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Partition of Bengal, 1905 – Swadeshi Movement

The decision to partition the state of Bengal was announced by Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India in July 1905. This partition came into effect in October 1905 and divided the Muslim majority of eastern Bengal from the Hindu majority of the western part of the state. Indians were livid at this decision and referred to it as “divide and rule” by the British, who were trying to turn Indians against each other. Curzon denied this saying that this was being done for ease of administration.

Bengali Hindus, who held a strong foothold in business and in the rural areas, complained that the Partition would make them a minority in their state. The Muslims founded their own national organizations, though Bengali Hindus were unhappy with this arrangement.

In 1911, Bengal was reunited keeping in mind the Bengali sentiment, but this caused unhappiness among Bengali Muslims who benefited from the partition of the state.

By this time, the Indian National Congress had begun to fight for Independence. Lord Curzon thought it would be wise to partition Bengal, by separating the Hindus and Muslims. By this, he hoped to reduce religious tension and quell the Indian Independence movement.

Rise of Extremism

 The reasons which led to the rise of extremism are:

  1. The failure of the Moderates to win any notable success other than the expansion of the legislative councils by the Indian Councils Act (1892).
  2. The famine and plague of 1896-97 which affected the whole country and the suffering of the masses.
  3. The economic conditions of the people became worse.
  4. The ill-treatment of Indians in South Africa on the basis of color.
  5. The Russo-Japanese war of 1904 – 05 in which Japan defeated the European power, Russia. This encouraged Indians to fight against Britain.
  6. The immediate cause for the rise of extremism was the reactionary rule of Lord Curzon.
  7. He passed the Calcutta Corporation Act, (1899) reducing the Indian control of this local body.
  8. The Universities Act (1904) reduced the elected members in the University bodies. It also reduced the autonomy of the universities and made them government departments.
  9. The Sedition Act and the Official Secrets Act reduced the freedoms of all people.
  10. His worst measure was the Partition of Bengal (1905).

Swadeshi Movement

The Swadesh Movement had its genesis in the anti-partition movement, which was stated to oppose the British decision to partition Bengal. 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.

Ignoring a loud public opinion against the partition proposal, the Government announced the Partition of Bengal in July 1905. Within days, protest meetings were held in small towns all over Bengal. It was in these meetings that the pledge to boycott foreign goods was first taken. On August 7, 1905, with the passage of Boycott Resolution in a massive meeting held in the Calcutta Town hall, the formal proclamation of Swadeshi Movement was made.

People fasted, bathed in the Ganga and walked barefoot in processions singing Bande Mataram (which almost spontaneously became the theme song of the movement). People tied rakhis on each other’s hands as a symbol of unity of the two halves of Bengal.

Soon, the movement spread to other parts of the country—in Poona and Bombay under Tilak, in Punjab under Lala Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh, in Delhi under Syed Haider Raza, and the Madras under Chidambaram Pillai.

Muslim League

The Muslim League, whose original name was the All India Muslim League, was a political group that led the movement calling for a separate Muslim nation. The Muslim League was founded in 1906 to safeguard the rights of Indian Muslims.

At first the league was encouraged by the British and was generally favourable to their rule, but the organization adopted self-government for India as its goal in 1913.

For several decades the league and its leaders, notably Mohammed Ali Jinnah, called for Hindu-Muslim unity in a united and independent India.

Jinnah and the Muslim League led the struggle for the partition of British India into separate Hindu and Muslim states, and after the formation of Pakistan in 1947, the league became Pakistan’s dominant political party.

Calcutta Session of INC, 1906

‘Swaraj’ was adopted by the Congress in this historic session of 1906, held at Calcutta, under Dadabhai Naoroji.

Surat Session, 1907

Gujarat was at that time predominantly moderate, there were very few Nationalists, and Surat was a stronghold of the Moderates. So the Moderate leaders decided to hold the Congress at Surat. The Nationalists however came there in strength from all parts.

It was known that the Moderate leaders had prepared a new constitution for the Congress which would make it practically impossible for the extreme party to command a majority at any annual session for many years to come.

The younger Nationalists, especially those from Maharashtra, were determined to prevent this by any means.

The Moderate leaders decided to suspend the Congress and replace it by a national conference with a constitution and arrangement which would make it safe for their party. Meanwhile Lajpatrai came to Tilak and informed him that the Government had decided, if the Congress split, to crush the Extremists by the most ruthless repression.

Tilak thought, and the event proved that he was right, that the country was not yet ready to face successfully such a repression and he proposed to circumvent both the Moderate plan and the Government plan by the Nationalists joining the conference and signing the statement of adhesion to the new constitution demanded by the Moderates.

Thus the Congress ceased for a time to exist; but the Moderate conference was not a success and was attended only by small and always dwindling numbers.

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