The Swadeshi movement, part of the Indian independence movement and the developing Indian nationalism, was an economic strategy aimed at removing the British Empire from power and improving economic conditions in India by following the principles of swadeshi and which had some success. Strategies of the Swadeshi movement involved boycotting British products and the revival of domestic products and production processes. L. M. Bhole identifies five phases of the Swadeshi movement.
- 1850 to 1904: developed by leaders like Dadabhai Naoroji, Gokhale, Ranade, Tilak, G.V. Joshi and Bhaswat.K.Nigoni. This was also known as First Swadeshi Movement.
- 1905 to 1917: Began with and because of the partition of Bengal in 1905 by Lord Curzon.
- 1918 to 1947: Swadeshi thought shaped by Gandhi, accompanied by the rise of Indian industrialists.
- 1948 to 1991: Widespread curbs on international and inter-state trade. India became a bastion of obsolete technology during the licence-permit raj.
- 1991 onwards: liberalization and globalization. Foreign capital, foreign technology, and many foreign goods are not excluded and doctrine of export-led growth resulted in modern industrialism.
The second Swadeshi movement started with the partition of Bengal by the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon in 1905 and continued up to 1911. It was the most successful of the pre-Gandhian movement. Its chief architects were Aurobindo Ghosh, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai, V. O. Chidambaram Pillai, Babu Genu. Swadeshi, as a strategy, was a key focus of Mahatma Gandhi, who described it as the soul of Swaraj (self rule). It was strongest in Bengal and was also called vandemataram movement. Gandhi, at the time of the actual movement, remained loyal to the British Crown.
Movement history, 1905–1917
During 1901, Bengal had become the nerve center for Indian nationalism. At that time it was the biggest province of British India and included parts of Bihar and Orissa. To weaken it, Lord Curzon (1899–1905) the Viceroy of India, proposed partition of Bengal. The official reason was stated as administrative inconvenience due to the size of Bengal. But partition itself was based on a religious and political agenda. Bengal was to be divided into two regions i.e. Bengal and East Bengal. Thus to reduce the nationalist movement in Bengal and thereby in the entire country, Bengal partition was to take place on 16 October 1905.
H. H. Risley, home secretary to the government of India, stated on 6 December 1904: "Bengal united is a power; Bengal divided will pull in several different ways. That is what Congress leaders feel; their apprehensions are perfectly correct and they form one of the great merits of the scheme ... in this scheme ... one of our main objects is to split up and thereby weaken a solid body of opponents to our rule".
So the British tried to curb Bengali influence on the nationalist movement and also introduced a new form of division based on religion to create challenges for the Indian National Congress, which was slowly becoming the main opponent to British rule.
But the Indian nationalists saw the design behind partition and condemned it unanimously, starting the anti-partition and the Swadeshi movements. The Swadeshi movement was also known as Vandemataram movement in deltaic Andhra Pradesh.
The proposal of partition of Bengal became publicly known in 1905, followed by immediate and spontaneous protests all over Bengal. Lord Curzon asked Queen Victoria to separate Bengal. Because they were scared if the Muslims and Hindus got together they could start a war. 500 meetings were held in East Bengal alone. 50,000 copies of pamphlets with a detailed critique of partition were distributed. This phase is marked by moderate techniques of protest such as petitions, public meetings, press campaign, etc. to turn public opinion in India as well as in Britain against nothing else.
This movement also involved the boycott of British products. Western clothes were thrown onto bonfires.
To let the British know how unhappy the Indians were at the partition of Bengal, leaders of the anti-partition movement decided to use only Indian goods and to boycott British goods. People gathered at the cross roads and burnt the imported clothes that they had. People picketed the shops selling foreign goods, and imported sugar was boycotted. People also resolved to use things made only in India and this was called the Swadeshi movement.
The Swadeshi movement had its genesis in the anti-partition movement which started to oppose the British decision to partition Bengal. There was no questioning the fact that Bengal with a population of 70 million had indeed become administratively unwieldy. Equally, there was no escaping the fact that the real motive for partitioning Bengal was political, as Indian nationalism was gaining in strength. The partition was expected to weaken what was perceived as the nerve center of Indian nationalism. Though affected in 1905, the partition proposals had come onto the public domain as early as 1903. Therefore, since 1903, the ground for the launch of the Swadeshi movement had been prepared. In the official note, Risley, the Home Secretary to the Government of India said, "Bengal united is power; Bengal divided will pull several different ways".
