The Moderates and Extremists: Part V

The Moderates and Extremists: Part V

Nature of Extremism:

  • The extremists talked of democracy and talked of broadening the social base of the national movement.
    • Extremists had wide social base of political agitations, they involved lower middle class and middle class public apart from educated class of people.
  • They spoke, wrote and edited newspapers in vernacular languages and thus succeeded in conveying their message to a larger audience.
  • They did not believe in British rule and believed crown’s claim unworthy.
  • They got their inspiration from Indian history, tradition, culture and heritage and had faith in masses capacity to participate and sacrifice.
  • Moderates’ philosophy of co operation gave place to non cooperation and resistance to unjust acts of the government.
    • The Extremists gave new slogans to the Indian nationalist movement- ‘non cooperation, passive resistance, mass agitation, self reliance, discipline of suffering’ etc.
    • They adopted extra constitutional methods of boycott, etc.
  • Their demand was Swaraj, as their birthright.
  • Strong reaction to British imperialist policies in India.
  • They saw clearly the clash of interest between the British rulers and Indian national interests.
    • Thus the main focus of their politics was
      • to get a larger share for Indians in the administration of their country and
      • to end Britain’s economic exploitation of India.
    • They also realised that these objectives could not be realised without pressure tactics and some sort of direct action.
  • The philosophy of politi­cal extremism, was greatly influenced by the writings of Bankim Chandra and his spiritual nationalism.
  • The Extremists transformed patriotism from ‘an academic pastime’ to ‘service and suffering for the nation’.
  • Attachment to rationalism and western ideals almost alienated the moderates from the masses in India.
    • That is why despite their high idealism, they failed to create a solid mass base for their movement.
    • The militant nationalists drew inspiration from India’s past, invoked the great Episodes in the history of the Indian people, and tried to instill national pride and self-respect among the Indian people.
  • They opposed the idealizing of the Western culture by the liberals and considered it cultural capitulation to the British rulers.
    • The militant nationalist leaders emphasized that it would only bring about an inferiority complex among the Indians and repress their national pride and self-confidence so vital to the struggle for freedom.
    • The militant nationalists revived the memories of the Vedic past of the Hindus, the great phase of the regimes of Asoka and Chandragupta, the heroic deeds of Rana Pratap and Shivaji, the epic patriotism of Rani Laxmibai. They propounded that the Indian people were endowed with a special spiritual consciousness.
  • The leading extremists such as Lala Lajpat Rai, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal, Aurobindo Ghose, Rajnarayan Bose, Ashwini Kumar Dutt were all products of English education.
    • Though all of them were highly educated and greatly influenced by English literature and political ideas, and institutions, they drew heavily from the traditional culture and civilization of India rather than from the West.
    • All of them felt the necessity for changing the outlook of Indians in the light of the advancement made by the West in the fields of science and technology and also the need for reforming the society and the religion.
  • Extremist thought derived its support from teachings of Vivekananda and Dayananda Sarswati. Extremist slogan of Swaraj was first introduced by Arya Samaj of Dayananda Sarswati.
  • Extremism was also a response to the gendered discourse of colonialism that had established a teleological connection between masculinity and political domination, stereotyping the colonised society as “effeminate” and therefore unfit to rule. This created a psychological compulsion for the latter to try to recover their virility in Kshatriyahood in an imagined Aryan past, in order to establish the legitimacy of their right to rule.
    • Historical figures who had demonstrated valour and prowess were now projected as national heroes.
      • Tilak started the Shivaji festival in Maharashtra in April 1896 and soon these ideas became popular in Bengal, where a craze for national hero worship began.
      • The Marathas, Rajputs and Sikhs-stereotyped in colonial ethnography as ‘martial races‘-were now placed in an Aryan tradition and appropriated as national heroes.
      • Ranjit Singh, Shivaji and the heroes culled from local history like Pratapaditya and Sitaram, even Siraj-ud-daula, were idolised as champions of national glory or martyrs for freedom.
    • Vivekananda made a distinct intervention in this ideological discourse by introducing the idea of an “alternative manliness“, which combined Western concepts of masculinity with the Brahmanic tradition of spiritual celibate ascetism.
      • A physical culture movement started with great enthusiasm with gymnasiums coming up in various parts of Bengal to reclaim physical prowess; but the emphasis remained on spiritual power and self-discipline that claimed superiority over body that was privileged in the Western idea of masculinity.
    • The Indian political leaders also looked back to ancient Indo-Aryan political traditions as alternatives to Anglo-Saxon political systems.
      • The Indian tradition was described as more democratic with strong emphasis on village self-government.
      • The concept of dharma, it was argued, restricted the arbitrary powers of the king and the republican traditions of the Yaudheyas and Lichchhavis indicated that the Indian people already had a strong tradition of self-rule.
      • This was directly to counter the colonial logic and moderate argument that British rule was an act of providence to prepare Indians for self-government.

