Swadeshi Movement

What Is Swadeshi Movement

The Swadeshi Movement that started at the turn of the 20th century provided the Indian national movement a quantum leap to the extent that future Gandhian movements drew heavily from it. Swadeshi movement, also known as Swadeshi and Boycott movement took into its sweep almost all the hitherto untouched sections of Indian society. Youth, women, urban educated people, merchants, petty bourgeois and peasants participated with great vigour and enthusiasm. The only masses missing were the Muslims especially from rural areas.

Swadeshi Movement

 The Swadeshi Movement was also instrumental in triggering some new trends in Indian society which was largely missing so far. These new trends were – incipient socialism, conservative moderation, political extremism, public speeches, petitioning, passive resistance and boycott. The genesis of Swadeshi movement lay in the Partition of Bengal decision of the government which almost spontaneously triggered the anti partition movement.

[Also Read: Partition Of Bengal 1905 – Background, Fallout, Impact and Annulment]

Swadeshi Movement –  Background

  • The decision of Partition of Bengal was made public in 1903. 
  • With this an Anti partition movement was launched under the leadership of moderates Surenrdranath Bannerjee, K.K. Mitra and Prithwish Chandra Ray.
  • They used the usual moderate techniques of petitions, memoranda, public meetings and propaganda through pamphlets and newspapers such as Hitabadi, Sanjibani and Bengalee. 
  • The idea was to pressurize the government through an educated public opinion in India and England to prevent the partition of Bengal being implemented. 
  • Between March 1904 and January 1905 a series of protest meetings were held at the Calcutta Town Hall. Many petitions were signed and some petitions had more than 70000 signatures.
  • So far the Swadeshi movement had not yet started. 

Beginning Of The Swadeshi Movement

The beginning of the Swadeshi movement can be seen as:

  • Despite public criticism, the government went ahead with the announcement of Partition of Bengal in July 1905. 
  • Within days of this announcement, a series of protest meetings were held all over Bengal and even in small towns. It was in these meetings the boycott of foreign goods was taken. 
  • The Boycott resolution was formally passed on August 7, 1905 in a massive meeting held in Calcutta Town Hall.
  • With the passage of this resolution, a formal proclamation of the Swadeshi Movement was made. 
  • The Swadeshi call was taken up by the Indian National Congress in its Benaras session in 1905 presided by G.K.Gokhle. The session supported the call for Boycott and Swadeshi movement for Bengal.
  • After this the extremist faction led by Tilak insisted on taking the movement outside of Bengal to the rest of the country and converting it into a full fledged mass struggle. The moderates on the other hand were not interested in going that far.
  • In the Calcutta Congress session in 1906 under the Presidentship of Dada Bhai Naoroji, Swadeshi, Boycott, National Education and Self Government resolutions were passed.
  • With the growing popularity of the extremists, Dada Bhai Naoroji, in his presidential statement had to declare that the goal of Indian National Congress was attainment of ‘self-government’ or ‘swaraj’.

[Also Read: The Surat Split 1907 – Background, Fallout And Consequences]

Strategy Of The Swadeshi Movement

  Since the beginning of 1905, the extremist faction of the Indian National Congress was gaining immense popularity due to their insistence on new forms of mobilization and techniques of struggle. The trend of petitions, propaganda and prayer was on retreat. The extremists advocated that political independence was to be achieved by converting the movement into a mass struggle. This according to them should be done by extending the boycott to a full scale movement of non-cooperation and passive resistance. The main strategies used in the Swadeshi Movement can be seen as

1. Boycott Of Foreign Goods

   This manifested in the form of public burning of foreign cloth and picketing of shops selling foreign goods. Women in Bengal refused to wear foreign clothes and use foreign utensils, washermen refused to wash foreign clothes and the priests declined offerings made of foreign sugar. Boycott of foreign goods was the most successful form of protest as compared to other forms.

2. Public Meetings And Processions

 These emerged as the chief methods of mass mobilization as they successfully delivered the popular expression. The meetings were organized at district, taluka and village levels. Public meetings and processions retained their character and pre-eminence in the later phases of national movement i.e. in the Gandhian era.