The partition of the state intended to curb Bengali influence by not only placing Bengalis under two administrations, but by reducing them to a minority in Bengal itself. In the new proposal, Bengal proper was to have 17 million Bengali and 37 million Oriya and Hindi speaking people. Also, the partition was meant to foster another kind of division—this time on the basis of religion, i.e. between the Muslims and the Hindus. The Indian Nationalist clearly saw the design behind the partition and condemned it unanimously. The anti-partition and Swadeshi movement had begun.
The nature of the Swadeshi movement
The Bengalis adopted the boycott movement as the last resort after they had exhausted the armoury of constitutional agitation known to them, namely vocal protests, appeals, petitions and Conferences to coerce the British to concede the unanimous national demand.
The original conception of 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, it was regarded as essential for the revival of 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.
Like the Boycott, the Swadeshi as a purely economic measure for the growth of Indian Industry was not an altogether novel idea in India. It was preached by several eminent personalities in the 19th century, Gopal Hari Deshmukh, better known as Lokahitawadi of Bombay, Arya Samaj founder Dayanand Saraswati and Bholanath Chandra of Calcutta. But the seeds sown by them did not germinate till the soil was rendered fertile by the grim resolve of a united people, exasperated beyond measure; to forge the twin weapons of Boycott and Swadeshi in order to undo the great wrong which was inflicted upon them by an arrogant Government, callous to the voice of the people.
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.
The economic boycott and Swadeshi
In the economic sense, Swadeshi would represent both a positive and a negative element. These have been discussed as under:-
The positive element of economic swadeshi was the regeneration of indigenous goods and panni,maadu,naai and paai. The boycott of foreign goods led to the increase in demand of indigenous goods especially clothes which felt short of supply. The mill-owners of Bombay and Ahmadabad came to its rescue. 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. A song which became very popular all over the country urged upon the people to give the place of honour to the coarse cloth which is the gift of the Mother, too poor to offer a better one.
The negative element(This can be considered negative only with regard to the British) of the economic swadeshi 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, enrollment of volunteers to keep vigilant watch and by occasion bonfires of foreign cloth, salt and sugar. The old apparels of foreign made belonging to sundry people were placed in a heap and then it was set on fire. The blazing flames were looked upon as a special mode of honouring noted public leaders and the bonfires greeting them were regarded as of great value as a means of infusing enthusiasm for Swadeshi.
Fines were inflicted on anyone found using foreign sugar. Foreign cigarettes were bought and burnt in the streets, Brahmins refused to assist any religious ceremonies in houses where European salt and sugar were used and Marwaris were warned of importing foreign articles. All these bonfires however affected the economy of the people. To burn 'Manchester-made goods' bought at a high price literally affects the people but swept by national enthusiasm, people continued to eschew and burn foreign goods.
Swadeshi and Social Boycott
the main points are: The social boycott was an outcome of economic swadeshi movement. It was preached to go against the repressive measures of the Government. The social boycott was a very powerful weapon. A man selling or buying foreign goods or in any way opposing swadeshi Movement and helping Government in putting it down would be subjected to various degrees of humiliation. Such social ostracism would make a man quite unhappy, sometimes even very miserable and the Government could do very little to help him in his distress. But such non-violent ostracism was not the only form of persecution. Sometimes, the 'renegade' would suffer material loss and bodily or mental pain.
Swadeshi and National Education
Students in promoting the boycott and swadeshi movement drew upon them the wrath and violence of the British Raj. Circulars were issued forbidding the students under threat of severe penalty to associate themselves in any way with the Boycott movement. Even the cry of Vande Mataram in streets and other public places was declared to be a punishable offence. Schools or colleges whose students disobeyed the order were not only threatened with the withdrawal of Government grants and even with disaffiliation, but their students were to be declared ineligible for Government Service. The authorities of the educational institutions were asked to keep strict watch over their pupils, and if unable to control them, were to report the names to the Education Department for taking necessary disciplinary action. The magistrates were asked to inform the teachers and those connected with the management of educational institutions, that if necessary they might be enrolled as Special Constables. The Direction of Public Instruction asked the principals of colleges to show causes why their students who took part in the picketing should not be expelled.
All this produced a storm of indignation in the country and the Indian-owned Press denounced the circulars in the strongest language. The people of Bengal took up the challenge. The students of some colleges in Rangpur defied the Government orders and when they were fined, the guardians refused to pay the fine and stabled a national school for the boys who were expelled. Teachers were also asked to resign for not whipping the boys.
The action of the authorities led to a movement among the students to boycott the Calcutta University which they described as Gulamkhana (House of manufacturing slaves). At a conference attended by a large number of very eminent men of Bengal in different walks of life held on 10 November 1905, it was decided to establish at once a National Council of Education in order to organize a system of education—literary, scientific and technical—on national lines and under national control. The number of national schools also grew apace with time.
