The Moderates and Extremists

The Moderates and Extremists


  • They did demand equality, which seemed to be a rather abstract idea; they equated liberty with class privilege and wanted gradual or piecemeal reforms.
  • ‘British rule’, to most of them seemed to be an act of providence destined to bring in modernization. Indians needed some time to prepare themselves for self-government. In the meanwhile, absolute faith could be placed in British in Parliament and the people. Their complaint was only against “un-British” in India perpetrated by the viceroy, his executive council and the Anglo-Indian bureaucracy-an imperfection that could be reformed or rectified through gentle persuasion.
  • Their politics was very limited in terms of goals and methods.
  • They were secular in their attitudes, though not always forthright enough to rise above their sectarian interests. They were conscious of the exploitative nature of British rule, but wanted its reforms and not expulsion.


  • Early Congressman had an implicit faith in the efficacy of peaceful and constitutional agitation as opposed to popular mean of agitationIt was well explained by Gokhle in his journal Sudhar as 3P method: Petition, Prayer and Protest. The press and platform of the annual sessions were their agency of agitation.
  • The holding of annual sessions was another method of Congress propaganda. At this session, the government policy was discussed and resolutions were passed in forceful manner, this annual sessions attracted the attention of both educated section of educated middle class and government. But the biggest drawback was that the Congress lasted only for 3 days in a year and it had no missionary to carry on the work in the internal between the two sessions.
  • The congressmen believed in the essential sense of justice and the goodness of British nation. The Moderates believed that the British basically wanted to be just to the Indians but were not aware of the real conditions.They thought it was only the bureaucracy which stood between the people and their rights.Therefore, if public opinion could be created in the country and public demands be presented to the Government through resolutions, petitions, meetings, etc., the authorities would concede these demands gradually.To achieve these ends, they worked on a two-pronged methodology (1)create a strong public opinion to arouse consciousness and national spirit and then educate and unite people on common political questions; (2)persuade the British Government and British public opinion to introduce reforms in India on the lines laid out by the nationalists.
  • To remind the British, deputations of leading Indians were sent to Britain to give this viewpoint. To do this in 1889, a British committee of INC was founded to carry was founded to carry out its propaganda. It was to present India’s view point to the British authority. Dadabhai Naoroji was to present it. He spent his major part in England where he got elected in the British House Commons and formed a powerful Indian lobby in the House of Commons. In 1890, it was decided to hold a session of the Indian National Congress in London in 1892, but owing to the British elections of 1891 the proposal was postponed and never revived later.

Programs and Limited Successes:

(a)Constitutional field

  1. They first of all wanted to abolish the Indian Council which prevented the secretary of state from initiating liberal policies in India.
  2. They also wanted to broaden Indian participation in legislatures through an expansion of the central and provincial legislature by introducing 50% elected representation from local bodies, chambers of commerce, universities, etc.
  3. They also wanted new councils for North-Western Provinces and Punjab and two Indian members in the Viceroy’s Executive Council and one such member in each of the executive councils of Bombay and Madras.
  4. The budget should be referred to the legislature, which should have the right to discuss and vote on it and also the right of interpellation.
  5. There should also be right to appeal to the Standing Committee of the House of Commons against the Government of India.
  • Thus their immediate demand was not for full self-government or democracy; they demanded democratic rights only for the educated members of the Indian society, who would substitute for the masses.
  • The expectation of the moderate politicians was that full political freedom would come gradually and India would be ultimately given the self-governing right like those enjoyed by the other colonies as Canada or Australia.
  • With an intrinsic faith in the providential nature of British rule in India, they hoped that one day they would be recognized as partners and not sub-ordinates in the affairs in the affairs of the empire and be given the rights of full British citizenship.
  • What they receive in return, however, was Lord Cross’s Act or the Indian Council’s Amendment Act of 1892, which only provided for marginal expansion of the legislative councils both at the center and the provinces.
  • Some Moderates like Ranade and Gokhale favoured social reforms. They protested against child marriage and widowhood.

