Freedom is Our Birthright: The Making of the National Movement – Class 8

In this blog on Freedom is our birthright, we will talk about the making of the national movement. By the 1890s many Indians began to raise questions about the political style of the Congress. In Bengal, Maharashtra, and Punjab, leaders such as Bepin Chandra Pal, Bal GangadharTilak, and Lala Lajpat Rai were beginning to explore more radical objectives and methods.

They criticized the Moderates for their “politics of prayers”, and emphasized the importance of self-reliance and constructive work. They argued that people must rely on their own strength, not on the “good” intentions of the government; people must fight for swaraj.

Who said, “Freedom is my Birthright”?

Tilak raised the slogan, “Freedom is my birthright and I shall have it!” In 1905 Viceroy Curzon partitioned Bengal. At that time Bengal was the biggest province of British India and included Bihar and parts of Orissa.

The British argued for dividing Bengal for reasons of administrative convenience. But what did “administrative convenience” mean? Whose “convenience” did it represent? Clearly, it was closely tied to the interests of British officials and businessmen. Even so, instead of removing the non-Bengali areas from the province, the government separated East Bengal and merged it with Assam.

Perhaps the main British motives were to curtail the influence of Bengali politicians and to split the Bengali people. The partition of Bengal infuriated people all over India. All sections of the Congress – the Moderates and the Radicals, as they may be called – opposed it.

Large public meetings and demonstrations were organized and novel methods of mass protest developed. The struggle that unfolded came to be known as the Swadeshi movement, strongest in Bengal but with echoes elsewhere too – in deltaic Andhra for instance, it was known as VANDE MATARAM MOVEMENT.

The Swadeshi movement sought to oppose British rule and encourage the ideas of self-help, swadeshi enterprise, national education, and the use of Indian languages. To fight for swaraj, the radicals advocated mass mobilization and boycott of British institutions and goods.

Some individuals also began to suggest that “revolutionary violence” would be necessary to overthrow British rule. However, a group of Muslim landlords and nawabs formed the All India Muslim League at Dacca in 1906 and supported the partition of Bengal. It desired separate electorates for Muslims, a demand conceded by the government in 1909.

Some seats in the councils were now reserved for Muslims who would be elected by Muslim voters. This tempted politicians to gather a following by distributing favors to their own religious groups.

Meanwhile, the Congress split in 1907. The Moderates were opposed to the use of boycotts. They felt that it involved the use of force. After the split, the Congress came to be dominated by the Moderates with Tilak’s followers functioning from outside. The two groups reunited in December 1915. Next year the Congress and the Muslim League signed the historic Lucknow Pact and decided to work together for the representative government of the country.

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