Partition of Bengal - Swadeshi Movement: History
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Partition of Bengal - Swadeshi Movement: History

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Partition of Bengal - Swadeshi movement: History

History is always been considered as the major section in the UPSC examination. If you go deeper you will get to know that, there are so many important incidents are available in Indian history. 

In this article, we are going to discuss some important facts related to the Partition of Bengal and the swadeshi movements of modern India. 

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Partition of Bengal - Swadeshi movement: History

Militant nationalism

Why did militant nationalism grow? 

  • A radical trend of a militant nationalist approach to political activity started emerging in the 1890s and it took a concrete shape by 1905. 
  • As an adjunct to this trend, a revolutionary terrorist wing also took shape. But why did this militant trend emerge?

1. Recognition of the True Nature of British Rule: 

  • The economic miseries of the 1890s exposed the exploitative character of colonial rule.
  • Severe famines killed 90 lakh persons between 1896 and 1900.

The nationalists were wide awake to the fact that instead of giving more rights to the Indians, the Government was taking away even the existing ones.

  • 1892: The Indian Councils Act was criticised by nationalists as it failed to satisfy them. 
  • 1897: The Natu brothers were deported without trial and Tilak and others, imprisoned on charges of sedition.
  • 1898: Repressive laws under IPC Section 124 A were further amplified with new provisions under IPC Section 156 A
  • 1899: The number of Indian members in Calcutta Corporation were reduced.
  • 1904: Official Secrets Act curbed freedom of the press. 
  • 1904: Indian Universities Act ensured greater government control over universities, which it described as factories producing political revolutionaries. 
  • Also, British rule was no longer progressive-socially and culturally. 
  • It was suppressing the spread of education, especially mass and technical education.

2. Growth of Confidence and Self-Respect:

  • Tilak, Aurobindo and Bipin Chandra Pal repeatedly urged the nationalists to rely on the character and capacities of the Indian people. 
  • A feeling started gaining currency that only the masses were capable of making the immense sacrifices needed to win freedom.

3. Growth of Education: 

  • The spread of education led to increased awareness among the masses

 4. International Influences:

  • The remarkable progress made by Japan after 1868 and its emergence as an industrial power opened the eyes of Indians to the fact that economic progress was possible even by an Asian country without any external help.
  • The defeat of the Italian army by Ethiopians (1896), the Boer wars (1899-1902) where the British faced reverses and Japan's victory over Russia (1905) demolished myths of European invincibility. 
  • The Indians realised that a united people willing to make sacrifices could take on the mightiest of empires.
  • Also, the nationalists were inspired by the nationalist movements worldwide in Ireland, Russia, Egypt, Turkey, Persia and China.

5. Reaction to Increasing Westernisation:

  • The new leadership felt the stranglehold of excessive westernisation and sensed colonial designs to submerge the Indian national identity in the British empire. 
  • Intellectuals like Swami Vivekananda, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Swami Dayanand Saraswati inspired many young nationalists with their forceful and articulate arguments, painting India's past in brighter colours than the British ideologues had.

6. Dissatisfaction with Achievements of Moderates: 

  • The younger elements within the Congress were dissatisfied with the achievements of the Moderates first 15-20 years.
  • They were strongly critical of the methods of peaceful and constitutional agitation, popularly known as the "Three 'P's"- prayer, petition and protest-and described these methods as 'political mendicancy'.

7. Reactionary Policies of Curzon:

  • A sharp reaction was created in the Indian mind by Curzon's seven-year rule in India which was full of missions, commissions and omissions.
  • He refused to recognise India as a nation and insulted Indian nationalists.

Administrative measures adopted during his rule-

  • The Official Secrets Act, the Indian Universities Act, the Calcutta corporation act and above all, the partition of Bengal—left no doubts in Indian minds about the basically reactionary nature of British rule in India.

