It was now clear that the constitutional approach of the early nationalists and their trust in the good intentions of the rulers were not bearing any fruits. The government was becoming more suspicious and its officials were showing more racial arrogance.
Even the most modest demands of the nationalists were riot conceded. In fact, the rule of the Viceroy Curzon was the exact opposite of the nationalist expectations. In 1899, Curzon reduced the number of elected members (mostly Indians) in Calcutta Corporation.
Similarly, in 1904, the number of elected members (again Indians) in Calcutta University Senate was cut down. These measures were taken by the Viceroy to reduce the Indian representation. The worst measure in the line was the partition of Bengal in July 1905.
For some time, the colonial government was considering the idea to partition “Bengal to stem the tide of growing nationalist movement”. In December 1903 the partition proposals became known to the people. There were immediate protests against this move. Throughout the year 1904 and the first half of 1905, various meetings were held in Bengal and memoranda were presented to the government for reconsideration.
However, the government went ahead with the partition and on 19 July 1905, the Bengali-speaking territories were divided. There was quick response to this high-handed action of the colonial government. Numerous protest meetings were held all over Bengal in which the decision to boycott foreign goods was taken.
On 7 August, 1905 the Swadeshi movement was formally declared. From now on the people were advised to boycott all foreign goods, particularly British goods like Manchester cloth and Liverpool salt. The day on which the partition was officially effected (16 October, 1905) was declared a day of mourning and a strike was observed in Calcutta.
Many processions were taken out and people went to bathe in the Ganges and tied Rakhis on each other’s wrist to signify unity. Huge meetings attended by thousands of people were held all over the city. Slogans of Swadeshi and Swaraj were taken up not only in Bengal but in many other provinces as well and Bande Mataram became a popular song during this period. Students and other young people, women and even workers participated in the movement which continued for many months.
The British government tried to repress the movement severely. Meetings were prohibited, political activists were imprisoned, newspapers were banned, important leaders were deported and precisionists were beaten up.
The government also tried to divide the people along religious and regional lines. Due to this repression by the government, the youth resorted to revolutionary terrorism. Anushilan and Jugantar were two important revolutionary groups which emerged during this period.
They did not follow the mass politics but believed in the ‘politics of bomb’ and individual assassination to avenge the repressive measures taken by the authorities. Thus Swadeshi movement inaugurated a new phase in the Indian National Movement. The Moderate method of appealing to the government was now over and the base of the movement had expanded. Students, women and many other sections of the middle classes now became involved.
The Swadeshi movement also witnessed the emergence of several methods of agitation such as boycott, strikes, passive resistance and revolutionary terrorism which were increasingly used later by various streams in the National Movement.