Partition of Bengal:

  • The provincial state of Bengal had an area of 189,000 sq. miles and a population of nearly 8 crores. It included the Hindi-speaking regions of Bihar, the Oriya-speaking regions of Orissa as well as the Assamese-speaking region of Assam, making it a huge administrative entity.Moreover, the capital Calcutta was the capital of the entire British India.
  • With the growing efforts of the Indian National Congress to secure the independence of India, The partition was expected to weaken what was perceived as the nerve center of Indian nationalism.
  • With real objective as second one but declared objective as first one, Lord Curzon decided to partition Bengal into two entities, which would result in a Muslim-majority in the eastern half, and a Hindu-majority in the western half. This he hoped would reduce the administrative pressures as well divide the population on religious grounds, quelling the Indian Independence Movement.
  • The main reason for the Partition was purely political. The Hindus were in a better position in terms of economic status, professional qualities etc., than the Muslims. During the pre-Sepoy Mutiny period, section of Hindu traders greatly helped the British while their Muslim counterparts did not. The British were angry. With the spread of Western education Hindus made a big way, but the Muslims could not. A sense of deprivation crept in. Perhaps, the sense of deprivation was engineered. When the discontentment grew in the beginning of this century, the British capitalised on this sense of deprivation.
  • Even Lord Minto, Curzon’s successor was critical of the way in which partition was imposed disregarding public opinion saw that it was good political strategy; Minto argued that ‘from a political point of View alone, putting aside the administrative difficulties of the old province, I believe partition to have been very necessary.‘
  • The Partition of Bengal in 1905 was made on October 16 by Viceroy Curzon. The former province of Bengal was divided into two new provinces (1) “Bengal” (comprising western Bengal as well as the province of Bihar and Orissa) and capital at Calcutta. It was to have 17 million Bengali and 37 million Oriya and Hindi speaking people thus reducing Bengali to a minority in Bengal itself. (2) “East Bengal and Assam” with a population of 31 million people and with its capital at Dhaka.File:Bengal gazetteer 1907-9.jpg
  • In the official note, Risley, the Home Secretary to the Government of India said, “Bengal united is power; Bengal divided will pull several different ways”.
  • The partition of the state intended to curb Bengali influence by not only placing Bengalis under two administrations, but by reducing them to a minority in Bengal itself.
  • Also, the partition was meant to foster another kind of division-this time on the basis of religion, i.e.  between the Muslims and the Hindus. The Indian Nationalist clearly saw the design behind the partition and condemned it unanimously. The anti-partition and Swadeshi movement had begun.
  • Due to these political protests, the two parts of Bengal were reunited in 1911. A new partition which divided the province on linguistic, rather than religious grounds followed, with the Hindi, Oriya and Assamese areas separated to form separate administrative units: Bihar and Orissa Province was created to the west, and Assam Province to the east. The administrative capital of British India was moved from Calcutta to New Delhi as well.

Swadeshi Movement:

  • The Swadeshi movement had its genesis in the anti-partition movement which started with the partition of Bengal by the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, 1905 and continued up to 1911.
  •  It was the most successful of the pre-Gandhian movements. Its chief architects were Aurobindo Ghosh, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai, V. O. Chidambaram Pillai.
  • Though affected in 1905, the partition proposals had come onto the public domain as early as 1903. Therefore, since 1903, there was prepared the ground for the launch of the Swadeshi movement.In first phase (1903-1905), moderate way of 3Ps was in full sway but it could not stop partition.
  • Strong sense of unity among Bengalis fostered by their regional independence,cultural development of 19th century, spread of western education and Hindu revivalist mood gave birth to a vehement resistance.

The Nature of the Swadeshi Movement:

