Swadeshi Movement

Swadeshi Movement

This article deals with ‘ Swadeshi Movement – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here


  • Swadeshi Movement was major leap forward in Indian struggle for independence.
  • Woman, students & large section of urban & rural population actively involved in politics for first time .
  • Change from conservative moderation to political extremism , from socialism to incipient socialism , from petitioning & public speeches to passive resistance & boycott.
  • Saw major breakthrough in Indian art, literature, music, science & in Indian society as a whole.
  • It taught the people to challenge & defy the authority of the Government openly in public & took away from the minds  dread of police . To go to prison was seen get badge of honour and not as hitherto a brand of infancy.

It’s   Genesis

  • Started as Anti-partition movement to oppose British decision to partition Bengal
  • Administration Proposed the transfer of Chittagong Division , Dacca & Mymensingh districts &  Assam  (CDMA) to East Bengal , Chota Nagpur to Central Provinces & Bengal would receive Sambhalpur, Feudatory states of Central Provinces & Ganjam district from Madras
  • As a result two states would be formed

1 . Eastern Bengal & Assam

Population 31 Million
Muslims 18 Million
Hindus 12 Million

2. West Bengal

Population 54 Million
Hindus  43 Million
Muslims 9 Million
  But here Bengalis will be outnumbered by Hindi & Oriya speakers

Partition of Bengal

The partition of Bengal was first time officially declared  in December 1903

Official claim – Bengal was too large to be administered as one province (there isn’t any doubt that Bengal with population of 78 million had indeed become administratively unwidely but the way in which division was done was objectionable)
Assam will become  Lt. Governors province with separate Civil Service cadre & will lead to substantial commercial benefits to  tea gardens, oil & coal  
Real motive Policy of divide & rule –   Divide Bengal on the religious lines into East Bengal (Muslim ) and rest of the Bengal (non Muslim majority) . Had it been purely for administrative purpose, government would have accepted the alternate proposals by civil servants to partition the province on linguistic basis rather than a religious division

It was result of Anti – Bengali feeling of Curzon . He desired to weaken the politically articulate community & this was his main motive . He believed that Congress is manipulated from  Calcutta & if Calcutta is dethroned & alternate centers of activity is encouraged , congress will be weakened

– Bengali Bhadraloks were made religious minority in Eastern Bengal & Linguistic Minority in Western Bengal

Lord Curzon’s words – partition would dethrone Calcutta’ from its position as the ‘centre from which the Congress Party is manipulated throughout

To woo Muslims Lord Curzon said, “With partition Dacca could become the capital of the new Muslim majority province (with 18 million Muslims and 12 million Hindus) ‘which would Invest the Mohammedans in Eastern Bengal with a unity which they have not enjoyed since the days of the old Mussulman Viceroys and Kings.’

Main Problems to which  Bengali pointed finger

  • Bengalis would be in minority in new Bengal that would be formed with Bengali speaking population of 17 million & 37 million Oriya & Hindi speakers
  • Why to divide Bengali from Bengali?

Reason for spread of Movement

  • Britishers had clearly underestimated  sense of unity among the Bengalis
    • rooted to some extent in a history marked by long periods of regional independence and greatly fostered, at least among the literate, by the cultural developments of the nineteenth century.
    •  Calcutta had become a real metropolis for the educated Bengali bhadralok. It attracted students from all districts, sent out teachers, lawyers, doctors and clerks all over the province and often beyond it, and contributed to both regional writing and regional pride through the evolution of a standard literary language, a growing number of newspapers and periodicals and a modern literature which with Rabindranath Tagore was on the threshold of world recognition.
  • Such things—along with less worthy factors like
    • The evident (although gradually diminishing) educated Bengali lead in professions, government services, and politics over much of India due to the advantage of earlier English education—fostered a new self-confidence which came to be further stimulated by the growing Hindu revivalist mood best typified by Vivekananda.
    • International developments also played a part—British reverses in the Boer War, the unexpected Japanese victory over Russia in 1904-05 which sent a thrill of pride through Asia and was ecstatically hailed by the Bengal press (even children were given nicknames like Togo or Nogi, after Japanese leaders), news of the Chinese boycott of American goods in protest against immigration laws and of the popular revolution against autocracy in Russia.