The enthusiasm with which the two Bengals responded to the idea of national education shows the way in which the swadeshi movement, like a mighty river was overflowing its bed and inundating vast stretches of country. It was no longer confined to its primary object of industrial regeneration and boycotting British goods. More important still, the movement with its extended connotation was no longer confined to Bengal but spread to the whole of India.
Swadeshi, culture and press
It was perhaps in the cultural sphere that the impact of the swadeshi movement was most marked. The songs composed at the time of Rabindranath Tagore, Rajani Kanta Sen, Dwijendralal Ray, Makunda Das, Syed Abu Mohammad and other later became the moving spirit for nationalist 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. Similarly, there were great improvements in Indian art.
The writings of Vande Mataram, practically revolutionized the political attitude of Bengal. The four leading newspapers of Calcutta- the Bengalee, the Amrita Bazaar Patrika, the Indian Mirror and the Hindu Patriot protested against this division of Bengal. Apart from this, vernacular newspapers such as the Sanjivani and the Bangabashi expressed open hostility against this proposal. The Amrita Bazaar Patrika in its issue of 14 December 1903 called on the people of East Bengal to hold public meetings in every town and village to prepare petition for submission to the government, which was signed by lakhs of people.
Repressive measures taken by the Government
Other than boycott and burning of foreign goods, people also resorted to 'peaceful picketing' which destined to become a normal feature in almost every type of political agitation in future. All these gave the police a good opportunity to interfere. The volunteers were roughly handled and if they resisted, the police beat them with lathis. These 'Regulation Lathis', as they were called, were freely used by the police in the first instance to drive away the picketers and to disperse crowds, whether rioters or peaceful, if they were supposed to be sympathetic to the picketing volunteers. The uttering of Vande Mataram was an indisputable evidence of such sympathy and later it was made illegal to shout Vande Mataram in a public place.
The official phrase, "mild lathi charge" to describe the assault of the police, was a misnomer. It was certainly not mild as the gaping wounds on the bodies loudly proclaimed. The Government also issued instructions to the educational institutions to control their boys and prevent them from participating in the swadeshi movement. Rural markets were controlled bans were put on processions and meetings, leaders were put into confinement without any trial and loyal Muslims were made to go against the recalcitrant Hindus.
Effects and estimate of Swadeshi
It is difficult to form an accurate estimate of the effect of the Boycott movement on the import of foreign goods in Bengal, as no exact statistics are available. It appears, however, from the official and confidential Police reports that for the first two or three years, there was a serious decline in the import of British goods, particularly cloth.
Passive resistance could not go for long and its ultimate result could never be in doubt. This was the genesis of the sudden emergence of a network of secret revolutionary organizations which were determined to meet the Government on equal terms, by collectively arms and opposing terrorism by terrorism.
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. This was opposed by Mahatma Gandhi as he was against Hindu- Muslim Divergence
Although Swadeshi was originally conceived as merely a handmade of boycott of foreign goods and meant only to be an urge to use indigenous in preference to foreign goods, it soon attained a much more comprehensive character and became a concrete symbol of nationalism. No less significant was that Swadeshi in Bengal brought into the vortex of politics a class of people-the landed aristocracy—who had hitherto held studiously aloof from the congress or any other political organization. Outside Bengal, it gave a rude shock of disillusionment to the whole of India and stimulated the political thoughts of the people. Swadeshi emphasized "atmasakti" or soul force. One particular aspect of the Swadeshi movement which M.K. Gandhi prized above everything else should be specially emphasized. It 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. To go to prison or get badge of honour and not as hitherto a brand of infancy. The Swadesh Movement had its genesis in the anti-partition movement which was stated 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 (about a quarter of the population of British India) 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.no
Swadeshi after independence
The Post-Independence "Swadeshi Movement" has developed forth differently than its pre-independence counterpart. While the pre-independence movement was essentially a response to colonial policies, the post-independence Swadeshi movement sprung forth as an answer to increasingly oppressive imperialistic policies in the post-Second World War climate. For a nation emerging from two centuries of colonial oppression, India was required to compete with the industrialised economies of the west. While rapid industrialisation under the umbrella of "Five year Plans" were aimed at enabling a self-sufficient India, the need to balance it with a predominantly agrarian set-up was the need of the hour. This need to preserve the old fabric of an agrarian country while simultaneously modernising, necessitated a resurgence of a slightly recast "Swadeshi Movement". Forerunners of this resurgent movement was noted journalist, writer and critic S. R. Ramaswamy. Others of late in the movement include the likes of Rajiv Dixit, Swami Ramdev and Pawan Pandit. In the Digital World Swadeshishopping.com taking novel initiative for promoting Swadeshi Movement.