Constitutional Reforms and Propaganda in Legislature:

  • Legislative councils in India had no real official power till 1920. Yet, work done in them by the nationalists helped the growth of the national movement. The Imperial Legislative Council constituted by the Indian Councils Act (1861) was an impotent body designed to disguise official measures as having been passed by a representative body.
  • Indian members were few in number—thirty years from 1862 to 1892 only forty-five Indians were nominated to it, most of them “being wealthy, landed and with loyalist interests. Only a handful of political figures and independent intellectuals such as Syed Ahmed Khan, Kristodas Pal, V.N. Mandlik, K.L. Nulkar and Rashbehari Ghosh were nominated.
  • From 1885 to 1892, the nationalist demands for constitutional reforms were centred around:
  1. Expansion of councils—i.e., greater participation of Indians in councils,
  2. Reform of councils—i.e., more powers to councils, especially greater control over finances.
  • The early nationalists worked with the long-term objective of a democratic self-government. Their demands for constitutional reforms were conceded in 1892 in the form of the Indian Councils Act.
  • These reforms were severely criticised at Congress sessions. Now, they demanded (i) a majority of elected Indians, and (ii) control over the budget i.e., the power to vote upon and amend the budget. They gave the slogan—”No taxation without representation”. Gradually, the scope of constitutional demands was widened and Dadabhai Naoroji (1904), Gopal Krishna Gokhale (1905) and Lokmanya Tilak (1906) demanded self-government like the self-governing colonies of Canada and Australia. Also, leaders like Pherozshah Mehta and Gokhale put government policies and proposals to severe criticism.
  • The British had intended to use the councils to incorporate the more vocal among Indian leaders, so as to allow them to let off their “political steam”, while the impotent councils could afford to remain deaf to their criticism. But the nationalists were able to transform these councils into forums for ventilating popular grievances, for exposing the defects of an indifferent bureaucracy, for criticising government policies/proposals, raising basic economic issues, especially regarding public finance.

(b)Administrative system

  • The first demand of the moderates was for the Indianisation of the services. An Indianised civil service would be more responsive to the Indian needs, they argued. It would stop the drainage of money, which was annually expatriated through the payment of salary and pension of the European officers. More significantly, this reform was being advocated as a measure against racism.
  • They demanded actually were simultaneous civil service examination both in India and London and raising of the age limit for appearing in such examinations from nineteen to twenty-three.
  • In 1892-93, under the initiative of William Gladstone, the House of Commons passed a resolution for simultaneous examination, though the secretary of state was still opposed to it. But at the same time, the maximum age for examination was further lowered to the disadvantage of the Indians.
  • Criticism of an oppressive and tyrannical bureaucracy and an expensive and time-consuming judicial system.
  • They demanded Separation of judicial from executive functions.
  • The other administrative demands of the moderates included the extension of trial by jury, repeal of the arms act, and a campaign against the exploitation of the indentured labour at the Assam tea gardensm  Increase in expenditure on welfare (i.e., health, sanitation), education—especially elementary and technical— irrigation works and improvement of agriculture, agricultural banks for cultivators, etc.
  • They demanded better treatment for Indian labour abroad in other British colonies, who faced oppression and racial discrimination there.


  • The British Indian army was being used in imperial wars in all parts of the world, particularly in Africa and Asia. These and the Indian frontier wars of the 1890s put a very heavy burden on the Indian finances.
  • The moderates demanded that this military expenditure should evenly shared by the British government; Indians should be taken into the army as volunteers and more and more of them should be appointed in higher ranks. All of these demands were however rejected.
  • Criticism of an aggressive foreign policy which resulted in annexation of Burma, attack on Afghanistan and suppression of tribals in the North-West.

