Swadeshi Movement: The Rise of Indian Nationalism

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According to Müller Jan-Werner populism is described to be anti- elitism and anti- pluralism. (Plagemann, Destradi, 2019). This leads to the formation of two groups one where the ‘people’ are the victims and the other where the ‘elite’ are evil typically representing the government establishment. Additionally, to the feature of anti-pluralism the leaders of the populist movements claim to be the voice of the people, which excludes political opponents and their constituencies.

Nationalism came to India to throw down the British rule and stop the spread of western civilization. There were many reasons that led to such extremism and militant nationalism that gave birth to the swadeshi movement. The failure of the Indian council act in 1892 which was set to satisfy the desires of the Indians set off a domino effect of failure to satisfy the Indians by the British.

Furthermore, their careless attitude towards the famine of 1897 and its sufferings added to the resentment and led to the killing of the plague commissioner, Rand by the Chapekar brothers. (Rana) Then the British excluded educated Indians from the public service and the view of Lord Curzon that only the Englishmen can take up the highest ranks of civil employment further increased tensions. Lord Curzon then announced the Calcutta Corporation Act of 1899, and Calcutta University Act of 1904, along with the partition of Bengal in 1905 resulting in the increased extremist movement (Rana).

The political extremist Bal Ganadhar Tilak riled up the Hindus to take action and told them that “political rights will have to be fought for” (Rana) and that time to take action had come as protests would have absolutely no effect on the British. The extremists decided to deal with the growing power of the British by boycott, swadeshi and national education. While the congress was gaining support from the Indians and growing in size, Lord Curzon did not give it enough significance and was waiting for its downfall.

Bengal was at the time a population of 70 million, posing extreme difficulty for the administration and so they decided to go through with a partition. The reason of the partition was more political and the Indian national congress was gaining more strength and to weaken the nationalist movement it was vital to weaken Bengal which was the center of Indian nationalism.

The partition came about in 1905 by the Viceroy Lord Curzon the swadeshi movement was then implemented in retaliation to this. It was undertaken by the Indian nationalists Surendranath Banerjee, Anand Mohan Bose, Tilak, Lajpat Rai, Ajit Singh and Sayyad Haidar Raja to throw down British rule and bring up the Indian economy. This included boycotting foreign goods and using local products instead and boycotting government services, foreign honors and titles. In this time the ‘the British cloth fell “by 5 to 15 times between September 1904 and September 1905.” (Rana)

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The Bengal partition movement, the boycott and the swadeshi movement joined to become one movement of “non-cooperation and passive resistance through mass mobilization.” (Rana) Bipan Chandra observes that for the first time the swadeshi movement was able to gather a large mass of people that actively participated in modern nationalist politics. The movement failed to include the peasantry as well as the Muslims and ended up failing by the mid 1980’s. This was due to the divide in the congress of extremists and moderates but there was still a spark of rebellion by individualized terror activities against the government by sacrificing lives in the name of their motherland.

The sole purpose of the Indians was to pressurize the British by losses that they would have to face through the boycott movement and secondly it would allow the local industries to grow without competition with foreign countries. With time the movement turned to a goal to achieve absolute freedom, similarly the swadeshi movement had started off to promote the industry and carried on to be based upon the literal meaning of the word “swadeshi”.

On the other hand the Rebellion of 1857 stemmed from many causes, it started off with Lord Dalhousie implementing his expansion policy in India. He was able annex many states by the policy of annexation on through which he took over states based on the absence of an heir or mismanagement of the government, this angered the Indians. Additionally, the British exploited the resources of the Indians and stripped them off their wealth, the Indian goods were exported to England and the country was poor, with many jobless. They pushed the zamindars and peasants for maximum revenue to benefit the government which showed total disregard of them. Next the social causes, the British treated them as an inferior class by separating railway compartments or by changing practices such as sati and introducing unorthodox practices such as conversions from Hindu to Christianity. There was an inequality in the treatment of Indian and British military, the Englishman had higher salaries and ranks while the Indians were ill-treated by the officers of higher ranks.

The revolt was sparked by the rumor that greased cartridges were greased with cow and pig fat which the Indians could not tolerate and so rebelled in discontent. Unlike the swadeshi movement this was more violent and started off when ninety men stationed at Meerut refused to use the cartridges in which 85 were sentenced to 10 years in prison on the 24th of April 1857. (Aggarwal)

The revolt started on the 10th of May when mutineers killed their officials in Meerut and marched to Delhi, where Bahadur Shah II declared himself emperor, Kanpur Nana Sahib declared himself the governor. In Lucknow the revolt was led by Hazrat Mahal who declared her son as the Nawab of Awadh and the British resident was killed. Rani of Jhansi took over the revolt and captured Gwalior. The revolt was out of control where sepoys killed the senior officers and other Europeans, plundered the treasury and released prisoners. However the British were able to take control of the revolt and Delhi was re-captured, Bahadur Shah was arrested along with Nana Saheb who escaped.

Many describe the revolt to be sepoy mutiny as it started off with the cartridges and there were many native rulers and big zamindars that refused to join the revolt and instead supported the British. The revolt was not for the voice of the people as the sepoys formed most of the population while the swadeshi movement came about due to the support of the large Indian population from all sections of society. The revolt was the first war of independence as for the first time the Indians fought for themselves and it started off the tensions between them and the British to drive them out of their land.

In the end both the swadeshi movement and the revolt was due to uprising discontent between them and the British. Both the movements were taken through different approaches but In the end the British stood victorious, although this started off a conversation on the need to drive the British out of India. These smaller steps eventually led to the independence of India from colonial rule.

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