The word Swadeshi derives from Sanskrit and is a sandhi or conjunction of two Sanskrit words. Swa means "self" or "own" and desh means country, so Swadesh would be "own country", and Swadeshi, the adjectival form, would mean "of one's own country".
- Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar. From Plassey to Partition - A History of Modern India (2004) pp 248–62
- Das, M. N. India Under Morley and Minto: Politics Behind Revolution, Revolution and Reform (1964)
- Gonsalves, Peter. Clothing for Liberation, A Communication Analysis of Gandhi's Swadeshi Revolution, SAGE, (2010)
- Gonsalves, Peter. Khadi: Gandhi's Mega Symbol of Subversion, SAGE, (2012)
- Trivedi, Lisa. "Clothing Gandhi's Nation: Homespun and Modern India", Indiana University Press, (2007)
- Trivedi, Lisa N. (February 2003). "Visually Mapping the 'Nation': Swadeshi Politics in Nationalist India, 1920-1930". The Journal of Asian Studies. Association for Asian Studies. 62 (1): 11–41. doi:10.2307/3096134. JSTOR 3096134.
Written by Radhika Iyengar | Updated: July 27, 2017 6:56 pmBankim Chandra Chattopadhyay
On Tuesday, the Madras High Court declared that it would be mandatory for all schools and colleges in Tamil Nadu to sing Vande Mataram at least once a week; and in private and government offices “at least once a month”. The Court deems this fit in the “interest” of the public, where “a sense of patriotism in each and every citizen of the state” needs to be instilled.
Since its conception, however, Vande Mataram has been a song mired in controversies. For a significant part of history, the Muslim community has voiced its apparent discomfort towards the song. In 2006, the general secretary of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (an important Islamic organisation in India), Maulana Mahmood Madani had said, “No Muslim can sing ‘Vande Mataram’ if he considers himself to be a true believer.” Then in 2009, Muslim clerics issued a fatwa against the singing of Vande Mataram in Deoband.
A Brief Tour of History
In 1870, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay meticulously crafted a song which would go on to assume a glorified national stature, but would be communally explosive in its entirety. Written in Bengali, the song titled Vande Mataram would not be introduced into the public sphere until the publishing of the novel, Anandamath in 1882, within the framework of which the song is woven into. But Vande Mataram would soon gain an identity synonymous with the struggle for India’s freedom, becoming an important lynchpin in the history of Indian politics.
Anandamath was written in 19th century India, at a time when the country was still part of the British empire. At that time, there was widespread cultural, religious and intellectual suffocation. In the midst of this, Chattopadhyay, a respected literary figure, conceived Anandamath as a powerful literary instrument to stir nationalistic feelings within the country. But with a twist.
Set in the early 1770s, against the backdrop of the Fakir-Sannyasi Rebellion, Anandamath was established at a time of the Bengal agrarian crisis, when Bengal was hit by three famines one after another. Interestingly though, Chattopadhyay’s novel held the Muslim Nawab responsible for the excruciating circumstances, claiming that it was the Nawab’s quiet acquiescence to The East India Company that debilitated Bengal.
Historian Tanika Sarkar wrote in Birth of a Goddess: Vande Mataram, Anandamath and Hindu Nationhood that, “The East India Company was then calling the shots from behind the facade of a puppet Muslim Nawab. It was rack-renting peasant surplus to augment revenues from which the Company extracted a massive tribute. The drive was so relentless that three successive droughts produced a famine of catastrophic proportions in 1770. Much of the land returned to waste and approximately one-third of the population starved to death.” She wrote that the novel held “the Nawab responsible not just for widespread death and starvation, but also for a deliberate and total destruction of Hindus, of their honour, faith, caste and women. In other words, it forces a split between the agents and victims of the famine: the agents are Muslims and the starving and dying people are always identified as Hindus.”
Since their conception, both the novel as well as Vande Mataram, have been read from a plurality of vantage points. History will provide evidence that Vande Mataram has received a considerable backlash from the Muslim community – many have objected that the song carries anti-Muslim connotations.
