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OCTOBER 25, 2012

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 The Swadeshi Movement had its origins in the anti-partition movement which was started to oppose the British decision to partition Bengal. Under the Viceroyalty of Lord Curzon, the British Government decided to partition Bengal  into two on the professed assumption that it was quite difficult to govern the large state. But the real reason lay somewhere else. In the proposed bifurcation of Bengal, one unit would have got a Hindu majority, while the other would have ended up a Muslim majority. Thus the British, in reality, wanted to divide the population along communal lines and to counter the growing nationalist movement, aided by strong Hindu-Muslim unity. In fact, the Partition plan became publicly known in 1903, which was immediately followed by strong protests by mass meetings, propaganda in the Press etc. This was done until 1905 when the proposal was formally announced by the British Government.  The movement now took a more focussed and organized Shape mantle. The day when the partition took effect --- 16 October, 1905 --- was declared a day of mourning in Bengal. People fasted and hartals were observed in Bengal. Processions, bathing in the Ganga, singing of Vande Matram (which incidentally became the theme song of the movement) marked the anti-partition or the Swadeshi Movement in Bengal. The movement was taken to other parts of the country also. It was at this time that the differences between the Moderates and the Extremists came to the fore. While the Moderates favoured confining the movement to Bengal only and also advocated that the movement should not become a full-fledged mass struggle, the Extremists wanted just the opposite. In Bengal, however, after 1905, the Extremists took control of the movement. They redefined the  techniques, programmes and policies. They proposed to start a Boycott of Foreign Goods, which was to cover the boycott of government schools and colleges, courts, titles and government services and even strikes.


The boycott of foreign goods was the most successful at the popular level. Boycott and public burning of foreign cloth, picketing of shops selling these goods, all became quite common all of Bengal. An important aspect of the movement was the emphasis on self-reliance. This period saw the emergence of Indian entrepreneurs in many fields. The movement and its multi-faceted programme had huge mass participation in the first-ever organized campaign launched by the Congress.


By mid-1908, the open movement had practically subsided. This was due to many reasons. First, the Government came down with a heavy hand on the protestors. Secondly, internal squabbles and especially the 1907 split in the Congress was greatly responsible for the weakening. Both these things strengthened the Government. During these years, many major leaders like Lajpat Rai, Tilak and Aurbindo Ghosh were arrested and in many cases jailed. In fact, Aurbindo Ghosh quit politics after acquittal in criminal cases during the movement. These things left the movement practically leaderless. Thirdly, the movement lacked an effective and organized party structure. The movement was unable to channelise the people's energies. However, its decline by mid-1908 was closely followed by the rise of Revolutionary Terrorism.




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