8. Existence of a Militant School of Thought :

  • Militant thinkers like Raj Narain Bose, Ashwini Kumar Datta, Aurobindo Ghosh in Bengal; Vishnushastri Chiplunkar and Tilak in Maharashtra; and Lala Lajpat Rai in Punjab. 

Basic tenets of this school of thought were: 

  • Hatred for foreign rule
  • Swaraj to be the goal of a national movement
  • Direct political action required
  • Belief in the capacity of the masses to challenge the authority
  • Personal sacrifices required and a true nationalist to be always ready for it.

9. A Trained Leadership Had Emerged

This leadership could provide proper channelisation of the immense potential for the political struggle which the masses possessed and, as the militant nationalists thought, we're ready to give expression to. 

Swadeshi movement

Partition of Bengal - Swadeshi movement: History

The Swadeshi and Boycott movement

  • The Swadeshi Movement had its genesis, in the anti-partition movement which was started to oppose the British decision to partition Bengal.
  • The Government's decision to partition Bengal had been made public in December 1903. 
  • The official reason given for the decision was that Bengal with a population of 78 million had become too big to be administered. 
  • This was true to some extent, but the real motive behind the partition plan was the British desire to weaken Bengal, the nerve centre of Indian nationalism.
  • This is sought to achieve by putting the Bengalis under two administrations by dividing them on the basis of language (thus reducing the Bengalis to a minority in Bengal itself) and on the basis of religion, as the western half was to be a Hindu majority area and the eastern half was to be a Muslim majority area.
  • 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.

Anti-Partition Campaign Under Moderates (1903-05)

Import leaders of the campaign:

  • Surendranath Banerjee, K.K. Mitra and Prithwish Chandra Ray. 

Methods adopted:

  • Petitions to the Government
  • Public meetings
  • Memoranda, and propaganda through pamphlets and newspapers such as Hitabadi, Sanjibani and Bengalee.

Partition of Bengal

The Announcement of Partition:

Partition of Bengal - Swadeshi movement: History

  • Ignoring a loud public opinion against the partition proposal, the Government announced the partition of Bengal in July 1905.
  • Within days, protest meetings were held in small towns all over Bengal and the pledge to boycott foreign goods was first taken.
  • In August 1905, with the passage of Boycott Resolution in a massive meeting held in the Calcutta Town hall, the formal proclamation of the Swadeshi Movement was made.
  • After this, the leaders dispersed to other parts of Bengal to propagate the message of a boycott of Manchester cloth and Liverpool salt.
  • October 16, 1905, the day the partition formally came into force, was observed as a day of mourning throughout Bengal. 
  • People fasted, bathed in the Ganga and walked barefoot in processions singing Vande Mataram.
  • People tied rakhis on each other's hands as a symbol of unity of the two halves of Bengal. 

The movement led by:

  • Poona and Bombay: Bal Gangadhar Tilak
  • Punjab: Lala Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh
  • Delhi: Syed Haider Raza
  • Madras: Chidambaram Pillai.

The Congress's Position 

  • The Indian National Congress, meeting in 1905 under the presidentship of Gokhale, resolved to:
  • Condemn the partition of Bengal and the reactionary policies of Curzon
  • Support the anti-partition and Swadeshi Movement of Bengal.
  • The militant nationalists led by Tilak, Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal and Aurobindo Ghosh wanted the movement to be taken outside Bengal to other parts of the country and go beyond a boycott of foreign goods to become a full-fledged political mass struggle with the goal of attaining swaraj.
  • But the Moderates, dominating the Congress at that time, were not willing to go that far. 
  • However, a big step forward was taken at the Congress session held at Calcutta (1906) under the presidentship of Dadabhai Naoroji, where it was declared that the goal of the Indian Congress was 'self-government or swaraj’.

Swadeshi movement and Extremist

  • After 1905, the Extremists acquired a dominant influence over the Swadeshi Movement in Bengal.

There were three reasons for this:

1. The Moderate-led movement had failed to yield results.

2.The divisive tactics of the Governments of both the Bengals had embittered the nationalists.