(d)Economic  Critique of Imperialism

  • The most significant historical contribution of the moderates was that they offered an economic critique of colonialism. This economic nationalism, as it is often referred to, became a major theme that developed further during the subsequent period of nationalist movement and to a large extent influenced the economic policies of the Congress government in independent India.
  • The early nationalists took note of all the three forms of contemporary colonial economic exploitation, namely, through trade, industry and finance. They clearly grasped that the essence of British economic imperialism lay in the subordination of the Indian economy to the British economy.
  • Names important to remember in this respect: Dinshaw WachaDadabhai Naoroji, a successful businessman, Justice M.G. Ranade (wrote ‘Essays  in Indian Economics‘ (1898))and R.C Dutt, a retired ICS officer, who published The Economic History of India in two volumes (1901-1903).
  • The early nationalists complained of India’s growing poverty and economic backwardness and the failure of modern industry and agriculture to grow and they put the blame on British economic exploitation. Dadabhai Naoroji declared that the British rule was “an everlasting, increasing, and every day increasing foreign invasion”.
  • The main thrust of this economic nationalism was on Indian poverty created by the application of the classical economic theory of free trade their main argument was that British colonialism had transformed itself in the 19th century by jettisoning the older and direct modes of extraction through plunder, tribute and mercantilism in favour of more sophisticated and less visible methods of exploitation through free trade and foreign capital investment. This turned India into a supplier of agricultural raw materials and foodstuffs and a consumer of manufactured goods.India was thus reduced to the status of a dependent agrarian economy and a field of British capital investments.
  • Dadabhai Naoroji in his famous book Poverty and Indian Poverty and UnBritish Rule in India wrote his Drain Theory. He showed how India’s wealth was going away to England in the form of salaries, savings, pensions, payments to British troops in India and, profits of the British companies. In fact, the British Government was forced to appoint the Welby Commission, with Dadabhai as the first Indian as its member, to enquire into the matter.
  • In Naoroji’s calculation this drain of wealth from India to Britain amounted to about £ 12 million per year, while William Digby calculated it to be £ 30 million. To quote Dadabhai Naoroji “materially British rule caused only impoverishment; it was like ‘the knife of sugar’. That is to say there is no oppression; it is all too smooth and sweet, but it is the knife notwithstanding.
  • What the moderates wanted was a change in economic policies. Their recommendations included reduction of expenditure and taxes, reallocation of military charges, a protectionist policy to protect Indian industries, abolition of salt tax, reduction of land revenue of land revenue assessment, extension of Permanent Settlement to Ryotwari and Mahalwari areas,(this was pro Zamindar demand)mreduction in military expenditure, encouragement of cottage industries and handicrafts, and encouragement to modern industry through tariff protection and direct government aid. But none of these demands were fulfilled.
  • This economic theory of linking Indian poverty to colonialism rule, and also perhaps by implication challenging the whole concept of paternalistic imperialism or British benevolence. In this way, the moderate politicians generated anger against British rule, though because of their own weaknesses, they themselves could not convert it into an effective agitation for its overthrow.

(e)Defence of Civil Right:

  • The early Indian nationalists were attracted to modern civil rights, namely, the freedoms of speech, the Press, thought and association. They put up a strong defence of these civil rights whenever the Government tried to curtail them.
  • The struggle for democratic freedoms became an integral part of the nationalist struggle for freedom. The Government arrested B.G.Tilak and several other leaders in 1897 for spreading disaffection against the Government. The Natu brothers were deported without trial. The entire country protested against this attack on the liberties of the people.

Limitations of the Moderates:

(a)3P (Prayers, Petitions and Protest): 

  • The moderate politicians could not or did not organize an agitation against British rule because of them still shred an intrinsic faith in the English democratic liberal political tradition. Their method was to send prayers and petitions, to make speeches and publish articles. By using these tools of colonial modern public life, they tried to prepare a convincing logical case aimed at persuading the liberal political opinion in England in favour of granting self-government to India.
  • They did ot understand true nature of British rule in India.
  • The failure of moderate politics was quite palpable by the end of the 19th c. and their failure was doomed as the less sympathetic Tories returned in power in Britain at the turn of the century.

(b)Narrow Social base, absence of mass participation and negative attitude of Government:

  • There early moderate politicians were also mainly Hindus, barring the notable exception of Bombay politician, Badruddin Tyabji. Between 1892 and 1909, nearly 90% of the delegates who attended the Congress sessions are Hindus and only 6.5% were Muslims and among the Hindus again, nearly 48% were Brahmans and the rest were upper-caste Hindus. This social composition inevitable resulted in social orthodoxy as social questions were not to be raised in the congress sessions till 1907.
  • Muslim participation in Congress sessions began to decline rather dramatically after 1893. Yet, there was major Congress politicians suffered from a sense of complacency as no rival Muslim political organization worth its name developed until 1906.
  • The basic weakness of the early national movement lay in its narrow social base. It did not penetrate down to the masses. In fact, the leaders lacked faith in the masses. Describing the difficulties in the way of organizing of active political struggle, Gopal Krishna Gokhale pointed to the endless divisions and subdivisions in the country, the bulk of the population ignorant and clinging with a tenacity to the old modes of thought and sentiment, which are averse to all changes and do not understand change. Lacking support of the masses, the early nationalists could not adopt a militant political position.
  • They failed to visualize that the masses could prove to be the real driving force in the movement.
  • There were contradictions in moderate politics, which made it more limited and alienated from the greater mass of the Indian population. This was related to the social background of the mostly belonged to the propertied classes.About 18.99% of the delegates who attended the congress sessions between 1892 and 1909 were landlords; the rest were lawyers (39.32%), traders (15.10%), journalists (3.18%), doctors (2.94%), teachers (3.16%) and other professionals (17.31%).
  • The congress could therefore not consequently take a logical stand on peasant questions. They demanded extension of the Permanent Settlement only in the interest of the zamindars and opposed cadastral survey in 1893-94, though it was meant to protect the peasants from the manipulations of the zamindars.
  • They were opposed to factory reforms like factory reforms like the Mining Bill which proposed to improve the living condition of women and children and restrict their employment under certain plea that they were prompted by Lancashire interests. However, they supported labour reforms for Assam tea gardens as capitalist interest involved there was of foreign origin, happily forgetting that the Indian mill owners in Bombay exploited their labourers in no less flagrant ways.