Sarkar writes that the book’s fictional protagonists considered the famine as an infliction by the Muslims upon Hindus: “Our faith is ruined,” translated Sarkar, quoting one of them, “our caste and honour are gone, now even our lives are in danger…unless we drive out these drunken Muslim wretches, how can we save the religion of Hindus?” She continues to translate what a Hindu leader in the book Satyananda says: “We do not want power for ourselves. We want to exterminate all the Muslims on this land as they are enemies of God’ Or, ‘Many had resented the end of Hindu power and Hindus had been eager for the restoration of their faith.”
It is against this literary, ideological canvas that Vande Mataram is introduced in the book. In 1896, the song was first sung publicly at the Indian National Congress’ session, by Rabindranath Tagore himself. The song went on to become a war cry during the partition of Bengal in 1905, and soon graduated to become fiercely emblematic of the freedom struggle. But it was at this time that the tension between the Muslims and Hindus began becoming seemingly palpable. Muslim leaders began voicing their concerns: In December 1908, speaking at the Second Session of the All India Muslim League as its President, Syed Ali Imam said, “I cannot say what you think, but when I find the most advanced province of India put forward the sectarian cry of ‘Bande Mataram’ as the national cry, and the sectarian Rakhi-bandhan as a national observance, my heart is filled with despair and disappointment; and the suspicion that, under the cloak of nationalism, Hindu nationalism is preached in India becomes a conviction.”
Decades later, Jinnah echoed his inhibitions. Refusing to embrace Vande Mataram, Jinnah wrote in The New Times of Lahore (dated March 1, 1938): “Muslims all over [India] have refused to accept Vande Mataram or any expurgated edition of the anti-Muslim song as a binding national anthem.”
Jinnah was not alone in recognising the song’s ability to irk the Muslim community. Nehru was equally aware. A year before, in 1937, he had personally written to Tagore, expressing similar concerns that the song, although patriotic in its ambition, had religious leanings favouring the Hindu community. Sarkar writes, “[Nehru] asked Tagore if the translation was accurate: ‘it does seem that the background is likely to irritate the Muslims.’”
But Tagore noted that the first two stanzas (mentioned below) of the written five, had no religious connotations:
“I bow to thee, Mother,
richly watered, richly fruited,
cool with the winds of the south,
dark with the crops of the harvests,
Her nights rejoicing in the glory of
the moonlight, her bands clothed
beautifully with her trees in flowering
bloom, sweet of laughter, sweet of
speech, the Mother, giver of boons,
giver of bliss!”
The third and fourth stanzas are preoccupied with references to Goddess Kali: “Thou art Durga, Lady and Queen, with her hands that strike and her swords of sheen”. Now while a superficial reading of the song may not seem offensive, but the song equates Goddess Durga to the motherland. To the Muslim community that follows the monotheistic religion of Islam and does not worship Hindu goddesses, paying this form of homage to a country through reference to a Hindu deity figured to be problematic.
Historian A.G. Noorani investigated this conundrum in the essay, Vande Mataram: A Historical Lesson. He wrote, “The context only makes it worse. ‘The land of Bengal, and by extension all of India, became identified with the female aspect of Hindu deity, and the result was a concept of divine Motherland.’ How secular is such a song?”
It seems that the first two stanzas were written initially in 1872, representing the motherland in all its beauty, as a bountiful nurturer. The other three stanzas (which take on darker, militant connotations – Durga is described as holding weapons of war) were later additions, which were included when the novel was published. Therefore in 1937, the Indian National Congress, sensitive to the needs of the Muslim community while still wanting the immensely inspiring Vande Mataram to be a part of its tradition, took the decision to drop the last three stanzas, declaring that only the first two, non-controversial stanzas would be sung during its sessions.
Interestingly, in 1915, Mahatma Gandhi had celebrated the fervent patriotism expressed in Vande Mataram. Decades later, however, he recognised Vande Mataram’s propensity to cause communal discomfort. In July 1939, he wrote in Harijan, “No matter what its source was, and how and when it was composed, had become a most powerful battle cry among Hindus and Musalmans of Bengal during the Partition days. It was an anti-imperialist cry. As a lad, when I knew nothing of ‘Anand Math’ or even Bankim, its immortal author, ‘Vande Mataram’ had gripped me, and when I first heard it sung it had enthralled me. I associated the purest national spirit with it. It never occurred to me that it was a Hindu song or meant only for Hindus. Unfortunately now we have fallen on evil days…”
In 1951, in the aftermath of Partition, the Constituent Assembly decided to make Tagore’s Jana Gana Mana as the country’s national anthem, instead of the religiously contentious Vande Mataran, even though the latter was a strong contender. Regardless, however, Vande Mataram went on to be honoured as a national song, even though it had lost its position as the country’s official anthem.
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