren’t ready to meekly settle down when the movement was ebbing.
However, the movement wasn’t a failure it had successfully taken the ideas of nationalism to several sections of the people. The swadeshi influence on culture and ideas too was unparallel in Indian history.
The partition of Bengal was annulled by King George in Delhi Durbar in 1911. The capital was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi at the same time. The decision to annul the partition of Bengal in 1911 was mainly to curb the menace of revolutionary terrorism. The annulment came as a rude shock to the Muslim political elite. It was also decided to shift the capital to Delhi as a sop to the Muslims, as it was associated with Muslim glory, but the Muslims were not pleased. Bihar and Orissa were taken out of Bengal and Assam were made a separate province.
PERSONALITIES ASSOCIATED WITH SPECIFIC MOVEMENTS
- Lokmanya Tilak spread the message of swadeshi to Poona and Bombay and organized Ganapati and Shivaji festivals to arouse patriotic feelings. He stressed that the aim of swadeshi, boycott and national education was the attainment of swaraj. He opened cooperative stores and headed the Swadeshi Waste Pracharini Sabha.
- Chidambaram Pillai spread the movement to Madras and organized the strike of the Tuticorin Coral Mill. He founded the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company in Tuticorin on the east coast of the Madras Province