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Unit 4
Partition of Bengal – Anti-Partition Struggle – Swadeshi

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the unit , the learner will be able to:

  • acquaint themselves with the scenarios that persisted in India prior to the partition of Bengal in 1905.
  • to critically evaluate the underlying reasons and hidden motives of the British behind initiating the Bengal partition procedure.
  • to analyse the impact of partition on common people who resided prior to this event.
  • to bring out the role of extremists in mobilising mobs against the partition and resisting the same using Swadeshi and Boycott movements.
  • to give an insight into the learner about the main causes behind the failure of resistance movements against the British in relation with Partition of Bengal, though it was revoked sometime later by Lord Hardinge in 1911.


We as Indians are already accustomed with two major partitions whether it be of India-Pakistan or it be within the states and territory. This often happens from time to time owing to public opinion, as part of administrative mechanisms, to identify a linguistic minority or regional minority, etc. Even though there are varying reasons contributing to the same, the people who once being part of a region are separated undergo an insurmountable amount of difficulties in shifting their existence to an entirely unknown space. One such partition took place during our freedom struggle where this was used as a weapon to stop the civilian unrest against the imperialistic and corrupted policies of the British rule in India.

Lord Curzon in the year 1905 partitioned Bengal on the grounds of initiating administrative governance. However, the real reason was to stop people from stemming anti-British resistance movements, especially centred around these regions. Lord Curzon was against anti-British movements and propagandas which he stated on various occasions and even considered Indian National Congress his sworn enemy. Following the partition people had to undergo unimaginable difficulties which never even dared to bother the British officials who administered and executed it with utmost rigidity and rudeness.

The Extremists took it as an opportunity to establish themselves as part and parcel of Indian Freedom Struggle and initiated Swadeshi and Boycott movements which got mass support. Leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai and Bipin Chandra Pal, who later came to be known as Lal-Bal-Pal, spearheaded the movement whereby they began to non co-operate with the British; picketted shops; halted export and import of foreign goods, went for strike and actively participated in similar kind of resistance measures. All sections of society actively participated in the same. However, it couldn’t achieve its desired result except in the year 1911.

Key Words

Partition, Extremists, Anti-Partition Movements, Swadeshi, Boycott, Gandhian Ideologies, Decadence


Lord Curzon was a true successor of Lord Dalhousie in the sense that he was a great imperialist, authoritarian in temperament, ruthless in his ways and wanted to achieve at a greater pace.The time of his governorship (1899-1905), was the formative phase of Indian national movement. He in this particular phase tried to strangulate Indian nationalism and freedom movement by all fair and foul means possible. The partition of Bengal can be witnessed as one such example where he tried to curb the rising anti-British feelings in those regions.

5.4.1 Reactionary policies of Lord Curzon

  1. Through Calcutta Corporation Act 1899 he reduced the number of elect-ed legislatures to deprive Indians from self-governance.
  2. He brought Indian Universities Act 1904 mainly to increase official control over universities and to stop the spread of nationalism among youths.
  3. He looked at Indians with contempt and insulted and injured their feelings. He described Bengalis as cowards, windbags, impracticable talkers and mere frothy patriots. He even refused to meet the president of the Indian National Congress.
  4. The biggest blunder he committed was the partition of Bengal. Although it was a political masterstroke to break growing Indian nationalism among Benga-lis, it proved disastrous for the British in the long term.

5.4.2 Impact of Curzon’s reactionary policies

Curzon by his impolitic utterances and imperialist designs brought political unrest in India to a bursting point. Curzon’s imperialistic policies provoked a reaction which in turn stung political life in India. Out of his tyranny was born a stronger sense of nationhood. In this scenario, in fact Curzon proved to be a benefactor of India without intending to do so.

Nature and direction of Indian freedom movement without Curzon
It was only after the decision of partition of Bengal that India’s first mass movement emerged in the form of Swadeshi movement in 1905. It intensified nationalism in the whole of India and marked the beginning of modern politics. The social base of the movement widened to include students and women. Had the Curzon not taken such a step, the Indian freedom movement might have to wait for another few years for witnessing the first mass movement and beginning of modern politics. Also without such mass movement nationalism would have been limited to educated sections of the society.

The debate over the swadeshi movement led to a split between moderates and extremists. This weakened the vigour and strength of the freedom movement for the next few years. However Indian leaders learnt an important lesson from it and such splits from within were successfully avoided in the future.

Curzon’s reactionary policies stirred the Indian consciousness and provided impetus to Indian nationalism. Therefore when leaders like Lokmanya Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi emerged on the scene people readily followed them without any hesitation.

Although Curzon’s policies played an important role in stirring nationalism among Indians, it should be taken into account that British rule as a whole was exploitative, insensitive, unethical and racist and Lord Curzon was just a small part of it. As the sense of nationalism and people’s sovereignty was spreading, British rule was bound to end. Curzon just intensified this sense and unintentionally helped in this cause.