Bureaucrats  anticipated the opposition to Partition entirely in terms of elitist interest-groups. They wrote Vikrampur babus were worried about their clerical jobs, zamindars with estates in both Bengals disliked having to appoint two sets of agents and pleaders, the Bhagyakul Roy family with raw jute and rice trading interests near Calcutta were jealous of a possible rise of Chittagong, and Calcutta lawyers were afraid that a new province would ultimately   mean a new High Court cutting into their practice.

Bureaucratic expectation that protests would die down quickly, and in any case would never leave the beaten track of meetings and petitions, was soon totally belied by events in Bengal and some other provinces.

Spread of Movement

  • Instead of dividing & weakening Bengalis , it further united them
  • Dec 1903 : Partition proposals became known & spontaneous protests followed. In two months more than 500 meetings held

Sumit Sarkar (1973) has identified four major trends in Bengal – Moderate Trend , Constructive Trend ,  Political Extremism & Revolutionary terrorism

Under Moderates (1903-05)

Led by moderate leaders like SN Banerjee, KK Mitra etc

They adopted two fold methods:

  • Resolutions against partition of Bengal were forwarded to British as prayers and petitions
  • Creation of public opinion through mass meetings and newspapers in India & England

Three main newspaper were used in this

  • Bengalee
  • Sanjibani
  • Hitabadi

Under Extremists (1905-08)

  • In this two trends were visible – Political Extremism & Constructive Phase
  • Government remained unmoved to above methods & despite protests partition of Bengal was done on 19/07/1905 . This   gave opportunity to extremists to launch mass based movement
  • The formal proclamation of Swadeshi – Boycott Movement was made at public meeting on August 7, 1905 at Calcutta Town Hall by Aurobindo Ghosh
Boycott Of British goods,  education institutions , courts, police etc
Swadeshi Development of local industry , promotion of local culture, languages, educational institutions in hands of locals etc
  • 16 Oct 1905 – partition came into effect & people tied rakhis on hands of each other to show that they are united & day was observed as Day Of Mourning all over Bengal
  • Manchester cloth & Liverpool salt was boycotted & their sale reduced almost 10 times. Bande Mataram became theme song of movement
  • People coming to mass meeting contributed for carrying out movement & in single meeting sum as huge a ₹50,000 was collected
  • Eventually, Extremists demand enlarged to attainment of Swaraj & in 1906 INC at Calcutta Session under Dadabhai Naoroji declared attainment of Swaraj ie Self Governance like other British colonies as  their goal.  
  • Boycott and public burning of foreign cloth, picketing of shops selling foreign goods, all became common in remote corners of Bengal as well as in many important towns and cities throughout the country. Women refused to wear foreign bangles and use foreign utensils, washermen refused to wash foreign clothes and even priests declined offerings which contained foreign sugar.
  • Corps of Volunteers or Samitis were organised and used as major form of mass mobilisation . Most important one was Swadesh Bandhab Sabha set up by Ashwini Kumar Dutt which had 159 branches & reached to even remotest corners of Barisal district having unparalleled mass following among Muslim peasantry  . They setup indigenous arbitration boards too
  • Samitis of different kinds came up gradually
    • Down to the summer of 1908, most samitis were quite open bodies engaged in a variety of activities: physical and moral training of members, social work during famines, epidemics or religious festivals, preaching the Swadeshi message through multifarious forms, organizing crafts, schools, arbitration courts and village societies, and implementing the techniques of passive resistance
    • But these physical culture samitis , later became the recruiting grounds for revolutionary movement & became secret societies.
  • Most important Aspect of Swadeshi Movement was  ATMASAKTI or SELF RELIANCE ie  re-asserting of national dignity, honor and confidence.
Social Reforms Campaigns against evils such as caste oppression, early marriage, the dowry system, consumption of alcohol, etc.  
Education On Basis of Tagore’s Shantiniketan , Bengal National College was founded with Aurobindo Ghosh as Principle

