Why did the Swadeshi Movement Fizzle out?

Swadeshi Movement

The Swadeshi Movement began as an agitation to oppose the Bengal partition, which later turned into a mass movement throughout the country. With the start of Swadeshi Movement at the turn of the century, the Indian National Movement took a major leap forward. Women, students, and a large secton of the urban and rural population of Bengal and other parts of India became actively involved in politics for the first time. The next half a decade saw the emergence of almost all the major political trends of the Indian National Movement. From conservative moderation to political extremism, from terrorism to incipient socialism, from petitioning and public speeches to passive resistance and boycott, all had their origins in the movement. The richness of the movement was not confined to politics alone. The period saw a breakthrough in Indian art, literature, music, science and industry. Indian society, as a whole, was experimenting and the creativity of the people expanded in every direction.
The Swadeshi Movement fizzled out due to the following reasons:
  • Firstly, the government, seeing the revolutionary potential of the Swadeshi Movement, came down with a heavy hand. Repression took the form of controls and bans on public meetings, processions and the press. Student participants were expelled from Government schools and colleges, debarred from Government service, fined and at times beaten up by the police. The case of the 1906 Barisal Conference, where the police forcibly dispersed the conference and brutally beat up a large number of the participants, is a telling example of the government's attitude and policy.
  • Secondly, the internal squabbles, and especially, the Surat split, in 1907 in the Congress, the apex all-India organisation, weakened the movement. Also, though the Swadeshi Movement had spread outside Bengal, the rest of the country was not as yet fully prepared to adopt the new style and stage of politics. Both these factors strengthened the hands of the Government. Between 1907 and 1908, nine major leaders in Bengal including Ashwani Kumar Dutt and Krishna Kumar Mitra were deported, Bal Gangadhar Tilak was given a sentence of six years imprisonment, Ajit Singh and Lala Lajpat Rai of Punjab were deported and Chidambaram Pillai and Harisarvottam Rao from Madras and Andhra were arrested. Bipan Chandra Pal and Aurobindo Ghosh retired from active politics, a decision not unconnected with the repressive measures of the Government. Almost with one stroke the entire movement was rendered leaderless.
  • Third, the Swadeshi Movement lacked an effective organisation and party structure. The movement had thrown up programmatically almost the entire gamut of Gandhian techniques such as passive resistance, non-violent non-cooperation, the call to fill the British jails, social reform, constructive work, etc. It was, however, unable to give these techniques a centralised, discipline focus, carry the bulk of political India, and convert these techniques into actual, practical political practice, as Gandhiji was able to do it later.
  • Lastly, the Swadeshi Movement declined partially because of the very logic of mass movement itself- they cannot be sustained endlessly at the same pitch of militancy and self sacrifice, especially when faced with severe repression, but need to pause, to consolidate its forces for yet another struggle.

Rise of Extremism

However the decline of the open movement by mid-1908 engendered yet another trend in the Swadeshi phase, that is, the rise of revolutionary terrorism. The youth of the country, 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 the Swadeshi Movement fizzled out in a few years, but the movement made a major contribution in taking the idea of nationalism to many sections of the population. The movement eroded the hegemony of colonial ideas and institutions. During the course of the movement, several new methods of mass mobilisation were evolved. This legacy they bequeathed was on which the later national movement was to draw heavily.

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