Partition of Bengal and The Swadeshi Movement

Partition of Bengal

Curzon announced the partition of Bengal. The reason for partition was given as an attempt to improve administration. But the real aim was to ‘Divide and Rule’. The partition was done in order to create a separate State for Muslims and so introduce the poison of communalism in the country. However the Indians viewed the partition as an attempt by the British to disrupt the growing national movement in Bengal and divide the Hindus and Muslims of the region. Widespread agitation ensued in the streets and in the press. People of different parts of India opposed the partition of Bengal all over the country. This opposition was carried on by organized meetings, processions and demonstrations etc. Hindus and Muslims tied ‘rakhi’ on each other’s hands to show their unity and their protest. The use of Swadeshi (made in our own country by our own people) goods, business, national education and Indian languages were encouraged. The new nationalist spirit of self reliance- shed the fear of repression including imprisonment and painful torture by the British rule. It was Bal Gangadhar Tilak who realized the importance of boycott as a weapon that could be used to paralyze the whole British administrative machinery in India. The boycott and Swadeshi movements were instrumental in the establishment of swadeshi enterprises – textile mills, banks, hosiery, tanneries, chemical works and insurance companies. Swadeshi stores were opened. Volunteers supplied goods at the doorstep of every household. The movement spread to all classes and groups of people. Everyone, including women and children, came forward to take part. The most active were school and college students. This made the British reverse the partition of Bengal and unite it in 1911. During this time, the role of Radical Nationalists in the Indian National Congress, who were called the ‘Garam Dal’, came to be appreciated. They tried to involve people from all classes and groups including peasants, worker, students as well as women. They succeeded in uniting the Indian people against the common enemy – the British. The young people were roused to the highest level of patriotism and zeal to free their country. They helped in making people self confident and self reliant. They also revived the Indian Cottage industry.

  • With the partition of Bengal, Indian National Movement entered its second stage
  • On 20 July, 1905, Lord Curzon issued an order dividing the province of Bengal into two parts: Eastern Bengal and Assam with a population of 31 mn and the rest of Bengal with a population of 54 mn.
  • Reason given: the existing province of Bengal was too big to be efficiently administered by a single provincial government
  • The partition expected to weaken the nerve centre of Indian Nationalism, Bengal.
  • 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 as in the new proposed Bengal proper was to have seventeen million Bengali and thirty seven million Oriya and Hindi speaking people.
  • The partition was also meant to foster division on the basis of religion.
  • Risley, Home Secretary to the GoI, said on December 6, 1904 – ‘one of our main objects is to split up and thereby weaken a solid body of opponents to our rule.’
  • the nationalists saw it as a deliberate attempt to divide the Bengalis territorially and on religious grounds

 

The Swadeshi Movement

  • The Swadeshi movement had its genesis in the anti-partition movement which was started to oppose the British decision to partition Bengal.
  • Mass protests were organized in opposition to the proposed partition.
  • Despite the protests, the decision to partition Bengal was announced on July 19, 1905
  • It became obvious to the nationalists that their moderate methods were not working and that a different kind of strategy was needed.
  • Several meetings were held in towns such as Dinajpur Pabna, Faridpur etc. It was in these meetings that the pledge to boycott foreign goods was first taken.
  • The formal proclamation of the Swadeshi movement was made on 7 August 1905 in a meeting held in the Calcutta town hall. The famous boycott resolution was passed.
  • The leaders like SN Banerjee toured the country urging the boycott of Manchester cloth and Liverpool salt.
  • The value of British cloth sold in some of the districts fell by five to fifteen times between September 1904 and September 1905.
  • The day the partition took effect – 16 October 1905 – was declared a day of mourning throughout Bengal.
  • The movement soon spread to the entire country.
  • Militant nationalists
    • The extremists were in favor of extending the movement to the rest of India and carrying it beyond the programme of just Swadeshi and boycott to a full fledged political mass struggle. The moderates were not as willing to go that far.
    • The differences between the extremists and moderates came to had in 1907 Surat session where the party split with serious consequences for the Swadeshi Movement.
    • In Bengal, the extremists acquired a dominant influence over the Swadeshi movement.
    • They proposed the technique of extended boycott which included, apart from boycott of foreign goods, boycott of government schools and colleges, courts, titles and government services and even the organization of strikes.
    • Aurobindo Ghose: Political freedom is the lifebreath of a nation.
    • Boycott and public burning foreign cloth, picketing of shops selling foreign goods, became common in remote corners of Bengal as well as in many towns across the country.
    • The militant nationslists, however, failed to give a positive leadership to the people. They also failed to reach the real masses of the country, the peasants.
  • The movement also innovated with considerable success different forms of mass mobilization such as public meetings, processions and corps of volunteers.
  • The Swadesh Bandhab Samiti set up by Ashwini Kumar Dutt, a school teacher, in Barisal was the most well known volunteer organization.
  • During the Swadeshi period, traditional festivals were used to reach out to the masses. The Ganapati and Shivaji festivals were popularized by Tilak. Traditional folk theatres such as jatras were also used.
  • Another important aspect was the great emphasis given to self-reliance or Atmasakti as a necessary part of the struggle against the government.
  • Self-reliance was the keyword. Campaigns for social reforms were carried out.
  • In 1906, the National Council for Education was setup to organize the education system.
  • Self-reliance also meant an effort to set up Swadeshi or indigenous enterprises.
  • Marked impact in the cultural sphere
    • The songs composed by Rabindranath Tago, Mukunda Das and others became the moving spirit for nationalists.
    • Rabindranath’s ‘Amar Sonar Bangla’, written at that time, was to later inspire the liberation struggle of Bangladesh and was adopted as the national anthem of the country in 1971.
    • Nandalal Bose, who left a major imprint on Indian art, was the first recipient of a scholarship offered by the Indian Society of Oriental Art founded in 1907.
  • The social base of the national movement was now extened to include certain zamindari section, lower middle class and school and college students. Women also participated in large numbers.
  • Drawback: Was not able to garner the support of the mass of Muslims, especially the muslim peasantry. The British policy of communalism responsible for this.
  • By mid-1908, the movement was almost over. The main reasons were:
    • The government, seeing the revolutionary potential of the movement, came down with a heavy hand.
    • The split of the congress in 1907 had weakened the movement.
    • The movement lacked an effective organization and party structure.
    • The movement decline dpartially because of the logic of the mass movements itself – they cannot be endlessly sustained at the same pitch of militancy and self-sacrifice.
  • The anti-partition movement, however, marked a great revolutionary leap forward for Indian nationalism.
  • The decline of Swadeshi engendered the rise of revolutionary terrorism.
  • Assessing the movement
    • Cultural impact
    • Social Impact
    • Economic impact
    • Role of students and Women
    • All India aspect of the movement
    • From passive protest to active boycott

 

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