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Indian History

Swadeshi and Boycott Movement

  • 15 Jun 2021
  • 9 min read


  • Emergence of Nationalism:
    • It was only in the 19th Century that the concept of a national identity and national consciousness emerged.
    • The social, economic and political factors had inspired the people to define and achieve their national identity.
  • Causes of Growing Nationalism:
    • Recognising True British Intents: The British government was not conceding any of the important demands of the Indians.
      • The economic miseries of the 1890s further exposed the exploitative character of colonial rule.
    • Growth of Confidence: A feeling started gaining currency that the masses had to be involved in the battle against the colonial government to gain freedom.
    • Increasing Awareness: The spread of education led to an increased awareness among the masses about the British policies.
      • Rise in unemployment and underemployment and resultant poverty further aggravated the discontent among the radical nationalists.
    • International Influences: The Indian nationalists were inspired by the nationalist movements worldwide in Ireland, Japan, Egypt, Turkey, Persia and China which demolished the myths of European invincibility.
    • Conservative Policies of Lord Curzon: Administrative measures adopted during Lord Curzon's rule such as the Indian Universities Act, the Calcutta Corporation Act and primarily the Partition of Bengal led to nationwide protests.
      • The Swadeshi Movement; one of the most successful movements of the Pre-Gandhian era, was an outcome of the Partition of Bengal.

Swadeshi Movement

  • Background:
    • The movement had its roots in the anti-partition movement which was started to oppose Lord Curzon’s decision of dividing the province of Bengal.
    • The Anti-Partition Campaign was launched by Moderates to exert pressure on the government to prevent the unjust partition of Bengal from being implemented.
      • The petitions were written to the government, public meetings were held and the ideas were spread through newspapers such as Hitabadi, Sanjibani and Bengalee.
    • The partition led to protest meetings in Bengal under which the pledge to boycott foreign goods was first taken.
  • Swadeshi Movement Proclamation:
    • In August 1905, at Calcutta Townhall, a massive meeting was held and the formal proclamation of the Swadeshi Movement was made.
    • The message was propagated to boycott goods such as Manchester cloth and Liverpool salt.
    • After the partition came into force, widespread opposition was shown by the people of Bengal by singing Vande Mataram.
      • Rabindranath Tagore also composed Amar Sonar Bangla.
      • People tied Rakhis on each other’s hands as a symbol of unity.
    • Although the movement was confined majorly to Bengal, it spread to a few different parts of India:
      • In Poona and Bombay under Bal Gangadhar Tilak
      • In Punjab under Lala Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh
      • In Delhi under Syed Haider Raza
      • In Madras under Chidambaram Pillai.
  • Congres Reaction:
    • The Indian National Congress (INC) in a meeting in 1905 resolved to condemn the partition of Bengal and support the anti-partition and Swadeshi Movement.
    • The radical nationalists wanted the movement to be taken outside Bengal and go beyond just the boycott of foreign goods.
      • However, the moderates, dominating the Congress, were unwilling to go that far.
    • In the 1906 Congress Session held at Calcutta, the INC under the presidentship of Dadabhai Naoroji declared self-government or Swaraj as the goal of INC.
  • Rise of the Radical Nationalists:
    • The Extremists (or the Garam Dal) gained a dominant influence over the Swadeshi Movement in Bengal after 1905 till 1908; it is also known as the “Era of Passionate Nationalists”.
    • Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal (Lal-Bal-Pal) were important leaders of this Radical group.
    • The reasons for the same were:
      • Failure of the Moderate-led Swadeshi movement.
      • Divisive tactics of the governments of East Bengal and Western Bengal.
      • Violent measures of the British to suppress the movement.
    • In addition to boycotting the Extremists gave a call for boycotting government schools and colleges, government service, courts, legislative councils, municipalities, government titles, etc.
    • Tilak gave the slogan “Freedom is my birthright and I shall have it”.
  • Participation of People:
    • Students: School and college students were the most active participants of the movement.
      • Student participation was visible in Bengal, Poona (Maharashtra), Guntur (Andhra Pradesh), Madras and Salem (Tamil Nadu).
      • The police adopted a repressive attitude towards the students. The students found guilty were fined, expelled, beaten, arrested and disqualified for government jobs and scholarships.
    • Women: Traditionally home-centered women too took active part in the movement.
    • Stand of Muslims: Some of the muslims participated, however, most of the upper and middle class muslims stayed away.
      • They supported the partition on the belief that it would provide them a Muslim-majority East Bengal.

Impact of Swadeshi Movement

  • Decline in Imports: It resulted in significant decline in the foreign imports during 1905-1908.
  • Growth of Extremism: Movement resulted in growth of extreme nationalism amongst youth which took to violence and wanted to bring an instant end to British dominance.
  • Morley-Minto Reforms: It forced British dispensation to offer some concessions to Indians in forms of Morley-Minto reforms in 1909.
  • Establishment of Swadeshi Institutions: Inspired by Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan, the Bengal National College and a number of national schools and colleges in various parts of the country were set up.
    • In August 1906, the National Council of Education was set up to organise the national education system.
    • A Bengal Institute of Technology was set up for technical education.
  • Growth in Swadeshi Industries: It led to establishments of swadeshi textile mills, soap and match factories, tanneries, banks, insurance companies, shops, etc.
    • It also revived the Indian Cottage Industry.
    • Indian industries saw regeneration with reawakening of use of indigenous goods.
  • Boycott of Buyers and Sellers: The foreign goods including clothing, sugar, salt and various other luxury items were not only boycotted, but they were also burned.
    • The Swadeshi movement also led to social boycott of not only buyers but also sellers of foreign goods.

The Gradual Suppression of the Swadeshi Movement

  • Government Repression: By 1908, the Swadeshi Movement was almost over in an open phase due to government’s violent repression.
  • Absence of Leaders and Organisation: The movement failed to create an effective organisation. It was rendered leaderless as most of the leaders were either arrested or deported by the time.
    • Maintaining the high intensity of such a mass movement was a difficult task in absence of effective leaders.
  • Internal Conflicts: The internal conflicts and difference in ideologies among the leaders did more harm to the movement than good.
  • Limited Extent: The movement failed to reach the peasantry and was confined to the upper and middle classes only.

Annulment of Participation of Bengal

  • The partition of Bengal was annulled in 1911 by Lord Hardinge primarily to curb the revolutionary terrorism.
  • Bihar and Orissa were taken out of Bengal and Assam was made a separate province.
  • The annulment was not taken well by the Muslims, consequently, the British shifted the administrative capital from Calcutta to Delhi, as the place was associated with Muslim glory.
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