(c)Other Failure:

  • British agreed to share only a small fraction of military expenditure and demand for appointing Indian in commissioned ranks were rejected as no European officer would cherish the thought of being ordered by Indian Commander.
  • Many other demands were rejected.
  • The moderate politics thus remained quite limited in nature in terms of its goals, programs, achievements and participation. Lord Dufferin, therefore could easily get away with his remark in November 1888 that Congress represented only a ‘microscopic minority’ of the Indian people.

An Evaluation of the Early Nationalists:

  1. Despite limitations representation, the historical significance of the early Congress lay in the fact that by providing an economic critique of colonialism and by linking Indian poverty to it, the moderate politicians had constructed a discursive field within which the subsequent nationalists attack on colonialism could be conceptualized.
  2. On the request of Moderates in 1886, Lord Dufferin appointed Aitchison Committee on Indian Civil Service. On its recommendation, the upper age was increased to 22 but examination was to be held in London only.
  3. The Moderates had succeeded in getting the expansion of the legislative councils by the Indian Councils Act of 1892.
  4. On request of Moderates, Calcutta University Act of 1904 and Calcutta Municipal Corporation Act of 1904 were passed.
  5. The Moderates were able to create a wide national awakening among the people and above all, the feeling of belonging to one nation. They popularized the ideas of democracy, civil liberties and representative institutions.
  6. They represented the most progressive forces of the time.
  7. They trained people in political work and popularised modern ideas.This helped in generating anti-imperialist sentiments among the public.
  8. They exposed the basically exploitative character of colonial rule, thus undermining its moral foundations.
  9. Their political work was based on hard realities, and not on shallow sentiments, religion, etc.
  10. They were able to establish the basic political truth that India should be ruled in the interest of Indians.
  11. They created a solid base for a more vigorous, militant, mass-based national movement in the following years.
  12. But, at the same time, the nationalists failed to widen the democratic base of the movement by not including the masses, especially women, and not demanding the right to vote for all.

Extremist period (1905 – 1920)

  • The closing decade of the nineteenth century and early years of the twentieth century witnessed the emergence of a new and younger group within the Indian National Congress, which was sharply critical of the ideology and the methods of the old leadership.
  • These “angry young men” advocated the adoption of Swaraj as the goal of the Congress to be achieved by more self-reliant and independent methods. The new group came to be called the Extremist party in contrast to the older one, which began to be referred to as the Moderate party.
  • By the starting of the 20th century, Indian politics had come under influence and dominance of extremists. Though from the last few years of the 19th century, extremists came into existence, it was only after the partition of Bengal that they gained popularity.
  • From 1905 onwards, the moderate leaders rapidly lost their influence over the National Congress. Gradually, over the years, the trend of militant nationalism (also known as Extremism) grew in the country. Extremism on the Indian national scene did not spring up all of a sudden in the first decade of the twentieth century. In fact, it had been growing slowly since the revolt of 1857, but was invisible. The nationalist ideas behind the revolt of 1857, according to the extremists, were Swadharma and Swaraj.

