Modern Indian History - Partition of Bengal

  • The conditions for the emergence of militant nationalism had developed when in 1905 the partition of Bengal was announced.

  • On 20 July 1905, Lord Curzon issued an order dividing the province of Bengal into two parts i.e. Eastern Bengal and Assam with a population of 31 million and the rest of Bengal with a population of 54 million, of whom 18 million were Bengalis and 36 million were Biharis and Oriyas.

Bengal Partition
  • The Indian National Congress and the nationalists of Bengal firmly opposed the partition.

  • The Anti-Partition Movement was initiated on 7 August 1905. On that day, a massive demonstration against the partition was organized in the Town Hall in Calcutta.

  • The partition too effect on 16 October 1905. The leaders of the protest movement declared it to be a day of national mourning throughout Bengal.

Swadeshi and Boycott

  • Mass meetings were held all over Bengal where Swadeshi or use of Indian goods and boycott of British goods were proclaimed and pledged. At many places, public tannings of foreign cloth were organized and shops selling foreign cloth were picketed.

  • The Swadeshi movement gave a great deal of encouragement to Indian industries. Many textile mills, soap and match factories, handloom weaving concerns, national banks, and insurance companies were opened.

  • The Swadeshi movement had several consequences in the realm of culture. There was a flowering of nationalist poetry, prose, and journalism.

  • National educational institutions where literary, technical, or physical education was imparted were opened by nationalists who regarded the existing system of education as denationalizing and, in any case, inadequate.

  • On 15 August 1906, a National Council of Education was set up. A National College with Aurobindo Ghose as principal was started in Calcutta.

Role of Students, Women, Muslims, and Masses

  • A noticeable part in the Swadeshi agitation was played by the students of Bengal. They practiced and propagated swadeshi and took the lead in organizing picketing of shops selling foreign cloth. They were perhaps the main creators of the swadeshi spirit in Bengal.

  • The government made every attempt to suppress the students. Orders were issued to penalize those schools and colleges whose students took an active part in the Swadeshi agitation: their grants-in-aid and other privileges were to be withdrawn.

  • Many students were fined, expelled from schools and colleges, arrested, and some time beaten by the police. However, students refused to be cowed down.

  • The traditionally home-centered women of the urban middle classes joined processions and picketing. Likewise, from this time, students were taken an active part in the nationalist movement.

  • Many prominent Muslims joined the Swadeshi movement including Abdul Rasul, the famous barrister, Liaquat Husain, the popular agitator, and Guznavi, the businessman.

  • Tilak quickly observed that with the inauguration of this movement in Bengal, a new chapter in the history of Indian nationalism had opened i.e. the challenge and an opportunity to lead a popular struggle against the British Raj and to unite the entire country in one bond of common sympathy.

  • The Governments of the two Bengals, particularly of East Bengal made active efforts to divide Hindus and Muslims. Seeds of Hindu-Muslim disunity in Bengal politics were perhaps sown at this time, which embittered the nationalists.

  • As the consequences of Swadeshi movement −

    • Shouting of ‘Bande Mataram’ in public streets in East Bengal was banned;

    • Public meetings were restricted and sometimes forbidden;

    • Laws controlling the press were enacted;

    • Swadeshi workers were prosecuted and imprisoned for the long periods;

    • Many students were given corporal punishment;

    • Prosecutions against a large number of nationalist newspapers were launched and freedom of the press was completely suppressed;

    • Military police was stationed in many towns where it clashed with the people;

    • In December 1908, nine Bengal leaders, including the venerable Krishna Kumar Mitra and Ashwini Kumar Dutt were deported;

    • Earlier in 1907, Lala Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh had been deported; and

    • In 1908, the great Tilak was again arrested and given the savage sentence of 6 years imprisonment.

Growth of Revolutionary Terrorism

  • Government repression and frustration caused by the failure of the political struggle ultimately resulted in revolutionary terrorism.

  • The Yugantar wrote on 22 April 1906 after the Barisal Conference: "The remedy lies with the people themselves. The 30 crores of people inhabiting India must raise their 60 crores of hands to stop this curse of oppression. Force must be stopped by force."

  • The revolutionary young men did not try to generate a mass revolution. Instead, they decided to copy the methods of the Irish terrorists and the Russian Nihilists, that is, to assassinate unpopular officials.

  • In 1897, the Chapekar brothers assassinated two unpopular British officials at Poona.

  • In 1904, V.D. Savarkar had organized the Abhinava Bharat, a secret society of revolutionaries.

  • After 1905, several newspapers had begun to advocate revolutionary terrorism. The Sandhya and the Yugantar in Bengal and the Kal in Maharashtra were the most prominent among them.

  • In April 1908, Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki threw a bomb at a carriage, which they believed was occupied by Kingsford, the unpopular Judge at Muzzaffarpur. Prafulla Chaki shot himself dead while Khudiram Bose was hanged.

  • Many secret societies of terrorist youth came into existence. The most famous of these was the Anushilan Samiti whose Dacca section alone had 500 branches.

  • Soon terrorist societies became active in the rest of the country also. They became so bold as to throw a bomb at the Viceroy, Lord Harding, while he was riding on an elephant in a state procession at Delhi. The Viceroy was wounded.

  • The terrorists also established centers of activity abroad. In London, the lead was taken by Shyamji Krishnavarma, V.D. Savarkar, and Har Dayal, while in Europe Madam Cama and Ajit Singh were the prominent leaders.

  • The terrorists did make a valuable contribution to the growth of nationalism in India.