3. Corps Of Volunteers

 Also known as Samities, Corps of Volunteers was another method instrumental in mass mobilization. The most outstanding example of this was the ‘Swadeshi Bandab Samiti’ set up by Ashwini Kumar Dutt. It had 159 units in Barisal district and reached its remotest areas. Through this samiti, Dutt managed to create an unprecedented following in rural areas even among the Muslim peasantry. In general the samities propagated the nationalist message through ‘magic lantern lectures’ and patriotic songs. They also gave physical and moral training to its members and carried out social work for famine relief, epidemics, swadeshi craft and arbitration courts.

4. Creative Use Of Traditional Festivals And Melas

  Traditional festivals and melas were perhaps the best means for reaching out to the masses. Tilak popularized Ganapati and Shivaji festivals to propagate the nationalist message not only in Maharashtra but also in Bengal. Traditional Jatras were extensively used to popularize swadeshi.

5. Emphasis On Self Reliance Or Atmashakti

 This was a means to restore national dignity, honor and confidence. The emphasis on ‘atmashakti’ was carried out in the following ways:

  • Constructive work at village level was undertaken to bring about a social and economic regeneration.
  • Social reform campaigns against caste based oppression, dowry system, early marriages, alcohol consumption etc. were taken up.
  • Swadeshi or national education was carried out by institutions such as Bengal National College with Aurobindo Ghosh as principal. In this period many national colleges sprang up all over the country. In 1906 National College of Education was established. In all nationalist educational institutions the chief medium of instruction was vernacular. Similarly Bengal Technical Institute was set up and funds were raised to send students to Japan for advanced studies.
  • Swadeshi or indigenous enterprises were set up which included Swadeshi textile mills, soap and match factories, tanneries, banks, insurance companies, shops etc. Since most of these ventures were set up on patriotic zeal rather than sound business principles, they failed to sustain for long periods. Nevertheless some ventures were very successful e.g. the Bengal Chemicals Factory founded by P.C. Ray.

6. Cultural Sphere

  In this sphere the Swadeshi movement was reasonably successful. 

  • Song compositions by prolific writers such as Tagore, Rajanikanta Sen, Dwijendralal Ray, Mukunda Das and Syed Abu Ahmad enthused the masses and inculcated in them the spirit of sacrifice and nationalism. The famous composition ‘Amar Sonar Bangla’ by Rabindra Nath Tagore written in those days became an inspiration for the Bangladesh liberation movement in the later years. 
  • In the field of paintings, Abanindra Nath Tagore created a new style of paintings based on Mughal, Rajput and Ajanta paintings. Nanda Lal Bose due to his unique contribution in the field earned a scholarship from Indian Society of Oriental Art founded in 1909. 
  • Similarly in the field of science, notable contributions were given by Jagdish Chandra Bose, Prafulla Chandra Ray and others. Among them Jagdish Chandra Bose was associated with the famous Bose-Einstein condensate and later in the 21st century with the Higgs-Boson particle.

7. Organizing Strikes

 Many Swadeshi leaders who were influenced by international socialist currents prevailing in Germany and Russia were instrumental in organizing strikes foreign managed  enterprises such as Eastern Indian Railways and Clive Jute Mills.

Drawbacks Of Swadeshi Movement

 Even though the Swadeshi movement was an unprecedented step towards mass mobilization, it did suffer from some drawbacks which can be seen as:

  • It could not garner support of the Muslim masses in general and the Muslim peasantry in particular.
  • Except in certain areas such as Barisal the Swadeshi movement could not mobilize the peasantry at the lower rungs.
  • In 1906 the ‘All India Muslim League’ was formed with the active participation and support of the government. This was basically to counter the nationalism spearheaded by the Congress.
  • In the height of the Swadeshi movement, communal riots broke out courtesy the ‘divide and rule’ policy.
  • The imaginative use of traditional and popular festivals for spreading the nationalist message was misinterpreted by the communalists who were backed by the State. 
  • Though unintended, the extremist initiated Swadeshi movement did have Hindu undertones which naturally discouraged Muslims participation e.g. taking a holy dip in the Ganga and singing Vande Matram in the Prabhat Pheris. 

