Swadeshi Movement

Bal Gangadhar Tilak was an Indian nationalist, teacher, social reformer, lawyer and an independence activist. He was the first leader of the Indian Independence Movement. Tilak was one of the first and strongest advocates of Swaraj (“self-rule”) and a strong radical in Indian consciousness. He is known for his quote in Marathi: “Swarajya is my birthright and I shall have it!”.

The extremist like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai, and Aurobindo Ghosh demanded Swaraj or complete independence from British rule. They believed in self-reliance as a weapon against domination. They promoted Swadeshi and boycott of foreign goods. Swarajya (self-rule) being the ultimate aim that was to be achieved and the means were swadeshi and boycott.

Swadeshi movement:

    • The Swadeshi movement launched in the early 20th Century was a direct fallout of the decision of the British India government to partition Bengal.
    • Use of Swadeshi goods and boycott of foreign made goods were the two main objectives of this movement.
    • A Boycott Resolution was passed in Calcutta City Hall on August 7, 1905, where it was decided to boycott the use of Manchester cloth and salt from Liverpool.
    • In the district of Barisal, the masses adopted this message of boycott of foreign-made goods, and the value of the British cloth sold there fell sharply.
    • Bande Mataram became the boycott and Swadeshi movement theme song.
    • Among the movement’s various forms of struggle, it was the boycott of foreign-made goods that encountered the greatest visible success on the practical and popular level.
    • Boycott and public burning of foreign clothes, picketing of shops selling foreign goods, all became common in remote corners of Bengal as well as in many major cities and towns across the country.
    • Another form of mass mobilization widely used by the Swadeshi movement was the corps of volunteers (samitis).
    • Ashwini Kumar Dutt, a school teacher, set up the Swadesh Bandhab Samiti in Barisal was the best – known volunteer organization of all of them.
    • The Shivaji and Ganapati festivals in Western India (Maharashtra) were organized by Lokmanya Tilak to spread the swadeshi message and boycott movements among the masses.
    • The Swadeshi and boycott movements placed great emphasis on ‘ Atmasakti ‘ or self – reliance as a means of reasserting national dignity in different fields.
    • In the field of national education, this emphasis on self – reliance was most evident.
    • The National College of Bengal was founded as its principal with Aurobindo. Numerous national schools have been established throughout the country in a short period of time.
    • The National Education Council was established in August 1906.
    • In Indians entrepreneurial zeal, self – reliance was also evident. The period saw an explosion of textile mills, factories of soap and match, tanneries, banks, insurance companies, shops, etc.
    • While most of these Swadeshi companies were set up and run as a result of patriotic fervor than any real business interest and were unable to survive for a long time, some others like Acharya P.C. Ray
    • In the field of culture, Amar Sonar Bangla, written by Rabindranath Tagore in protest against Bengal’s partition, became a rallying point for the Swadeshi and boycott movements and later inspired Bangladesh’s liberation struggle.

Importance of the Swadeshi and Boycott Movements

    • The Swadeshi and boycott movements were India’s first 20th century movements that encouraged mass participation in modern nationalist politics by a large section of society.
    • For the first time, women came out of their homes and joined processions and picketing of foreign-made goods shops.
    • The Swadeshi and boycott movements also changed the character of the Indian National Congress (INC) from being driven largely by moderates to the main agenda now being set by the ‘ Extremists ‘ who gave the Congress’s 1906 Calcutta session’s call for ‘ Swaraj ‘ or self – government.
    • The ideas of non – cooperation and passive resistance, successfully applied many years later by Mahatma Gandhi, found their origin in early 20th century Swadeshi and boycott movements.

Gandhian techniques used during Swadeshi movement:

    • The methods adopted were petitions to the Government, public meetings, adopted were petitions to the Government, public meetings, memoranda, and propaganda through pamphlets and newspapers such as Hitabadi, Sanjibani and Bengalee.
    • Their objective was to exert sufficient pressure on the Government through an educated public opinion in India and England to prevent the unjust partition of Bengal from being implemented.
    • The movement threw up 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, boycott of foreign-made salt or sugar, refusal by priests to ritualize marriages involving exchange of foreign goods, refusal by washermen to wash foreign clothes
    • Crops of volunteers of ‘Samitis’:
      • Samitis such as the Swadesh Bandhab Samiti of Ashwini Kumar Dutta (in Barisal) emerged as a very popular and powerful method of mass mobilization.
    • Programme of swadeshi or national education:
      • National school and colleges sprang up in various parts of the country.

Reasons behind the decadence of the Swadeshi movement:

      • Government suppression:
        • Realizing the revolutionary potential, the government came down with a heavy hand. Most of the important leaders of the movement were either imprisoned or deported between 1907 and 1908.
        • Any mass movement cannot be sustained endlessly at the same pitch of militancy and self-sacrifice, especially when faced with severe repression.
      • Congress split:
        • The internal squabbles, and especially, the split in 1907 in the Congress, the apex all-India organization, weakened the movement.
      • Organization structure:
        • It lacked the effective organization and party structure.
        • The movement failed to create an effective organization or a party structure.
        • It threw up an entire gamut of techniques that came to be associated with Gandhian politics like non-cooperation, passive resistance, filling of British jails, social reform and constructive work but failed to give these techniques a disciplined focus.
      • Reach limited:
        • The movement largely remained confined to the upper and middle classes and zamindars, and failed to reach masses especially the peasantry.
        • It was not able to garner the support of the mass of Muslims and especially of the Muslim peasantry. Hindus and Muslims were divided along class lines with the former being the landlords and the latter constituting the peasantry.
        • 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.
      • Ideas failed:
        • The movement aroused the people but did not know how to tap the newly released energy or how to find new forms to give expression to popular resentment.
      • Leadership issues:
        • The movement was rendered leaderless with most the leaders either arrested or deported by 1908 and with Aurobindo Ghosh and Bipin Chandra Pal retiring from active politics.
        • Tilak was sentenced to six years imprisonment, Ajit Singh and Lajpat Rai of Punjab were deported and Chidambaram Pillai was arrested.