3. Suppressive measures of Government:

  • Atrocities on students
  • Ban on public singing of Vande Mataram;
  • Restriction on public meetings
  • Prosecution and long imprisonment of swadeshi workers
  • Clashes between the police and the people in many towns
  • Arrests and deportation of leaders
  • Suppression of freedom of the press.

Also Read: Gupta Empire- Some Interesting Facts 

The extremist response towards Government:

  • Boycott of government schools and colleges, government service, courts, legislative councils, municipalities, government titles, etc. 
  • Tried to make the administration impossible by an organized refusal to do anything which will help either the British commerce in the exploitation of the country or British officialdom in the administration of it.
  • Tried to transform the anti-partition and Swadeshi Movement into a mass struggle and gave the slogan of India's independence from foreign rule.

Several forms of struggle thrown up by the movement were:

Boycott of foreign goods:

  • Boycott and public burning of foreign cloth
  • Boycott of foreign-made salt or sugar
  • Refusal by priests to ritualise marriages involving the exchange of foreign goods
  • Refusal by washermen to wash foreign clothes. 
  • Public meetings and processions

Corps of volunteers or 'samitis:

  • Swadesh Bandhab Samiti of Ashwini Kumar Dutta (in Barisal) emerged as a very popular and powerful method of mass mobilisation.
  • These samitis generated political consciousness among the masses through magic lantern lectures, swadeshi songs, physical and moral training to their members, social work during famines and epidemics, organisation of schools, training in swadeshi crafts and arbitration courts.

Imaginative use of traditional popular festivals and melas: 

  • The idea was to use such occasions as a means of reaching out to the masses and spreading political messages. 
  • Tilak's Ganapati and Shivaji festivals became a medium of swadeshi propaganda not only in western India but also in Bengal.

Programme of swadeshi or national education: 

  • Bengal National College, inspired by Tagore's Shantiniketan was set up with Aurobindo Ghosh as its principal. 
  • Soon national schools and colleges sprang up in various parts of the country. 
  • On August 15, 1906, the National Council of Education was set up to organize a system of education- literary, scientific and technical on national lines and under national control. 
  • Education was to be imparted through the medium of vernaculars. 

Swadeshi or indigenous enterprises

  • The swadeshi spirit also found expression in the establishment of swadeshi textile mills, soap and match factories, tanneries, banks, insurance companies, shops etc. 
  • These enterprises were based more on patriotic zeal than on business acumen.

Impact in the cultural sphere

  • The nationalists of all hues took inspiration from songs written by Rabindranath Tagore, Rajnikant Sen, Dwijendralal Ray, Mukunda Das, Syed Abu, Mohammad and others. 
  • Tagore's Amar Sonar Bangla written on this occasion was later to inspire the liberation struggle of Bangladesh and was adopted by it as its 'national anthem.
  • In painting, Abanindranath Tagore broke the domination of Victorian naturalism over Indian art and took inspiration from Mughal, Ajanta and Rajput paintings. 
  • In science, Jagdish Chandra Bose, Prafulla Chandra Roy and others pioneered original research which was praised the world over.

Who participated in the Swadeshi movement:

  • Students (take a lead in organising picketing of shops selling foreign goods).
  • Women, especially those of the urban middle classes, took an active part in processions and picketing. 
  • Certain sections of the zamindars, and the lower middle classes in cities and towns. 
  • Some of the Muslims participated -Barrister Abdul Rasul, Liaquat Hussain, Ghuznavi, Maulana Azad
  • Most of the upper and middle-class Muslims stayed away or, led by Nawab Salimullah of Dacca, supported the partition on the plea that it would give them a Muslim-majority East Bengal.
  • But the movement was not able to garner the support of the Muslims, especially the Muslim peasantry, because of a conscious government policy of divide and rule helped by the overlap of class and community at places.