5.4.3 Swadeshi Movement

Bal Gangadhar Tilak was an Indian nationalist, teacher, social reformer, lawyer and an independence activist. He was the first leader of the Indian Independence Movement. Tilak was one of the first and strongest advocates of Swaraj (“self-rule”) and a strong radical in Indian politics. He is known for his quote ,“Swarajya is my birthright and I shall have it!”.

The extremists like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal, Lala Lajpat Rai, and Aurobindo Ghosh demanded Swaraj or complete independence from British rule. They believed in self-reliance as a weapon against domination. They promoted Swadeshi and boycott of foreign goods. Swarajya, (self-rule) being the ultimate aim, was to be achieved through swadeshi and boycott movements.

Swadeshi Movement:
The Swadeshi movement launched in the early 20th Century was a direct fallout of the decision of the British India government to partition Bengal.Use of Swadeshi goods and boycott of foreign made goods were the two main objectives of this movement.A Boycott Resolution was passed in Calcutta City Hall on August 7, 1905, where it was decided to boycott the use of Manchester cloth and salt from Liverpool.In the district of Barisal, the masses adopted this message of boycott of foreign-made goods, and the value of the British cloth sold there fell sharply.

“Vande Mataram” became the boycott and Swadeshi movement theme song.Among the movement’s various forms of struggle, it was the boycott of foreign-made goods that encountered the greatest visible success on the practical and popular level. Boycott and public burning of foreign clothes, picketing of shops selling foreign goods, all became common in remote corners of Bengal as well as in many major cities and towns across the country.

Another form of mass mobilisation widely used by the Swadeshi movement was the corps of volunteers (samitis). Ashwini Kumar Dutta, a school teacher, set up the Swadesh Bandhab Samiti in Barisal, which was the best – known volunteer organisation of all of them. The Shivaji and Ganapati festivals in Western India (Maharashtra) were organised by Lokmanya Tilak to spread the swadeshi message and boycott movements among the masses.

The Swadeshi and boycott movements placed great emphasis on ‘ Atmasakti ‘ or self – reliance as a means of reasserting national dignity in different fields. In the field of national education, this emphasis on self – reliance was most evident. The National College of Bengal was founded with Aurobindo as its principal. Numerous national schools have been established throughout the country in a short period of time. The National Education Council was established in August 1906.

In India’s entrepreneurial zeal, self – reliance was also evident. The period saw an explosion of textile mills, factories of soap and match, tanneries, banks, insurance companies, shops, etc. While most of these Swadeshi companies were set up and run as a result of patriotic fervour rather than any real business interest, they were unable to survive for a long time. In the field of culture, “Amar Sonar Bangla,” written by Rabindranath Tagore in protest against Bengal’s partition, became a rallying point for the Swadeshi and boycott movements, and later inspired Bangladesh’s liberation struggle. Importance of the Swadeshi and Boycott Movements

The Swadeshi and boycott movements were India’s first 20th century movements that encouraged mass participation in modern nationalist politics by a large section of the society.

For the first time, women came out of their homes and joined processions and picketing of foreign-made goods shops. The Swadeshi and boycott movements also changed the character of the Indian National Congress (INC) from being driven largely by moderates to the main agenda now being set by the ‘Extremists’ who gave the Congress’s 1906 Calcutta session’s call for ‘Swaraj’ or self – government.The ideas of non – cooperation and passive resistance, successfully applied many years later by Mahatma Gandhi, found their origin in early 20th century Swadeshi and boycott movements. Gandhian techniques used during Swadeshi movement

The concept of Swadeshi and Boycott of foreign goods were actually introduced by Gandhi as a way to oppose the British regime and to inculcate self-reliance among Indian natives. The process demanded boycotting foreign goods altogether and adopting goods made in India. He specifically gave emphasis to that lifestyle where one spins his own clothes using a “charka” or a spinning wheel. He insisted on this kind of self-reliance in various other aspects, such as farming, making one’s own food, self-development as an individual etc.

These strategies thus adapted as part of the protest against the Bengal partition bore results in the form of mass participation, with the masses turning to themselves and their society for sustenance rather than depending upon the government and their mercy to thrive in their own homeland. The British received a major set back to their strategies when this was practically applied in anti-partition movements. This in turn made them call off this partition after 6 years.

