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April 7, 2009


The Swadeshi Movement: The partition of Bengal in 1905 had far reaching repercussion and accelerated the pace of freedom movement in India. The event led to the launch of swadeshi movement and boycott of British goods. It also resulted in the split of the Indian National Congress into two factions, the moderates and the extremists and gave birth to revolutionaries clubs and Muslim League. The Partition of Bengal: The province of Bengal consisted of Bengal proper, Bihar and Orissa, with a population of 78 million people. In East Bengal, Muslims were in a majority while Hindus predominated in West Bengal as well as in Bihar and Orissa. Way back in 1896, William Ward, an official had prepared a scheme of partition of Bengal for administrative convenience. But due to financial constraints it was abandoned. The scheme attracted the attention of Viceroy Curzon and he decided to implement it. In February 1904, Curzon toured East Bengal and roped in Nawab Salimullah Khan of Dacca by promising him a loan at nominal interest and the latter succeeded in assembling a huge gathering of Muslims to cheer the Viceroy’s plan for a Muslim province. But the Bengali intelligentsia and the Indian nationalists opposed the partition on the ground that it undermined the traditions, history and language of the Bengalis and divide them on the basis of religion. Curzon had admitted during his tour of East Bengal that one object of the partition proposal was to create a Mohammedan province where Islam could be predominate.


The Boycott movement: The new province of East Bengal was inaugurated on 16th October 1905. The leaders of the anti-partition movement made a public declaration that the day of inauguration would be observed as a day of national mourning. A detailed programme was drawn up for the day. Food would not be cooked, except for the sick and invalid; business would be suspended and people would walk barefoot and bathe in the Ganga in the morning to purify themselves. To symbolise the unity among the Bengalis, the programme of tying a red band round the wrists of the people was undertaken. Streets was echoed with the cry ‘Vande Mataram’ and a national fund for carrying on the agitation was started and in a few hours Rs 10,000 was collected through subscriptions. Earlier in a public meeting held at Ripon College in Calcutta under the leadership of S.N.Banerjee on 17th July 1905, a resolution asking the people to boycott all British goods till partition was undone had been passed. On the occasion of a religious festival in August 1905, about 50,000 people took a vow before goddess Kali not to buy foreign articles and not to employ foreigners for jobs for which suitable Indians are available. The boycott movement was not a new thing. Way back in 1849, Gopal Rao Deshmukh, better known as ‘Lokahitawadi’ of Bombay urged the use of indigenous goods. In 1873, Bholanath Chandra preached the establishment of indigenous Banks, Companies, Corporations, Mills and Factories and denounced the practice of preferring foreign goods to home made manufacturers. Swami Dayananda Saraswathi also emphasized on swadeshi. Similarly the Tagore family also lent their full support to the use of swadeshi goods. Rabindranath Tagore started the ‘Swadeshi Bhandar’ in 1897 and ‘Sarala Devi Lakshmi Bhandar’ in 1903. During the anti-partition agitation, Swadeshi stores sold homemade goods in retail and student volunteers peddled them. In consonance with the boycott call, contents of the ships arriving with foreign goods were dumped; bags of Liverpool salt were pulled out of boats and thrown into the river. The priests refused to perform religious ceremonies with foreign articles. Those found wearing foreign clothes including Europeans were jeered at. So vehement was the public opinion that nobody would think of buying foreign clothes and those who went in for its cheapness would buy only at night. At an examination hall in Rippon College, students refused to touch answer papers of foreign make and country made sheets had to be substituted. A five-year old granddaughter of S.N.Banerjee returned a pair of shoes sent to her by a relative because they were made abroad. Similarly another girl aged six though suffering from fever refused to take any foreign medicine. If any foreign-made presents were given during marriages they were returned. Guests would refuse to participate in festivities in which foreign salt or sugar was used.