– National Council of Education was established & scores of school sprang up run by nationalists with medium of instruction that of vernacular languages

For technical education, the Bengal Technical Institute was set and funds were raise to send students to Japan for advanced learning.
Mills Mushrooming of Swadeshi textile mills, soap and match factories; tanneries, banks, insurance companies, shops, etc . Although many of these enterprises, whose promoters were more endowed with patriotic zeal than with business acumen were unable to survive for long

Most famous & successful – Bengal Chemical Factory by PC Ray
Literature Songs composed at that time by Rabindranath Tagore, Rajani Kanta Sen, Dwijendralal Ray, Mukunda Das, Syed Abu Mohammed and others later became the moving spirit for nationalists of all hues

– 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.

Collections of fairy tales such as, Thakurmar Jhuli (Grandmother’s tales) written by Daksinaranjan Mitra Majumdar which delights Bengali children to this day.
Art Abanindranath Tagore broke the domination of Victorian naturalism over Indian art and sought inspiration from the rich indigenous traditions of Mughal, Rajput and Ajanta paintings.
Nandlal Bose was first recipient of a scholarship offered by Indian Society of Oriental Art founded in 1907.
Science Jagdish Chandra Bose, Prafulla Chandra (PC)  Ray, and others pioneered original research that was praised the world over.

One disturbing trend emerged in this movement which had wide implications

  • After 1906 when Congress declared Swaraj to be its goal ,they needed wide mass mobilisation
  • Religion was looked by leaders like Aurobindo Ghosh as a means to reach the masses &’religious revivalism was main feature of new politics that emerged . Bhagvad Gita & other hindu signs were frequently began to be used to mobilise the masses
  • This alienated the muslim masses & failed to attract lower caste peasant

Outside Bengal

This movement spread outside Bengal

Tilak Poona & Bombay
Ajit Singh & Lala Lajpat Rai Punjab
Syed Haider Raza Western Parts – Rawalpindi etc
Chidambaram Pillai  Madras


  • Membership was mainly limited to high caste and educated Bhadraloks. Swadeshi leaders rampantly deployed the tool of social coercion or social boycott exerted through caste associations and nationalist organisations-to punish collaborators or to produce consent among the reluctant participants which alienated them further
  • Use of religious symbols by leaders for mass mobilisation created unbridgeable differences between Hindus and Muslims  . To some extent it is rightly said ‘ partition of Bengal was the stepping stone  to partition of India ‘  upsc question mains
  • They were not able to garner the support of the Muslim masses especially Muslim peasantry . In response to this and safeguard Muslim interests, All India Muslim league was set up in 1906 by Nawab Sailimullah of Dhaka & Agha Khan was the president
  • Swadeshi alter­natives were often more expensive than British goods; national schools were not adequate in number.
  • The other method of mass mobilisation of the swadeshis was to organise labour strikes, primarily in the foreign owned companies. But here too the nationalists could penetrate only into the ranks of white-collar workers, while the vast body of Hindustani labour force as well as the plantation labour remained untouched by such nationalist efforts.”

Reasons leading to end of the Swadeshi Movement

  • The open phase of the movement came to end in 1908 and there were many reasons for it, major being internal squabbles leading to Surat Split of 1907 leading to reduction in momentum of movement . After 1908, movement was left leaderless . Many leaders were arrested . Aurobindo Ghosh & BC Pal retired from the active politics
  • Due to vary nature of mass movements that it is difficult to sustain mass based movement for long because of the limited capacity of the masses to sacrifice
  • Leaders failed to create an effective organisation of the party structure with proper cadre based system
  • Severe government repression : ban on public meetings, students participating in movement were expelled from colleges, fined & even beaten by police
  • Although aroused people, but did not know how to tap the newly released energy