The Extremist Programme of Action:

  • The radicalisation was visible in the method of agitation, as from the old methods of prayer and petition they moved to that of passive resistance. This meant opposition to colonial rule through
    • violation of its unjust laws,
    • boycott of British goods and institutions, and
    • development of their indigenous alternatives, i.e., swadeshi and national education.
  • Economic boycott of British made goods and use of Swadeshi or home made products was designed to encourage Indian industries and provide the people with more opportunities for work and employment.
    • Lala Lajpat Rai explained that the original idea behind boycott of British goods was to cause pecuniary loss to the British manufacturers and thus secure their sympathy and help for getting the partition of Bengal annulled.
    • Soon it was discovered that economic boycott might prove a powerful weapon against economic exploitation by British and injuring British interests in India.
  • A National Scheme of Education was to replace the boycott of Government controlled universities and colleges.
    • The Extremists tried to enlist the students in their service.
    • When the Government threatened to take disciplinary action against the students, the national leaders advocated national universities independent of Government control.
    • Guroodas Banerjee headed the Bengal Council of National Education.
    • Bengal National Collage was established at Calcutta and a large number of national schools sprang up in East Bengal.
    • In Madras the Pachaiappa National College was set up. In the Panjab the D.A.V. movement made considerable headway.
  • Tilak preached non cooperation.
  • The Extremists encouraged co operative organisations.
    • Voluntary associations were set up for rural sanitation, preventive police duties, regulation of fairs and pilgrim gatherings for providing relief during famines and other national calamities.
    • Arbitration Committees were set up to decide civil and non cognizable disputes.
    • The object of the co operative movement was explained by B.C. Pal as to create a strong civic sentiment in the people with the help of cooperative organisations to train them gradually for the heavier responsibility of free citizenship/

Extremist leaders:

  • Lal Bal Pal (Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Bipin Chandra Pal) were a triumvirate of assertive nationalists in British-ruled India in the early 20th century, from 1905 to 1918.
    • They advocated the Swadeshi movement involving the boycott of all imported items and the use of Indian-made goods in 1907 during the anti-Partition agitation in Bengal which began in 1905.
    • The militant nationalist movement gradually faded with the arrest of its main leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak and retirement of Bipin Chandra Pal and Aurobindo Ghosh from active politics.

Lala Lajpat Rai (Punjab Keshari) 

  • Lala Lajpat Rai (28 January 1865 – 17 November 1928) was an Indian Punjabi author and politician.
  • He sustained serious injuries by the police when leading a non-violent protest against the Simon Commission and died less than three weeks later.
    • Despite being injured, Rai subsequently addressed the crowd and said that “I declare that the blows struck at me today will be the last nails in the coffin of British rule in India”.
  • Bhagat Singh vowed to take revenge, and joined other revolutionaries, Shivaram Rajguru, Sukhdev Thapar and Chandrashekhar Azad, in a plot to kill Scott.
    • However, in a case of mistaken identity, Bhagat Singh was signalled to shoot on the appearance of John P. Saunders, an Assistant Superintendent of Police.
    • He was shot by Rajguru and Bhagat Singh while leaving the District Police Headquarters in Lahore on 17 December 1928.
  • His involvement with Hindu Mahasabha leaders gathered criticism as the Mahasabhas were non-secular, which did not conform with the system laid out by the Indian National Congress. He was a devotee of Arya Samaj and was editor of Arya Gazette.
  • After joining the Indian National Congress, and taking part in political agitation in the Punjab, Lajpat Rai was deported to Mandalay, Burma, without trial, in May 1907.
    • In November, however, he was allowed to return when the viceroy, Lord Minto, decided that there was insufficient evidence.
    • Lajpat Rai’s supporters attempted to secure his election to the presidency of the party session at Surat in December 1907, but elements favouring co-operation with the British refused to accept him, and the party split over the issues.
  • Lala Lajpat Rai wrote Unhappy India. He said, ” A man without a soul is a mere animal. A nation without a soul is only a dumb driven cattle.
    • Thus, Swaraj was the first requisite for a nation and reforms or good government could be no substitute for it.

Bipin Chandra Pal

  • BC Pal founded journal ‘New India’.
  • Sri Aurobindo referred to him as one of mightiest prophets of nationalism.

Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak

  • Within Congress, TIlak was foremost extremist. He was called father of Indian unrest by Valentine Chixole.
  • He founded Ganesh Festival Committee in 1893, organised no tax campaigns in famine affected Bombay Presidency in 1894, and founded Shivaji Festival Committee in 1895.
  • Deccan Education Society came into existence after Shri Vishnushastri Chiplunkar founded New English School along with Tilak, in 1880.
  • Tilak started two weeklies, Kesari in Marathi and Mahratta in English in 1880–81 with Gopal Ganesh Agarkar as the first editor. By this he was recognized as ‘awakener of India’.
  • During late 1896, a Bubonic plague spread from Bombay to Pune, and by January 1897, it reached epidemic proportions.
    • British troops were brought in to deal with the emergency and harsh measures were employed including forced entry into private houses, examination of occupants, evacuation to hospitals and segregation camps, removing and destroying personal possessions, and preventing patients from entering or leaving the city.
    • Tilak took up this issue by publishing inflammatory articles in his paper Kesari (Kesari was written in Marathi, and Maratha was written in English), quoting the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, to say that no blame could be attached to anyone who killed an oppressor without any thought of reward.
    • Following this, on 22 June 1897, Commissioner Rand and another British officer, Lt. Ayerst were shot and killed by the Chapekar brothers. He was sentenced for 18 months imprisonment for supporting Chaplekar Brothers.
  • Following the Partition of Bengal, which was a strategy set out by Lord Curzon to weaken the nationalist movement, Tilak encouraged the Swadeshi movement and the Boycott movement.
  • Tilak opposed the moderate views of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, and was supported by fellow Indian nationalists Bipin Chandra Pal in Bengal and Lala Lajpat Rai in Punjab. They were referred to as the “Lal-Bal-Pal triumvirate”.
  • In 1907, the annual session of the Congress Party was held at Surat, Gujarat.
    • Trouble broke out over the selection of the new president of the Congress between the moderate and the radical sections of the party.
    • The party split into the radicals faction, led by Tilak, Pal and Lajpat Rai, and the moderate faction.
  • Nationalists like Aurobindo Ghose, V. O. Chidambaram Pillai were Tilak supporters.
  • On 30 April 1908, two Bengali youths, Prafulla Chaki and Khudiram Bose, threw a bomb on a carriage at Muzzafarpur, to kill the Chief Presidency Magistrate Douglas Kingsford of Calcutta fame, but erroneously killed two women travelling in it. While Chaki committed suicide when caught, Bose was hanged.
    • Tilak, in his paper Kesari, defended the revolutionaries and called for immediate Swaraj or self-rule.
    • The Government swiftly arrested him for sedition. A special jury convicted him, and the judge Dinshaw D. Davar gave him the sentence of six years’ transportation.
    • Tilak was sent to Mandalay, Burma from 1908 to 1914. While in the prison he wrote the Gita Rahasya.
  • After coming out of Jail, he was eager for reconciliation with Congress and had abandoned his demand for direct action and settled for agitations “strictly by constitutional means”.
  • Tilak was one of the first and strongest advocates of Swaraj (self-rule) and a strong radical in Indian consciousness. He is known for his quote,”Swarajya is my birthright, and I shall have it“. He formed a close alliance with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, during the Indian Home Rule Movement.

V O Chidambaram Pillai

  • Chidambaram Pillai (1872–1936), or, V.O.C. also known as Kappalottiya Tamilan “The Tamil Helmsman”, was a Tamil political leader. He was a disciple of Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
  • He launched the first indigenous Indian shipping service between Tuticorin and Colombo with the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company, competing against British ships.
  • At one time a member of the Indian National Congress, he was later charged with sedition by the British government and sentenced to life imprisonment; his barrister license was stripped.

Aurbindo Ghosh

  • Aurobindo Ghose, was an Indian nationalist, philosopher, yogi, guru, and poet.
  • Aurobindo studied for the Indian Civil Service at King’s College, Cambridge, England.
  • After returning to India he took up various civil service works under the maharaja of the princely state of Baroda and began to involve himself in politics.
  • He was imprisoned by the British for writing articles against British rule in India. He was released when no evidence was provided.
  • During his stay in the jail he had mystical and spiritual experiences, after which he moved to Pondicherry, leaving politics for spiritual work. He founded there Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1926. From 1926 he started to sign himself as Sri Aurobindo.
  • For Sri Aurobindo, nationalism was not a mere political or economic cry; it was rather the innermost hunger of his whole soul for the rebirth in him and through men like him, the whole India, the ancient culture of the Hindustan and its pristine purity and nobility. Indian nationalism was given a spiritual orientation by the nationalists.
  • Aurbindo Ghosh wrote pamphlet, New Lamps For The Old which is considered as Bible of Extremism in which he described Congress being out of touch with proletariats.
    • He wrote a series of articles in Bangadarshan, the journal of Bankim Chandra Chatarjee. He portrayed India as Motherand appealed to the emotional aspect of Indian Nationalism.
  • Vishnu Shahtri Chiplunkar wrote Nibandhmala, a collection of poems with extremist thoughts.
  • Till Mahatma Gandhi arrived on the political scene of India, the extremists dominated the Indian National Congress.

