The Swadeshi and Boycott Movement

The Swadeshi and Boycott Movement (1903-1908)

  • The Swadeshi and Boycott movement began as an agitation to oppose the Bengal partition, which later turned into a mass movement throughout the country.
  • The formal proclamation of Swadeshi Movement was made on 7th August 1905 in a meeting held at the Calcutta Town Hall. In the meeting, the famous Boycott Resolution was passed.
  • The Congress Session of 1905- The session took place at Banaras. Gopal Krishna Gokhale took up Swadeshi call.
  • The Congress Session of 1906- The session took place at Calcutta under the presidentship of Dadabhai Naoroji. In this session, four resolutions on the Swadeshi, Boycott, National Education and Self-Government demands were passed.
  • It is to be noted that the two terms- Swadeshi and Boycott are complimentary. By the term Swadeshi, we mean adopting indigenous products. And by the term Boycott, we mean rejecting foreign made products.

The Bengal Partition and the Movement

The Partition

The Swadeshi movement began as an agitation against the Bengal partition in 1905, which Lord Curzon had designed as a means of destroying political opposition in Bengal province.

In 1901, census was conducted which revealed that Bengal had a population of 78.5 million. Curzon and his administration had given the reason that Bengal was being partitioned because it has become too big to be administered. But the real motive behind the partition plan was the British desire to weaken Bengal, the nerve centre of Indian nationalism. Home Secretary Herbert Risley made his point clear in his note that "Bengal united is a power" and "Bengal divided will pull in several different ways."

The Government's decision to partition Bengal was made public in December 1903. It sought to achieve by putting the Bengal under two administrations by dividing them:

(i) on the basis of language (thus reducing the Bengalis to a minority in Bengal itself as in the new proposal Bengal was to have 17 million Bengalis and 37 million Hindi and Oriya speakers), and

(ii) on the basis of religion, as the western half was to be a Hindu majority area (42 million out of a total 54 million) and the eastern half was to be a Muslim majority area (18 million out of a total of 31 million).

Trying to woo the Muslims, Curzon, the viceroy at that time, argued that Dacca could become the capital of the new Muslim majority province, which would provide them with a unity not experienced by them since the days of old Muslim viceroys and kings.

Thus, it was clear that the Government was up to its old policy of propping up Muslim communalists to counter the Congress and the national movement.

The Movement

From 1903, the partition proposals became publicly known. So, during the 1903-1905 period, moderate techniques of petitions, memorandum, speeches, public meetings and press campaigns held full sway.

But despite the widespread protests, the decision to partition Bengal was announced on 19th July, 1905.

The Congress leadership then made the final proclamation of the Swadeshi Movement on 7th August 1905, in a meeting held at the Calcutta Town Hall. Then in the same year, the Annual Congress Session, which took place at Banaras took up the Swadeshi call under the presidentship of Gopal Krishna Gokhale.

The people were urged to boycott foreign cloth and the shops selling foreign goods were picketed. The Ganpati and Shivaji festivals popularized by Tilak became a medium of Swadeshi propaganda. People tied rakhis on each other's hand as a symbol of unity of two halves of Bengal.

Rabindra Nath Tagore also made huge contribution in the movement. He made public speeches, wrote essays, short stories, poems inspiring the Bengali mind. His patriotic songs swayed the Bengali heart, touching a chord within and filling them with love and pride for their country.

Women came out of their homes for the first time and joined processions and picketing.

During the movement, even the moderate leaders like Surendranath Banerjee toured the country urging the people to unite and boycott British made goods.

Butthe partition took effect on 16th October, 1905. On this day, people fasted and no fires were lit at the cooking hearth. In Calcutta, 'hartal' was declared. On this day, Anand Mohan Bose and Surendranath Banerjee addressed two huge mass meetings.

However, the partition instead of dividing and weakening the Bengalis, further united them through the anti-partition agitation. The Curzon administration had ignored the emerging Bengali identity which cut across narrow interest groups, class, as well as regional barriers. The famines and epidemics of the 1890s had also shattered the faith in the providential British connection. The narrowing opportunities for the educated Bengalis, the rising prices fuelled by bad harvests made life miserable for the middle-class. At this juncture, the partition instead of dividing the Bengali society, brought into existence a swadeshi coalition by further consolidating the political alliance between the Calcutta leaders and their east Bengali followers, which according to Rajat Ray, was "nothing less than a revolution in the political structure of Bengal society."

Aims of the Swadeshi and Boycott movements

  • To secure the annulment of the partition of Bengal.
  • Passive resistance- to oppose the British colonial rule through violation of its unjust laws.
  • Boycott of British goods such as Manchester cloth and the Liverpool salt and British institutions.
  • Development of indigenous alternatives, that is, swadeshi goods and national education.

Impact of the Swadeshi and Boycott Movements

  • Self-reliance popularised through the movement meant an effort to set-up Swadeshi or indigenous enterprises.
  • The period saw mushrooming of Swadeshi textile mills, soap and match factories, tanneries, banks, insurance companies, shops, etc. Though unable to survive for long, Acharya P.C. Ray's Bengal Chemicals Factory, became successful and famous.
  • Indian craftsmen got their work back.
  • In science, Jagdish Chandra Bose, Prafulla Chandra Ray and others pioneered original research that was praised around the world.
  • Nandlal Bose made a major imprint on Indian art. He was the first recipient of a scholarship offered by the Indian Society of Oriental Art, which was founded in 1907.
  • The students boycotted schools and colleges and organised meetings and demonstrations, picketed the shops and burnt foreign goods.
  • Swadeshi or national education was emphasised. Taking a cue from Tagore's Shantiniketan, the Bengal National College was founded, with Aurobindo Ghosh as its principal.
  • In August 1906, National Council of Education was established to organize a system of education literary, scientific and technical, on national lines and under national control.
  • Ashwani Kumar Dutt, a school teacher in Barisal, organised the Swadesh Bandhab Samiti. The samiti took the Swadeshi messages to the villages through magic lanterns and swadeshi songs, gave physical and moral training to their members, did social work during famines and epidemics, organised schools, training in Swadeshi craft and arbitration courts.

Significance of Swadeshi and Boycott movements

  1. The movement made a major contribution in taking the idea of nationalism to many sections of the population.
  2. It eroded the hegemony of colonial ideas and institutions.
  3. The movement evolved several new methods and techniques of mass mobilization.
  4. It led to the emergence of the capitalist class which funded the leaders of the national movement in coming years.
  5. This legacy they bequeathed was one on which the later national movement was to draw heavily.

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