Causes of Extremism:

  1. The refusal to meet the political and economic demands by the government and its repressive measures against the growing national movement shook the faith of an increasing number of Indians in the ideology and technique of liberal nationalism. Leadership of moderates had failed to deliver any fruit to India and so young nationalist leaders started to acquire dominant position gradually.
  2. Act of 1892 dissatisfied the congress leaders and so they choose to resort to legal and nationalist policies for their demands.
  3. Now they recognised the true nature of the British rule which moderates failed to and had belief in its being just.
  4. Education gave them a new vision and they got inspiration from India history. Western thinkers also influenced them.
  5. Increasing westernisation of India by British led them to think that they will destroy Indian traditions, customs and culture and so they grew against British.
  6. Lord Curzon’s reactionary policy was also responsible for the growth of extremism. He spoke derogatorily of Indian character in general which hurt pride of Indians.At Calcutta University Convocation, he said,” Undoubtedly truth took a high place in th codes of the west before it had been similarly honoured in the East.” The Calcutta Corporation Act, Official Secret Act, Indian University Act of 1904 created great resentment in India. The Delhi Durbar held n 1903 when India had not fully recovered from famine of 1899-1900 was interpreted as a “a pompous pageant to a starving population”.
  7. Much more was the dissatisfaction with achievements of moderates which pave a way to extremists in Indian politics.
  8. The rise of the extremism in the national movement was a reaction against the attempts of the Western reformists to reconstruct India in the image of the West. They were greatly influenced by the growth and development of spiritual nationalism in India.
  9. Contemporary International influences: Abyssinia’s repulsion of Italian Army in 1896, and Japan’s victory over Russia in 1905 broke the spell of European invincibility. Nationalistic movements in Egypt, Persia, Turkey and Russia also influenced extremism, Also humiliating treatment of Indians in British colonies like South Africa helped extremism.
  10. Partition of Bengal was one of the most important reason of emergence of extremism.
  11. Most of the limitations of moderates were cause of birth of extremism.


  • The goal of the extremists was ‘swaraj’, which different leaders interpreted differently.
  • For Tilak, it meant, Indian control over the administration, but not a total severance with Great Britain.
  • Bipain Chandra Pal believed that no-self government was possible under British rule. So, for him,swaraj was complete autonomy, absolutely free from the British control.
  • Aurobindo ghosh in Bengal also visualized swaraj still meant self-rule within the parameters of British imperial structure.

Nature of Extremism and Its Leaders:

  1. Extremists had wide social base of political agitations, they involved lower middle class and middle class public apart from educated class of people.
  2. They did not believe in British rule and believed crown’s claim unworthy.
  3. They got their inspiration from Indian history, tradition, culture and heritage and had faith in masses capacity to participate and sacrifice.
  4. They also adopted extra constitutional methods of boycott, etc.
  5. Their demand was Swaraj, as their birthright.
  6. Strong reaction to British imperialist policies in India.
  7. The philosophy of politi­cal extremism, was greatly influenced by the writings of Bankim Chandra and his spiritual nationalism.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. The leading extremists such as Lala Lajpat Rai, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal, Aurobindo Ghosem 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.
  12. Extremist thought derived its support from teachings of Vivekananda and Dayananda Sarswati. Extremist slogan of Swaraj was first introduced by Arya Samaj of dayannada Sarswati.
  13. (More clarity in Nature of Extremism will be discussed in the next chapter : Swadeshi Movement in Bengal)
  • 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. His death anniversary (17 November) is one of several days celebrated as Martyrs’ Day in India. 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.

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 potrayed India as “Mother” and 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. Rai and Pal, though advocates of social reform spoke of Hindu nation. TIlak opposed age of consent bill though reason was ligitimacy 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: (a)Partition of Bengal was annulled in 1911 (b) Aim of Swaraj, though denied by Lord Morley, was no longer looked upon as a revolutionary demand.

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. Believed political connections with Britain to be in India’s social, political and cultural interests.They believed in cooperation.
  5. Professed loyalty to the British Crown.
  6. Believed that the movement should be limited to middle class intelligentsia; masses not yet ready for participation in political work.
  7. Demanded constitutional reforms and share for Indians in services.
  8. Insisted on the use of constitutional methods only.
  9. 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. Believed that political connections with Britain would perpetuate British exploitation of India.They believed in confrontation.
  5. Believed that the British Crown was unworthy of claiming Indian loyalty.
  6. Had immense faith in the capacity of masses to participate and to make sacrifices.
  7. Demanded swaraj as the panacea for Indian ills.
  8. Did not hesitate to use extra- constitutional methods like boycott and passive resistance to achieve their objectives.
  9. They were patriots who made sacrifices for the sake of the country.

30 thoughts on “The Moderates and Extremists”

  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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