Assessment of Extremism:

  • Advocates of extremism ranged from active revolutionaries at one end to secret sympathizers of revolutionaries to those who were opposed to all violent methods at the other end.
  • Their goal of swaraj also had different meaning as we have seen earlier.
  • The extremists transform patriotism from ‘an academic pastime’ to ‘service and suffering for nation’.
  • Socially they became revivalists.
    • The ideological inspiration for this new politics came from the new regional literature, which provided a discursive field for defining the Indian nation in terms of its distinct cultural heritage or civilisation.
      • This was a revivalist discourse, informed by Orientalism, as it sought to invoke an imagined golden past and used symbols from a retrospectively reconstructed history to arouse nationalist passions.
    • They tried to define the Indian nation in terms of distinctly Indian cultural idioms, which led them to religious revivalism invoking a glorious past-sometimes even unquestioned acceptance and glorification of that past.
      • But their Hinduism was only a political construct, not defined by any definite religious attributes.
      • As the nineteenth-century Englishmen claimed ancient Greece as their classical heritage, the English-educated Indians also felt proud of the achievements of the Vedic civilisation.
        • This was essentially an “imaginary history” with a specific historical purpose of instilling a sense of pride in the minds of a selected group of Indians involved in the process of imagining their nation.
      • Some of the leaders, like Tilak and Aurobindo, also believed that this use of Hindu mythology and history was the best means to reach the masses and mobilise them in support of their politics.
    • Rai and Pal, though advocates of social reform spoke of Hindu nation and need for protection of Hindu interests at political levels.
    • Tilak opposed Age of Consent Bill (which proposed to raise the age of consummation of marriage for girls from 10 to 12 years) though reason was legitimacy of British to enact this Act.
    • Tilak’s Cow protection policy, organisation of Ganesh festival in 1893 projected him as a leader of Hindu orthodoxy.
    • These factors divided Hindu and Muslim.
  • They got some success:
    • Partition of Bengal was annulled in 1911
    • Aim of Swaraj, though denied by Lord Morley, was no longer looked upon as a revolutionary demand.
  • The veteran moderate politicians refused to accommodate the new trends within the Congress policies and programmes, and this led to the split in the Congress in its Surat session in 1907.

Differences between Moderates and Extremists in Indian Politics:


  1. Social base was zamindars and upper middle classes in towns.
  2. Ideological inspiration was western liberal thought and European history.
  3. Believed in England’s providential mission in India.
  4. The moderates had wanted the Indian nation to develop through a modernistic course; but modernism being a Western concept, this meant an advocacy of the continuation of colonial rule.
  5. Believed political connections with Britain to be in India’s social, political and cultural interests. They believed in cooperation.
  6. Professed loyalty to the British Crown.
  7. Believed that the movement should be limited to middle class intelligentsia; masses not yet ready for participation in political work.
  8. Demanded constitutional reforms and share for Indians in services.
  9. Moderates had infinite faith in the efficacy of constitutional agitation and in appealing to the British sense of justice and fair play, in holding annual conferences, making speeches, passing elaborate resolutions and sending deputations to England
  10. Insisted on the use of constitutional methods only.
  11. They were patriots and did not play the role of a comparator class.


  1. Social base was educated middle and lower middle classes in towns.
  2. Ideological inspiration was Indian history, cultural heritage, national education and Hindu traditional symbols.
  3. Rejected ‘providential mission theory’ as an illusion.
  4. Extremists sought to oppose colonial rule and therefore had to talk in terms of a non-Western paradigm.
  5. Believed that political connections with Britain would perpetuate British exploitation of India. They believed in confrontation.
  6. Believed that the British Crown was unworthy of claiming Indian loyalty.
  7. Extremists had no faith in the ‘benevolence’ of the British public or Parliament or efficacy of holding mere conferences. They affirmed their faith in Passive Resistance, mass agitation and strong will to make self-sacrifices.
  8. Had immense faith in the capacity of masses to participate and to make sacrifices.
  9. Demanded swaraj as the panacea for Indian ills.
  10. Did not hesitate to use extra- constitutional methods like boycott and passive resistance to achieve their objectives.
  11. They were patriots who made sacrifices for the sake of the country.

30 thoughts on “The Moderates and Extremists: Part V”

  1. Thanks..good for project.But it would be better if there would be a conclusion together for both the moderates & the extremest.

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