  • The Bengalis adopted the boycott movement as the last resort after they had exhausted the armoury of constitutional agitation (between 1903 and 1905) known to them, namely vocal protests, appeals, petitions and Conferences to coerce the British to concede the unanimous national demand.
  • This was boycott-cum-swadeshi movement.
  • The original conception of Boycott was mainly an economic one. It had two distinct, but allied purposes in view. The first was to bring pressure upon the British public by the pecuniary loss they would suffer by the boycott of British goods, particularly the Manchester cotton goods for which Bengal provided the richest market in India. Secondly, it was regarded as essential for the revival of indigenous industry which being at its infant stage could never grow in the face of free competition with foreign countries which had highly developed industry.
  • Like the Boycott, the Swadeshi as a purely economic measure for the growth of Indian Industry was not an altogether novel idea in India. It was preached by several eminent personalities in the 19th century, Gopal Hari Deshmukh, better known as Lokahitawadi of Bombay, Swami Dayananda and Bholanath Chandra of Calcutta. But the seeds sown by them did not germinate till the soil was rendered fertile by the grim resolve of a united people, exasperated beyond measure; to forge the twin weapons of Boycott and Swadeshi in order to undo the great wrong which was inflicted upon them by an arrogant Government.
  • Later on, the economic boycott receded into background with the passage of time and it developed into an idea of non-cooperation with the British in every field and the object aimed at was a political regeneration of the country with the distant goal of absolute freedom looming large before the eyes of the more advanced section.
  • Similarly, Swadeshi completely outgrew the original conception of promoting Indian industry. It assumed a new form based upon the literal connotation of the word swadeshi, namely attachment to everything Indian.
  • The movement marked the beginning of new politics, it marked the beginning of a new nationalist era- the former was politics of militancy and the later the politics of the militant nationalism. It was characterised by a shift from political moderation to political extremism, from constitutional agitation to radical struggle and from politics of petition to direct action.
  • The movement marked the beginning of new form of mobilization. New political weapons for giving a new orientation to the politics of pressure came to be used- Swadeshi, Constructive Swadeshi, Boycott, Extended Boycott, passive resistance, mass agitation etc.
  • The movement was the first popular upsurge and humble beginning of multi-class movement ensuring participation of new section of people like students, women, lower middle class people, zamindars, peasant etc. The mobilisation is remarkable by mobilisation of pantry in some areas and politicization of the economic grievances of the labours. Even though mobilization was in limited areas, the very beginning of modern mass politics in India is markable. Peasants in most parts didn’t actively join boycott or passive resistance but many though meetings, constructive works, etc. were exposed for the first time to modern nationalist ideas and politics.

Samitis and Swadeshi:

  • Corps of volunteers (or samitis as they were called) were another major 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. Through the activities of this Samiti, whose 159 branches reached out to the remotest corners of the district, Dutt was able to generate an unparalleled mass following among the predominantly Muslim Peasantry of the region.
  • The samitis took the Swadeshi message to the villages through magic lantern lectures and Swadeshi songs, gave physical and moral training to the members, did social work during famines and epidemics, organized schools, training in Swadeshi craft and arbitration courts.
  • Though the samitis stuck their deepest roots in Barisal, they had expanded to other parts of Bengal as well. British officialdom was genuinely alarmed by their activities, their growing popularity with the rural masses.

The Economic Boycott and Swadeshi:

  • In the economic sense, Swadeshi would represent both a positive and a negative element. These have been discussed as under:-
  • The positive element of economic swadeshi was the regeneration of indigenous goods.The boycott of foreign goods led to the increase in demand of indigenous goods especially clothes which felt short of supply. The mill-owners of Bombay and Ahmadabad came to its rescue. The Boycott movement in Bengal supplied a momentum and driving force to the cotton mills in India and the opportunity thus presented was exploited by the mill-owners. It was complained at that time that the Bombay mill-owners made a huge profit at the expense of what they regarded as ‘Bengali Sentimentalism’, for buying indigenous cloth at any sacrifice and there maybe some truth in it but this is not sure.
  • Bengal had to supplement the supply from Bombay mills by the coarse production of handlooms. The weaving industry in Bengal was a very flourishing one till the British ruined it after they had established their rule over the province in the 18th century. The economic boycott movement seemed to be a suitable opportunity for reviving that industry. The clothes produce were very coarse but were accepted by the Bengalis in the true spirit of the Swadeshi Movement. A song which became very popular all over the country urged upon the people to give the place of honour to the coarse cloth which is the gift of the Mother, too poor to offer a better one.
  • J N Tata founded Tata Iron ad Steel. Prafulla Chandra Ray set up Bengal Chemicals Factory.
  • Tilak described Swadeshi as Yoga of Bahiskar, a rligious ritual of self punishment.
  • The negative element of the economic swadeshi was the boycott and burning of foreign goods. Though Manchester cloth was the chief target of attack, the movement was extended to other British manufacturers also, such as salt and sugar as well as luxury goods in general. The ideas of Swadeshi and economic boycott was kept alive and brought home to every door by articles in newspapers, processions, popular songs, enrolment of volunteers to keep vigilant watch and by occasion bonfires of foreign cloth, salt and sugar. The old apparels of foreign made belonging to sundry people were placed in a heap and then it was set on fire.
  • Fines were inflicted on anyone found using foreign sugar. Foreign cigarettes were bought and burnt in the streets, Brahmins refused to assist any religious ceremonies in houses where European salt and sugar in houses where European salt and sugar were used and Marwaris were warned of importing foreign articles.
  • All these bonfires however affected the economy of the people. To burn ‘Manchester made goods’ bought at a high price literally affects the people but swept by national enthusiasm.