Annulment of participation:

  • It was decided to annul the partition of Bengal in 1911 mainly to curb the menace of revolutionary terrorism.
  • The annulment came as a rude shock to the Muslim political elite. 
  • It was also decided to shift the capital to Delhi as a sop to the Muslims, as it was associated with Muslim glory, but the Muslims were not pleased.
  • Bihar and Orissa were taken out of Bengal and Assam were made a separate province.

Why did the Swadeshi movement fizzle out? 

  • By 1908, the open phase (as different from the underground revolutionary phase) of the movement was almost over.


  • There was severe government repression.
  • The movement failed to create an effective organisation or a party structure. 
  • The movement was rendered leaderless with most of the leaders either arrested or deported by 1908 and with Aurobindo-Ghosh and Bipin Chandra Pal retiring from active politics.
  • It threw up an entire gamut of techniques that came to be associated with Gandhian politics- non-cooperation, passive resistance, filling of British jails, social reform and constructive work-but failed to give these techniques a disciplined focus.
  • Internal squabbles among leaders, magnified by the Surat split (1907), did much harm to the movement.

Assessment of Swadeshi movement:

  • Despite its gradual decline into inactivity, the movement was a turning point in modern Indian history.
  • It proved to be a "leap forward" in more ways than one. 
  • Hitherto untouched sections students, women, some sections of the urban and rural population participated. 
  • All major trends of the national movement, from conservative moderation to political extremism, from revolutionary terrorism to incipient socialism, from petitions and prayers to passive resistance and non-cooperation, emerged during the Swadeshi Movement.
  • The richness of the movement was not confined to the political sphere alone but encompassed art, literature, science and industry also.

Moderates vs Extremist:

  • Social base: 
  • Moderates: Zamindars and upper-middle classes in towns.
  • Extremists: Educated middle classes in towns and lower middle class.
  1. Ideological inspiration
  • Moderates: Western liberal thought and European history.
  • Extremist: Indian history, cultural heritage and Hindu traditional symbols.
  1. Political connections with Britain:
  • Moderates: Believed political connections with Britain to be in India's social, political and cultural interests.

Extremist: Believed that political connections with Britain would perpetuate British exploitation of India.

     4. Loyalty:

  • Moderates: Professed loyalty to the British Crown.
  • Extremist: Believed that the British Crown was unworthy of claiming Indian loyalty.

     5. Mass participation:

Moderates: Believed that the movement should be limited to middle-class intelligentsia; masses not yet ready for participation in political work.

  • Extremist: Had immense faith in the capacity of masses to participate and to make sacrifices.

Other areas:

  • Moderates: Demanded constitutional reforms, share for Indians in services, insisted on the use of constitutional methods only, they were patriots and did not play the role of a comprador class.

Extremist: Demanded swaraj as a panacea for Indian ills, Did not hesitate to use extra-constitutional methods like boycott and passive resistance to achieve their objectives. and they were patriots who made sacrifices for the sake of the country.

The Surat split

  • The Congress split at Surat came in December 1907, around the time when revolutionary terrorism had gained momentum. 
  • The two events were not unconnected.
  • The session was presided by Ras Behari Ghosh

Causes for Surat Split:

  • Moderate-Extremist differences came to the fore.
  • Also, a resolution supporting the programme of swadeshi, boycott and national education was passed. 
  • Moderates sought to drop the resolutions on the swadeshi, boycott and national education.
  • Both sides adopted rigid positions, leaving no room for compromise.
  • The split became inevitable, and the Congress was now dominated by the Moderates who lost no time in reiterating Congress commitment to the goal of self-government within the British Empire and to constitutional methods only to achieve this goal.

Mistakes are done by Moderates and Extremist:

  • The Moderates did not realise that the council reforms were meant by the Government more to isolate the Extremists than to reward the Moderates.
  • The Extremists did not realise that the Moderates could act as their outer line of defence in face of state repression.
  • Both sides did not realise that in a vast country like India ruled by a powerful imperialist country, only a broad-based nationalist movement could succeed.