  • First mass based movement. Swadeshi & Boycott practised for first time on such large scale
  • Emphasis on setting up of national industries, educational institutions  &  promotion of the Indian culture
  • Although movement ended in 1908, spirit of swadeshi  & boycott continued till independence and formed the cornerstone of the movement
  • Abdul Rasul at Barisal Conference

“What couldn’t be done in 100 years , Britishers has done that in 6 months”

  • Large number of Unions came up in Bengal during this period eg Jute Workers Union, Printers Union etc  . Hence swadeshi movement marks the beginning of labour unionism & leadership was provided by Swadeshi Movement leaders

Surat Split

British Plan to end Congress

  • Elaborate plan – repression – conciliation – suppression
  • The extremists/ militant nationalists  were to be repressed, although mildly in the first stage, the purpose being to frighten the Moderates. The Moderates were then to be placated through some concessions and promises and hints were to be given that further concessions would be forthcoming if they disassociated themselves from the Extremists. The entire objective of the new policy was to isolate the Extremists. Once the Moderates fell into the trap, the Extremists could be suppressed through the use of the full might of the state. The Moderates, in turn, could then be ignored.

Events leading to split between  Moderates & Extremists /Surat Split of 1907

  • In December 1905, at the Benaras session  presided over by Gokhale, the Moderate-Extremist differences came to the fore.
    • Extremists wanted to extend Swadeshi & Boycott from Bengal to rest of country & also to extend boycott from foreign goods to all  forms of association with Government (destructive boycott)
    • But moderates wanted to restrict it to Bengal & foreign goods only (constructive boycott)

As a compromise, a relatively mild resolution condemning the partition of Bengal and the reactionary policies of Curzon and supporting the Swadeshi and Boycott programme in Bengal was passed. This succeeded in averting a split for the moment.

  • Calcutta Session of 1906 : Matters nearly came to a head over the question of its Presidentship. A split was avoided by choosing Dadabhai Naoroji, who was respected by all the nationalists as a great patriot. Four compromise resolutions on the Swadeshi, Boycott, National Education, and Self-Government demands were passed but Moderates were able to introduce clause that this would be applicable only in Bengal. Throughout 1907 the two sides fought over differing interpretations of the four resolutions.
  • By the end of 1907, they were looking upon each other as the main political enemy.
    • Extremists under Aurobindo Ghosh felt time has come to part ways & Moderates under Pherozshah Mehta were thinking same too
    • But Tilak & Gokhale knew outcomes of that event & didn’t want split in any case.
  • Lord Minto & Lord Morley (Secretary of State) started discussions for new reforms & Moderates thought their dream of Indians sharing political & administrative power was going to come true

Surat Session (1907)

  • Extremists wanted a guarantee that the four resolutions would be passed. To force the Moderates to do so they decided to object to the duly elected President for the year, Rash Behari Ghosh. Both sides came to the session prepared for a confrontation. In no time, the 1600 delegates were shouting, coming to blows and hurling chairs at each other. In the meantime, some unknown person hurled a shoe at the dais which hit Pherozeshah Mehta & Surendranath Banerjea. The police came and cleared the hall. The Congress session was over. The only victorious party was the rulers.
  • Tilak wrote virtual letter of regret to his opponents, accepted Rash Behari Ghosh as the President of the Congress and offered his cooperation in working for Congress unity. But Pherozeshah and his colleagues would not relent.
  • The antagonism that split the Congress in Surat was also the product of a fierce struggle between ‘the Tilakites of Poona’ and Moderates of Bombay, led by Pherozeshah Mehta. 

Government suppression

  • Extremist newspapers were suppressed.
  • Tilak, their main leader, was sent to Mandalay jail for six years.
  • Aurobindo Ghosh, their ideologue, was involved in a Revolutionary Conspiracy case and immediately after being judged innocent gave up politics and escaped to Pondicherry to take up religion.
  • B.C. Pal temporarily retired from politics
  • Lajpat Rai, who had been a helpless onlooker at Surat, left for Britain in 1908 to come back in 1909 and then to go off to the United States .

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