Swadeshi and Social Boycott:

  • The social boycott was an outcome of economic swadeshi movement. It was preached to go against the repressive measures of the Government. The social boycott was a very powerful weapon. A man selling or buying foreign goods or in any way opposing swadeshi Movement and helping Government in putting it down would be subjected to various degrees of humiliation. Such social ostracism would make a man quite unhappy, sometimes even very miserable and the Government could do very little to help him in his distress. But such non-violent ostracism was not the only form of persecution. Sometimes, the ‘renegade’ would suffer material loss and bodily or mental pain.

Swadeshi and National Education:

  • One of the major planks of the programme of selfreliance was Swadeshi or national education. Taking a cue from Tagore’s Shantiniketan, the Bengal National College was founded, with Aurobindo as the principal.
  • Students in promoting the boycott and swadeshi movement drew upon them the wrath and violence of the British Raj. Circulars were issued forbidding the students under threat of severe penalty to associate themselves in any way with the Boycott movement even the cry of Bande Mataram in streets and other public places was declared to be a punishable offence.
  • Scholars or colleges whose students disobeyed the order were not only threatened with the withdrawal of Government grants and even with disaffiliation, but their students were to be declared ineligible for Government Service.The authorities of the educational institutions were asked to keep strict watch over their pupils, and if unable to control them, were to report the names to the Education Department for taking necessary disciplinary action.The magistrates were asked to inform the teachers and those connected with the management of educational institutions, that of necessary they might be enrolled as Special Constables. The Direction of Public Instruction asked the principals of colleges to show causes why their students who took part in the picketing should not be expelled.
  • All this produced a storm of indignation in the country and the Indian-owned Press denounced the circulars in the strongest language. Anti-circular society was set up with the objective of rallying students through processions, picketing, collection of funds and creating awareness.
  • The students of some colleges in Rangpur defied the Government orders and when they were fined, the guardians refused to pay the fine and stabled a national school for the boys who were expelled. Teachers were also asked to resign for not whipping the boys.
  • The action of the authorities led to a movement among the students to boycott the Calcutta University which they described as Golamkhana (House of manufacturing slaves).
  • At a conference attended by a large number of very eminent men of Bengal in different walks of life held on 10th November, 1905, it was decided to establish at once a National Council of Education(Jatiya Shiksha Parisad) in order to organize a system of education-literary, scientific and technical- on national lines and under national control. The number of national schools also grew apace with time.
  • The enthusiasm with which the two Bengals responded to the idea of national education shows the way in which the swadeshi movement, like a mighty river was overflowing its bed and inundating vast stretches of country. It was no longer confined to its primary object of industrial regeneration and boycotting British goods. More important still, the movement with its extended connotation was no longer confined to Bengal but spread to the whole of India.
  • The earliest use of the term national education was made by Prasanna Kumar Tagore in connection with Hindu College Pathshala in 1839. The effort to organise Tattvabodhini Pathshala in 1840 and Hindu Hitarthi Vidyalaya in 1846 also indicated desire for establishing national education, But real credit for popularising and organising national education goes to Satish Chandra Mukherjee and his Dawn Society.
  • Founder-editor of the Dawn magazine (1897–1913), an organ of Indian Nationalism, in 1902 Satish Chandra Mukherjee organised the “Dawn Society” of culture, to protest against the Report of the Indian Universities Commission, representing the inadequate university education imposed by the Government to fabricate clerks for the merchant offices.
  • In a protest meeting on 5 Nov, 1905 and addressed by R N Tagore, Hirendranath Dutta, Satishchandra Mukherjee etc , the idea of national education took a more concrete shape. By the donation of Subodh Chandra Mullick(for which he was give title of Raja)and zamindar Mymensingh, in 1906, Satish took a leading part in forming the National Council of Education and became a lecturer in the Bengal National College. In 1907, after Sri Aurobindo’s resignation on 2 August 1907 (fearing “that he might be spirited away to prison at any moment, and his association with the National College might cause great damage to the institution”). Under the aegis of the National Council of Education, a number of National Schools were founded at various places like Jadavpur Engineering College. . Taraknath Patil had set up the society for the Promotion of Technical ducation which founded Bengal Technical Institute. But most of these schools and institutions failed to flourish due to hostile government. But Jadavpur Engineering College continued and transformed into University in 1956.
  • The scheme for National Council of Education was indebted to a letter from Sir George Birdwood, known for his valuable census of Indian crafts and industries, to Satish in 1898. Birdwood wrote that while India must look to the west for scientific culture, she must never surrender her spiritual culture.