The Government Strategy

  • In the Government's view, the Moderates represented an anti-imperialist force consisting of basically patriotic and liberal intellectuals.
  • With the coming of the Swadeshi and Boycott Movement, the Government modified its strategy towards the nationalists. Now, the policy was the policy of 'carrot and stick'. 
  • It may be described as a three-pronged approach of repression, conciliation, suppression. 
  • In the first stage, the Extremists were to be repressed mildly, mainly to frighten the Moderates.
  • The Government launched a massive attack on the Extremists. 
  • Between 1907 and 1911, five new laws were enforced to check anti-government activity.
  • Seditious Meetings Act, 1907
  • Indian Newspapers (Incitement to Offences) Act, 1908
  • Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1908
  • Indian Press Act, 1910
  • Tilak, the main Extremist leader, was sent to Mandalay (Burma) jail for six years. 
  • Aurobindo and B.C. Pal retired from active politics. 

The Revolutionary Terrorist Programme

  • The revolutionary terrorists considered but did not find it practical at that stage the options of creating a violent mass revolution throughout the country or, of trying to subvert the loyalties of the Army. 
  • Instead, they opted to follow in the footsteps of Russian nationalists or Irish nationalists. 
  • This methodology involved individual heroic actions, such as organising assassinations of unpopular British officials and of traitors and informers among the revolutionaries themselves; conducting swadeshi dacoities to raise funds for revolutionary activities; and (during the First World War) organising military conspiracies with the expectation of help from the enemies of Britain.

Revolutionary  terrorism:

Reasons for emergence

  • Younger elements are not ready to retreat after the decline of the open phase.
  • Leadership's failure to tap revolutionary energies of the youth.
  • Government repression left no peaceful avenues open for protest.


  • Assassinate unpopular officials, thus strike terror in the hearts of rulers.
  • Arouse people to expel the British physically based on individual heroic actions on lines of Irish nationalists or Russian nihilists and not a mass-based countrywide struggle.

Revolutionary activity before the first World War:


  • 1902: First revolutionary groups in Midnapore and Calcutta (The Anushilan Samiti)
  • 1906: Yugantar, the revolutionary weekly started
  • By 1905-06, Several newspapers started advocating revolutionary terrorism.
  • 1907: Attempt on life of governor of East Bengal.
  • 1908: Prafulla Chaki and Khudiram Bose attempt to murder Muzaffarpur Magistrate, Kingsford.
  • Alipore conspiracy case involving Aurobindo Ghosh, Barindra Kumar Ghosh and others.
  • 1908: Barrah dacoity by Dacca Anushilan.
  • 1912: Bomb is thrown at Viceroy Hardinge by Rash Behari Bose and Sachin Sanyal
  • Sandhya, Yugantar: newspapers advocating revolutionary activity.


  • 1879: Ramosi Peasant Force by Vasudev Balwant Phadke.
  • 1890: Tilak's attempts to propagate militancy among the youth through Shivaji and Ganpati festivals, and his journals Kesari and Mahratta.
  • 1897: Chapekar brothers kill Rand, the plague commissioner of Poona and Lt. Ayerst.
  • 1899: Mitra Mela a secret society organized by Savarkar and his brother.
  • 1904: Mitra Mela merged with Abhinav Bharat.


  • Revolutionary activity by Lala Lajpat Rai, Ajit Singh, Aga Haider Syed, Haidar Raza, Bhai Parmanand, Lalchand 'Falak', Sufi Amba Prasad.


  • 1905: Shyamji Krishna Varma, set up the Indian Home Rule Society and India House and brought out the journal The Sociologist in London.
  • 1909: Madan Lal Dhingra murdered Curzon-Wyllie.
  • Madame Bhikaji Cama operated from Paris and Geneva and brought out the journal Bande Mataram. 
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