[Also Read: The Safety Valve Theory Of Congress]

Reasons For Fizzling Out Of Swadeshi Movement

1. Government Repression

  • Government used heavy repression on seeing the revolutionary potential of the movement. This manifested in the form of bans and curbs on public meetings, processions and press. 
  • Students were expelled from government schools and colleges. They were debarred from government service, fined and beaten too.
  • At the Barisal Conference in 1906, the police forcibly dispersed the crowd and beat up the participants.

2. Internal Squabbles And The Surat Split In 1907

  • The Surat Split 1907 was the final manifestation of the internal squabbles that were created after the announcement of Partition of Bengal. This considerably weakened the movement and especially after the Surat Split 1907, the movement came to a grinding halt.
  • When the Swadeshi Movement was in full swing, some moderate leaders in 1906 negotiated with the government about the upcoming constitutional reforms popularly known as the Morley Minto Reforms.

3. Arrest, Deportation And Retirement Of Leaders

  • Ashwini Kumar Dutt and Krishna Kumar Mitra from Bengal and Ajit Singh and Lala Lajpat Rai from Punjab were deported.
  • Tilak was sentenced for 6 years in Mandalay Jail.
  • Chidambaram Pillai from Andhra and Harisarvottam Rao from Madras were arrested.
  • Aurobindo Ghosh and Bipin Chandra Pal announced retirement from active politics.

4. Ineffective Outside Bengal

  • The Swadeshi Movement did reasonably well in Bengal. Though it was taken out of Bengal, the other areas outside Bengal were not fully prepared for the new forms of struggle based on mass movement and boycott.

5. Lack Of Effective Organization

  • Though this movement had all the traits of a popular mass struggle, it failed to have a centralized disciplined focus and a pan Indian character the way the Gandhian movements had. This was primarily due to a lack of an effective organization and a party structure.
  • Tilak advocated formation of a full time working committee during the Home Rule Movement but did not work out.
  • It was Gandhi who before the launch of the Non Cooperation Movement successfully created a full time Congress Working Committee of 15 members.

6. The Logic Of Mass Movement

Mass movements cannot be sustained for prolonged periods. Only Gandhi understood this fully owing to his experience in South Africa.The pitch, enthusiasm and militancy cannot be sustained endlessly in the face of severe repression.

Evaluation Of The Swadeshi Movement

 Though by 1908, the Swadeshi movement became moribund in the face of heavy repression, it would be wrong to call it a failure. Mass movements rarely deliver results instantly. The Swadeshi movement made some important and lasting contributions which can be seen as:

  • The idea of nationalism was taken to the hitherto untouched sections of society in a truly creative way.
  • The hegemony of Colonial ideas and institutions was eroded in the minds of the people.
  • New methods and techniques of mass action and mass mobilization were evolved. It is besides the point that they were not put into practice successfully.
  • The legacy bequeathed by the extremists in evolving new methods of mass mobilization was the one on which the later national movement was to draw heavily.
  • For the first time ordinary people from all hues participated without any self interest.


 Overall the Swadeshi movement with its multifaceted program was able to extract participation of the masses into active participation in modern politics. This was an unprecedented event in India’s history. The social base was extended to such an extent that even some zamindars and lower middle class from cities participated. The most notable feature of the Swadeshi movement was that it aroused the youth. They cooperated by boycotting schools and colleges. For the first time women actively participated and even boycotted foreign clothes and utensils. The only lacuna was that it failed to garner support of the muslim masses.

Swadeshi Movement UPSC

The Swadeshi movement is an important topic from UPSC CSE point of view. Questions can be asked and are asked in both prelims and mains. It’s not about how many questions are asked. What is important is that by an in depth understanding of the Swadeshi movement, one can make good sense of the entire freedom struggle.

See Also

Government Of India Act 1919

Morley Minto Reforms

Government of India Act 1858


What was the main purpose of Swadeshi movement?

The main purpose of the Swadeshi movement was to attain Swaraj for which mass mobilization was done in truly creative ways

What were the 3 main features of Swadeshi movement?

The 3 main features of the Swadeshi movement are:
1. Mass mobilization
2. Challenging the colonial hegemony
3. Emphasis on Nationalism

What was the impact of Swadeshi movement in India?

The major impact was that the future Gandhian led national movements drew heavily from the ideals, techniques and strategies thrown by the Swadeshi movement.


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