Swadeshi, Art, Culture , Science and Press:

  • It was perhaps in the cultural sphere that the impact of the swadeshi movement was most marked. The songs composed at the time of Rabindranath Tagore, Rajani Kanta Sen, Dwijendralal Ray, Makunda Das, Syed Abu Mohammad and other later became the moving spirit for nationalist of all hues, ‘terrorists’, ‘Gandhian or Communists’ are still popular.
  • Rabindranath Tagore, Rajnikant Sen, Dwijendralal Roy and Nabakrishna Chakraborty composed patriotic songs. Rabindranath’s Amar Sonar Bangla, written at that time, was to later inspire the liberation struggle of Bangaldesh and was adopted as the National Anthem of the country in 1971. The Swadeshi influence could be seen in Bengali folk music popular among Hindu and Muslim villagers and it evoked collections of India fairy tales such as, Thakurmar Jhuli(Grandmother’s tales) written by Daksinaranjan Mitra Majumdar which delights Bengali children to this day.
  • Similarly, there were great improvements in Indian art. Painting became a national art. Abanindranath Tagore broke the domination of Victorian naturalism over Indian art and sought inspiration from indigenous tradition of Mughal, Rajput and Ajanta. Nandlal Bose was first recipient of a scholarship offered by Indian Society of Oriental Art founded in 1907.
  • Tagore gave a call for Rakhi Bandhan as a token for Hindu-Muslim unity and wrote articles under title Atma Shakti.
  • The Swadeshi period saw the creative use of traditional popular festivals and melas as a means of reaching out to the masses. The Ganapati arid Shivaji festivals, popularized by Tilak, became a medium for Swadeshi propaganda not only in Western India but also in Bengal. Traditional folk theatre forms such as jatras i.e. extensively used in disseminating the Swadeshi message in an intelligible form to vast sections of the people, many of whom were being introduced to modern political ideas for the first time.
  • Ramsay Macdonald visiting Bengal during this period wrote that Bengal was creating India by song and worship.
  • In science, J C Bose, Prafulla Chandra Ray and others pioneered original research that was prased by the world over.
  • The writings of Bande Mataram, practically revolutionized the political attitude of Bengal. Surendranath Banerjea, Krishna Kumar Mitra, Prithwishchandra Ray and other leaders launched a powerful press campaign against the partition proposals through journals and newspapers like the Bengalee, Hitabadi and Sanjibani.
  • The four leading newspapers of Calcutta- the Bengalee, the Amrita Bazaar Patrika, the Indian Mirror and the Hindu Patriot protested against this division of Bengal.The Amrita Bazaar Patrika in its issue of 14th December, 1903 called on the people of East Bengal to hold public meetings in every town and village to prepare petition for submission to the government, which was signed by lakhs of people.
  • Vernacular newspapers such as the Sanjivani and the Bangabashi expressed open hostility against this proposal.

Swadeshi Movement outside Bengal:

  • The message of Swadeshi and the boycott of foreign goods soon spread to the rest of the country: Lokamanya Tilak took the movement to different parts of India, especially Poona and Bombay; Ajit Singh and Lala Lajpat Rai spread the Swadeshi message in Punjab and other parts of northern India. Syed Haidar Raza led the movement in Delhi; Rawalpindi, Kangra, Jammu, Multan and Haridwar witnessed active participation in the Swadeshi Movement; Chidambaram Pillai took the movement to the Madras presidency, which was also galvanized by Bipin Chandra Pal’s extensive lecture tour.

Repressive measures taken by the Government:

  • Other than boycott and burning of foreign goods, people also resorted to ‘peaceful picketing’ which destined to become a normal feature in almost every type of political agitation in future. All these gave the police a good opportunity to interfere.
  • The volunteers were roughly handled and if they resisted the police a good opportunity to interfere. The volunteers were roughly handled and if they resisted, the police beat them with lathis. These ‘Regulation Lathis’, were freely used by the police in the first instance to drive away the picketers and to disperse crowds, whether rioters or peaceful.
  • The uttering of Bande Mataram was an indisputable evidence of sympathy to movement and later it was made illegal to shout Bande Mataram in a public place.
  • The official phrase, “mild lathi charge” to describe the assault of the police, was a misnomer. It was certainly not mild as the gaping wounds on the bodies loudly proclaimed.
  • The  Government also issued instructions to the educational institutions to control their boys and prevent them from participating in the swadeshi movement. Rural markets were controlled bans were put on processions and meetings, leaders were put into confinement without any trial and loyal Muslims were made to go against the recalcitrant Hindus.

