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The Swadeshi movement

The Swadeshi movement
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The Swadeshi movement was undertaken by the Indian nationalist leaders to remove the British from power and improve India’s economic conditions. The...

The Swadeshi movement was undertaken by the Indian nationalist leaders to remove the British from power and improve India’s economic conditions. The movement involved boycotting British products and using domestic products and production processes instead. The movement was the strongest in Bengal and was also called the Bandemataram movement.

The Swadeshi movement began with the partition of Bengal by the Viceroy of India Lord Curzon in 1905. The chief architects of the movement were Aurobindo Ghosh, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai, V. O. Chidambaram Pillai and Babu Genu.

Origin:

The Swadeshi movement found its genesis in the anti-partition movement which was in opposition to the British administration’s decision of the Bengal partition. Bengal at the time, with a population of 70 million, had become a challenge for the administration. But the reason for the partition of Bengal was more political as Indian nationalism was gaining strength. The partition came into effect in 1905 and was expected to weaken Bengal, which was then perceived as the nerve center of Indian nationalism.

The nature of the Swadeshi movement

  • The Bengalis adopted the boycott movement as the last resort after means of constitutional agitation like vocal protests, appeals, petitions and conferences were exhausted to coerce the British to concede the unanimous national demand.
  • The original conception of the boycott was mainly an economic one. It had two distinct but allied purposes in view.
  • The first was to bring pressure upon the British public by the pecuniary loss they would suffer by the boycott of British goods, particularly the Manchester cotton goods for which Bengal provided the richest market in India.
  • Secondly, the boycott was regarded as essential for the revival of the indigenous industry which being at its infant stage could never grow in the face of free competition with foreign countries which had highly developed industry.
  • Later on, the economic boycott receded into background with the passage of time and it developed into an idea of non-cooperation with the British in every field and the object aimed at was a political regeneration of the country with the distant goal of absolute freedom looming large before the eyes of the more advanced section. Similarly, Swadeshi completely outgrew the original conception of promoting Indian industry.
  • It assumed a new form based upon the literal connotation of the word ‘swadeshi’, namely attachment to everything Indian.

Effects of the Swadeshi movement:

In the economic sense, the Swadeshi movement has both positive and negative effects:

Positive effects:

  • The movement resulted in the regeneration of indigenous goods.
  • The boycott of foreign goods led to the increase in demand of indigenous goods
  • The mill-owners of Bombay and Ahmedabad came to the rescue of the movement
  • The Boycott movement in Bengal supplied a momentum and driving force to the cotton mills in India and the opportunity thus presented was exploited by the mill-owners
  • It was complained at that time that the Bombay mill-owners made a huge profit at the expense of what they regarded as ‘Bengali Sentimentalism’, for buying indigenous cloth at any sacrifice.
  • Bengal had to supplement the supply from Bombay mills by the coarse production of handlooms.
  • The weaving industry in Bengal was a very flourishing one till the British ruined it after they had established their rule over the province in the 18th century.
  • The economic boycott movement seemed to be a suitable opportunity for reviving that industry.
  • The clothes produced were very coarse but were accepted by the Bengalis in the true spirit of the Swadeshi Movement.

Negative effects:

  • The negative effects of the movement was the boycott and burning of foreign goods
  • Though Manchester cloth was the chief target of attack, the movement was extended to other British manufacturers also, such as salt and sugar as well as luxury goods in general
  • The ideas of Swadeshi and economic boycott was kept alive and brought home to every door by articles in newspapers, processions, popular songs, enrolment of volunteers to keep vigilant watch and by occasion bonfires of foreign cloth, salt and sugar
  • The old apparels of foreign make belonging to sundry people were placed in a heap and set on fire
  • The flames were looked upon as a special mode of humoring noted public leaders and the bonfires greeting them were regarded as of great value as a means of infusing enthusiasm for the movement
  • Fines were inflicted on anyone found using foreign sugar
  • Foreign cigarettes were bought and burnt on the streets. Brahmins refused to assist any religious ceremonies in houses where European salt and sugar in houses were used and Marwaris were warned from importing foreign articles
  • Steps taken to repress the movement
  • Other than boycott and burning of foreign goods, people also resorted to ‘peaceful picketing. All these gave the police a good opportunity to interfere. The volunteers were roughly handled and when resisted, were beaten with lathis. These ‘regulation lathis’, as they were called, were freely used by the police at the slightest provocation to drive away the picketers and disperse crowds. The uttering of Bande Mataram was an indisputable evidence of such sympathy and later was made illegal. The government also issued instructions to educational institutions to prevent their students from participating in the swadeshi movement. The rural markets were controlled. Bans were imposed on processions and meetings. Leaders were put into confinement without any trial and loyal Muslims were made to go against the recalcitrant Hindus.
  • After effects of Swadeshi Movement:
  • The Swadeshi partition and the government measures also finally led to the split of Hindus and Muslims and virtually the formation of Muslim League in 1906. Although Swadeshi was originally conceived as merely a boycott of foreign goods, it soon attained a much more comprehensive character and became a concrete symbol of nationalism. No less significant was the fact that Swadeshi in Bengal brought into the vortex of politics a class of people-the landed aristocracy- who had hitherto held studiously aloof positions from the congress or any other political organization. The movement taught the people to challenge and defy the authority of the government openly in public and took away from the minds of even ordinary men the dread of police assault and prison as well as the sense of ignominy which hitherto attached to them.
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