Chapter 14: SWADESHI MOVEMENT

Introduction

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 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, loyalist of the raj, turned towards congress. The moderate thinking and style of leadership was at its height i.e. petitioning, speeches, memorandums, public meetings and 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 meeting held in small towns it was decided to boycott foreign cloth and swadeshi movement had started. Processions, hartals, protests, fasts were common. Bande Mataram became a cry for unity.


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, Pal were interested in extending the movement to all India with an 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 on line of colonies like Canada and Australia.


The difference between the moderates and extremist 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 a fully fledged non cooperation and passive resistance. The boycott call extended to boycott of government schools, colleges, jobs and titles. This period saw rise of swadeshi industries and schools and colleges too.


The base of the movement now extended to Zamindari sections and lower middle class in schools and towns. Though the movement failed to mobilize peasant in rural areas but for first time the peasants were exposed to modern political ideas.


Failures of the movement:


1.      They weren’t able to garner support of mass Muslims especially 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 the congress.

2.      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.

3.      It lacked an effective organization and a party structure.

4.      Also the very nature of mass movements is that they can’t be endlessly sustained at the same pitch of militancy and self sacrifice.


Aftermath of Partition


The end of the movement saw a rise in revolutionary terrorism as the youth who participated in 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.

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