Drawbacksm Effects and Estimate of Swadeshi Movement:

  • It didn’t garner the support of mass Muslims and they were turned against the movement by British. The use of traditional popular customs and festivals to mobilise masses was misinterpreted by Communal forces backed by the State. Communal riots broke in Bengal.
  • Curzon said: Dacca would become capital of new Muslim majority province and they will get better deal free from Calcutta. To mollify the people of East Bengal, Lord Curzon declared that a university as a center of excellence would be established in Dacca (which would later be named as University of Dhaka) and formed a committee in this regard consisting Khwaja Salimullah, A. K. Fazlul Huq and others. The decision was severely criticized by some Hindu leaders in West Bengal.
  • The swadeshi partition and the Government measures finally led to the split of Hindus and Muslims and virtually the formation of Muslim League in 1906.
  • Movement lacked effective organisation and politcal structure and they lacked struggle-pause-struggle technique of Mahatma Gandhi.
  • Split of Congress in 1907 weakened the movement and repression of British caused intensity dreamed.
  • Though swadeshi movement had spread outside Bengal but rest of the country was not yet prepared to adopt new style and stage of politics.
  • For the first two or three years, there was a serious decline in the import of British goods, particularly cloth.
  • Passive resistance could not go for long and its ultimate result could never be in doubt. This was the genesis of the sudden emergence of a network of secret revolutionary organizations which were determined to meet the Government on equal terms, by collectively arms and opposing terrorism by terrorism. The youth of the county, who had been part of the mass movement, now found themselves unable to disappear tamely into the background once the movement itself grew moribund and Government repression was stepped up. Frustrated, some among them opted for ‘individual heroism’ as distinct from the earlier attempts at mass action.
  • Although swadeshi was originally conceived as merely a handmade of boycott of foreign goods and meant only to be an urge to use indigenous in preference to foreign goods, it soon attained a much more comprehensive character and became a concrete symbol of nationalism.
  • Swadeshi in Bengal brought into the vortex of politics a class of people-the landed aristocracy– who had hitherto held studiously aloof from the congress or any other political organization.
  • Outside Bengal, it gave a rude shock of disillusionment to the whole of India and stimulated the political thoughts of the people. Swadeshi emphasized on ‘atmasakti’ or soul force.Movement gave a thrust to self-reliance, a new confidence and reassertion of national pride.
  • Self-help and constructive work at the village level was envisaged as a means of bringing about the social and economic regeneration of the villages and of reaching the rural masses. This meant social reform and campaigns against evils such as caste oppression, early marriage, the dowry system, consumption of alcohol, etc.
  • It had permanent impact on the development of several industries like textile mills, soap and match factories etc. Banks and insurance companies were started. The greatest beneficiaries were Bombay and Ahmedabad where enterprising industrialists came forward to fill the vacuum created by decrease of British import.
  • It had direct impact on cultural development and education in Bengal.
  • The movement evolved several new methods and techniques of mass mobilization and mass action though it was not able to put them all into practice successfully. It also widened social base of movement.
  • One particular aspect of the swadeshi movement which M.K. Gandhi prized was that it taught the people to challenge and defy the authority of the Government openly in public and took away from the minds of even ordinary men the dread of police assault and prison as well as the sense of ignominy which hitherto attached to them. To go to prison or get badge of honour and not as hitherto a brand of infancy.
  • Swadeshi Movement was only the first round in the national popular struggle against colonialism. It was an important battle’ in the long drawn out and complex ‘war of position’ for Indian independence.

Attitude of the Congress to Swadeshi Movement:

  • In 1905, Congress with Gokhale as President recorded emphatic protest agaist partition of Bengal which was already done.
  • Moderates were not ready to extend open support to boycott. Under pressure fro Bengal delegates a colourless compromise resolution was passed, leaving it unclear whether the boycott of British goods was approved or not.
  • In 1906, the Extremists were able to secure better terms from the Moderates. The Congress with Dadabhai Naoroji as President, recognized Boycott as legitimate and accorded its most cordial support to Swadeshi Movement. Another resolution asked th people to take up the question of national education for booth boys and girls.
  • Extremists wanted to etend the movement to rest of India and beyond the programme of just Swadeshi and Boycott to full fledged mass struggle with aim of Swaraj but Moderates were not ready for it.
  • After the open split in Surat in 1907, Congress with under grip of the Moderates never reiterated of discussed the resolution passed in 1906. They looked up Bengal as local issue and ignored because it meant a direct confrontation with the government.


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