Government suppression:
  • Realising the revolutionary potential, the government came down with a heavy hand. Most of the important leaders of the movement were either imprisoned or deported between 1907 and 1908.
  • Any mass movement cannot be sustained endlessly at the same pitch of militancy and self-sacrifice, especially when faced with severe repression.
Congress split:
  • The internal squabbles, and especially, the split in 1907 in the Congress, the apex all-India organisation, weakened the movement.
Organisation structure:
  • It lacked the effective organisation and party structure.
  • The movement failed to create an effective organisation or a party structure.
  • It threw up an entire gamut of techniques that came to be associated with Gandhian politics like non-cooperation, passive resistance, filling of British jails, social reform and constructive work but failed to give these techniques a disci-plined focus.
Reach limited:
  • The movement largely remained confined to the upper and middle classes and zamindars, and failed to reach masses, especially the peasantry.
  • It was not able to garner support from the mass of Muslims, especially of the Muslim peasantry. Hindus and Muslims were divided along class lines with the former being the landlords and the latter constituting the peasantry.
  • Though the Swadeshi Movement had spread out-side Bengal, the rest of the country was not yet fully prepared to adopt the new style of politics.
Ideas failed:
  • The movement aroused the people but they did not know how to tap the newly released energy or how to find new forms to give expression to popular resentment.
Leadership issues:
  • The movement was rendered leaderless with most of the leaders either arrested or deported by 1908. The retiring of Aurobindo Ghosh and Bipin Chandra Pal from active politics also affected this adversely.
  • Tilak was sentenced to six years imprisonment, Ajit Singh and Lajpat Rai of Punjab were deported and Chidambaram Pillai was arrested.


In the year 1911, Lord Hardinge annulled this Partition of Bengal and allowed it to be as it used to be before separation, owing to mass protests against such divisive policies. Moreover, the British found it difficult to govern this region in the long run.


  • Bengal was partitioned in the year 1905 by Lord Curzon under the pretext of “efficiency in administrative governance”
  • The real reason behind the partition was to curb the rising anti-British move-ments in Bengal region
  • Partition of Bengal seriously affected the lives and properties of people who used to inhabit this place
  • Partition of Bengal created a new series of difficulties for them to overcome
  • This action ushered in a period of anti-partition struggles under extremist leaders
  • The Extremists took it as an opportunity to establish themselves in the then political scenario by mobilising masses from all sections of the society
  • Responses of the masses were positive and created their own reverberations against the British
  • Swadeshi and Boycott were the two main weapons or modes of action adopt-ed by the extremists with the support of the masses
  • Gandhian ideals were also adopted which appealed to almost all sections of people despite caste, creed or gender disparities
  • The movement couldn’t advance further and declined slowly
  • Partition of Bengal was annulled in the year 1911 by Lord Hardinge

Objective type questions

  1. In the year 1905, which part of India was partitioned?
  2. Who was the viceroy of Bengal when Partition took place?
  3. Who pioneered the anti-partition movements in Bengal?
  4. What were the two protest strategies adopted by the extremists pertaining to the Partition of Bengal
  5. Whose ideas were incorporated into the anti-partition struggles?
  6. Name a major leader who was sentenced to imprisonment for a period of 6 years with regard to the struggles in Bengal?
  7. In the year 1906, which Council was established in India?
  8. Who annulled the Partition of Bengal in the year 1911?
  9. What was the reason for annulling the Partition of Bengal?
  10. What do you mean by the term ‘swadeshi’?

Answer to Objective type questions

  1. Bengal
  2. Lord Curzon
  3. Extremists
  4. Swadeshi and Boycott Movements
  5. Gandhi
  6. Bal Gangadhar Tilak
  7. National Council For Education
  8. Lord Hardinge
  9. Anti-Partition Swadeshi Movements
  10. Promoting the use of Domestic /Indigenous Goods


  1. Discuss the main factors that prompted Lord Curzon to go for Partition of Bengal.
  2. Elucidate the anti-partition movement strategies used by extremist leaders in Ben-gal.
  3. Bring out the major incidents that prove the active partition of people from all sections of the society in anti-partition protests that took place from 1905 – 1911.
  4. State the major reasons that were responsible for the ultimate decline of anti-partition struggles.

Suggested Reading

  1. Mukherjee, Bhaswati, Bengal And Its Partition : An Untold Story, Rupa Publications, 2021.
  2. Chandra, Bipan, India’s Struggle For Independence, Penguin Books Random Publishing House, 2016.
  3. Argov, Daniel, Moderates and Extremists in Indian National Movement, Asia Publishing House, 1968.
  4. Sengupta, Debjani, Partition of Bengal : Fragile Borders and New Identities, Cambridge University Press, 2015.
  5. Sengupta, Nitisah, Bengal Divided : The Unmaking of A Nation, Penguin Books, 2012.
  6. Purkayastha, Sudip Kar, On The Road To Freedom : 1877 – 1936 – Part -I:Foot-prints On Indian History ,Vitasta Publishing,2015.
  7. Sarkar, Sumit, Swadeshi Movement in Bengal :1903 – 1908. Permanent Black, 2011.
  8. Sarkar, Sumit, Modern India : 1885 – 1947. Pearson Education Publishing Lim-ited, 2014.