Karnataka and Swadeshi movement: Karnataka enthusiastically responded to the call of swadeshi. On 5th May 1905 a public meeting presided by Gurunatha Rao Patak was held in the Victoria Theatre at Dharwad to protest against the partition of Bengal and to encourage swadeshi industries. The meeting resolved that everyone should vow not to use foreign cloth, except in unavoidable circumstances in order to encourage Indian artisans and trade in Indian goods. To spread the message of swadeshi and boycott, Tilak toured North Karnataka in 1905-06. Alur Venkata Rao, Sakkari Balachar, Krishna Rao Mudvedkar, Anantha Rao Dabade and others undertook extensive tours and delivered speeches on Swarajya, Swadeshi, Boycott and National Education. Swadeshi industries arose in many places. Vittal Rao Deshpande of Hebbal started a weaving factory at Kittur. Another factory was built in Badami. Cloths made here were sent even to Bengal. Rama Rao Alagvadi opened a Match factory at Dharwad, while in Laxmeswar a Porcelain factory was established. Factories for manufacturing bangles, pencils and many other articles of common use arose in many places. A Karnataka Industrial Conference met at Dharwad in 1907 to chalk out plans to develop Swadeshi industries in Karnataka. New Banks were established to help these industries. Boycott of British goods: Apart from wide support to swadeshi movement, people of Karnataka wholeheartedly participated in the boycott of British goods. Ranibennur witnessed one of the biggest bonfires of foreign cloth. Textile dealers in Belgaum decided not to import foreign cloth and in Dharwad, grocers decided not to purchase Daboti and Johnson sugar. In Alnavar it was decided to smoke batti’s instead of bidis and anyone found breaking the rule was fined. Hoteliers stopped the sale of tea and people poured kerosene into gutters and instead began to use indigenous oil for lighting. In one instance after it was noticed that a bangle seller had sold foreign bangles saying that it was Indian, the bangle seller was not only abused but also had to forego money. In Belgaum, along with swadeshi movement, prohibition was also advocated and toddy contractors had to incur heavy loss. For picketing liquor shops in Belgaum nine persons were awarded one- week imprisonment and fined Rs 680 in June 1908. Though a prominent person of Belgaum offered to pay the fine, the youths refused his help and preferred imprisonment. On 8th August 1908 a public meeting was held in Bagalkot, which was addressed by Jayarao Nargund, Jainapur, Yalagurdrao, Dharwadkar and others. It was proposed to establish a Swadeshi Vyaparottejak Samshtha in Bagalkot. The movement also saw the establishment of National Schools in various parts of Karnataka. Alur Venkata Rao started the Nutana Vidyalaya at Dharwad with arts and crafts also as subjects in the curriculum. Another national school arose at Navalgund by the efforts of Dundopanth Sahasrabuddhe. In Belgaum Kaka Kalelkar established the Ganesh Vidyalaya, while Jaya Rao Nargund started another at Bagalkot. Similar schools were established at Hanagal, Agadi and other places. The government however saw that these schools close down one by one. In South Kanara district, Ammembala Srinivasa Pai was the moving spirit in the boycott of foreign goods and the spread of swadeshi. Men like K.P.Rao and Panje Mangesha Rao assisted him, while Kolachalam Venkata Rao and Sabhapathi Mudaliar were the leaders of the freedom movement in Bellary.


The Revolutionary Activities: The youth of Bengal had greatly contributed to the success of the anti-partition movement. They organized meetings, arranged demonstrations, roused enthusiasm, and provided volunteers for Swadeshi-Boycott propaganda and for picketing. Many were fined, expelled, beaten and flogged. But the harsher their treatment the more rebellious became their mood. The restriction on their public activities compelled them to form secret societies to achieve their aims. Moreover the Englishmen in the past had taunted the Bengalis that they were a race of weaklings, cowardly and lacking in manly virtues. By forming revolutionary clubs called ‘Samitis’, the Bengali youth proved that they did not lack courage. Newspapers like ‘Jugnatara’, ‘Bhawani Mandir’, ‘Bande Mataram’ and ‘Sandhya’ were launched to preach the cult of revolutionary violence. Some youths of Karnataka like Dr.Handoor, Baburao Gani and Bheema Rao Bevoor kept up a close correspondence with the revolutionaries of Bengal.


Seeds of Separatism sown: Inspired by Muslim revolutionary activities in Egypt, Iran and Turkey, Abul Kalam Azad came into contact with Shyamsunder Chakravarthi of the Bande Mataram, met Aurobindo and joined one of the revolutionary bodies. He not only dissipated the anti-Muslim suspicious of the revolutionaries but helped in extending their activities outside Bengal and Bihar. The above development made Lawrence, the private secretary to Curzon and journalist like Valentine Chirol and Sidney Low to warn the then Viceroy Minto of the danger of the Hindu-Muslim accord. Theodore Morrison, the former principal of the Aligarh College warned the government against the possibility of Muslim sympathies going over to the Congress party. Colonel Dunlop Smith, the Private Secretary to Viceroy Minto wrote to William Archbold the then principal of Aligarh College that the Viceroy would be happy to receive a Muslim deputation. The principal asked Nawab Mohsinul Mulk, the secretary of the college to act quickly and to press for introducing the system of nomination or granting representation on religious lines. On 1st October 1906 a deputation led by Aga Khan met Viceroy Minto at Shimla and demanded that seats in the Central Legislative Assembly be reserved for the Muslim community not only on the basis of their population but on the basis of their political importance and their services in the defence of the Empire. Minto readily accepted the demand for according them separate electorates. After their successful deputation, the Muslim leaders mooted the idea of forming an association to look exclusively after the interests of the Muslim community. On 30th December 1906 the All India Muslim League was formed to promote the political and other rights of Indian Muslims and to promote among Indian Muslims the feeling of loyalty towards the British government. The true political ideas of the Muslim League became apparent from Nawab Waqar-ul-Mulk’s speech delivered at Aligarh. He said “God forbid, if the British rule disappears from India, Hindus will lord over it and there will be constant danger to our life, property and honour. The only way for the Muslims to escape this danger is to help in the continuance of the British rule. If the Muslims are heartily with the British, then that rule is bound to endure. Let the Muslims consider themselves as a British army ready to shed blood and sacrifice their lives for the British Crown”. The League achieved its first success when the British government introduced separate electorates for Muslims in the 1909 Act.

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