THE SPLIT IN THE SURAT CONGRESS, 1907

Background and Factors Leading to Surat Split:

  • In December 1905, at the Benaras session of the Indian National Congress presided over by Gokhale, the Moderate-Extremist differences came to the fore.
  • The Extremists wanted to extend the Boycott and Swadeshi Movement to regions outside Bengal and also to include all forms of associations (such as government service, law courts, legislative councils, etc.) within the boycott programme and thus start a nationwide mass movement. The Extremists wanted a strong resolution supporting their programme at the Benaras session.
  • The Moderates, on the other hand, were not in favour of extending the movement beyond Bengal and were totally opposed to boycott of councils and similar associations. They advocated strictly constitutional methods to protest against the partition of Bengal. As a compromise, a relatively mild resolution condemning the partition of Bengal and the reactionary policies of Curzon and supporting the swadeshi and boycott programme in Bengal was passed. This succeeded in averting a split for the moment.
  • At the Calcutta session of the Congress in December 1906, the Moderate enthusiasm had cooled a bit because of the popularity of the Extremists and the revolutionary terro­rists and because of communal riots. Here, the Extremists wanted either Tilak or Lajpat Rai as the president, while the Moderates proposed the name of Dadabhai Naoroji, who was widely respected by all the nationalists.
  • Finally, Dadabhai Naoroji was elected as the president and as a concession to the militants, the goal of the Indian National Congress was defined as ‘swarajya or self-government like the United Kingdom or the colonies’. Also a resolution supporting the programme of swadeshi, boycott and national education was passed. The word swaraj was mentioned for the first time, but its connotation was not speit out, which left the field open for differing interpretations by the Moderates and the Extremists.
  • The Extremists, emboldened by the proceedings at the Calcutta session, gave a call for wide passive resistance and boycott of schools, colleges, legislative councils, municipalities, law courts, etc. The Moderates, encouraged by the news that council reforms were on the anvil, decided to tone down the Calcutta programme.
  • The two sides seemed to be heading for a showdown. The Extremists thought that the people had been aroused and the battle for freedom had begun. They felt the time had come for the big push to drive the British out and considered the Moderates to be a drag on the movement.
  • They concluded that it was necessary to Part Company with the Moderates, even if it meant a split in the Congress. The Moderates thought that it would be dangerous at that stage to associate with the Extremists whose anti-imperialist agitation, it was felt, would be ruthlessly suppressed by the mighty colonial rule.
  • The Moderates saw in the council reforms an opportunity to realise their dream of Indian participation in the administration. Any hasty action by the Congress, the Moderates felt, under Extremist pressure was bound to annoy the Liberals in power in England then. The Moderates were no less willing to Part Company with the Extremists.
  • The Moderates did not realise that the council reforms were meant by the Government more to isolate the Extremists than to reward the Moderates. The Extremists did not realise that the Moderates could act as their outer line of defence in face of state repression. Both sides did not realise that in a vast country like India ruled by a powerful imperialist country, only a broad-based nationalist movement could succeed.

Split of Congress in Surat Session, December 1907:

  • The Extremists wanted the 1907 session to be held in Nagpur (Central Provinces) with Tilak or Lajpat Rai as the president and reiteration of the swaraj, swadeshi, boycott and national education resolutions. The Moderates wanted the session at Surat in order to exclude Tilak from the presidency, since a leader from the host province could not be session president (Surat being in Tilak’s home province of Bombay).
  • Instead, Moderates led by Gokhale and Firuz Shah Mehta wanted Rashbehari Ghosh as the president and sought to drop the resolutions on swaraj, swadeshi, boycott and national education. Both sides adopted rigid positions, leaving no room for compromise. The split became inevitable after clash during the session.
  • The moderate leaders having captured the machinery of the Congress excluded the militant elements from it. Minto wrote to Morley : Congress collapse at Surat was a great triumph for us.

Aftermath and Effect of Split;

  • After Surat Split, Congress was now dominated by the Moderates who lost no time in reiterating Congress commitment to the goal of self- government within the British Empire and to constitutional methods only to achieve this goal. Next session of Congress in Banaras and Allahabad were called Mehta Congress due to hegemony of Firozshah Mehta.
  • The Extremists founded the Liberal Party and called themselves Neo-Nationalist.
  • The Government launched a massive attack on the Extremists. Between 1907 and 1911, five new laws were enforced to check anti-government activity. These legislations included the Seditious Meetings Act, 1907; Indian Newspapers (Incitement to Offences) Act, 1908; Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1908; and the Indian Press Act, 1910.
  • Tilak, the main Extremist leader, was sent to Mandalay (Burma) jail for six years on charge of disturbing public order. Aurobindo and B.C. Pal retired from active politics. Lajpat Rai left for abroad. The Extremists were not able to organise an effective alternative party to sustain the movement. The Moderates were left with no popular base or support, especially as the youth rallied behind the Extremists.
  • In the long run, the split did not prove useful to either party. The Moderate leaders lost touch with the younger generation of nationalists. The British Government played the game of “Divide and Rule” and tried to win over moderate nationalist opinion so that the militant nationalists could be isolated and suppressed.
  • To placate the moder­ate nationalists, it announced constitutional concessions through the Indian Councils Act of 1909, which are known as the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909. In 1911, the Government also announced the cancellation of the partition of Bengal. Western and Eastern Bengals were to be reunited, while a new province consisting of Bihar and Orissa was to be created. At the same time the seat of the Central Government was shifted from Calcutta to Delhi.
  • After 1908, the national movement as a whole declined for a time. In 1914, Tilak was released and he picked up the threads of the movement in the form of Home Rule Movement. After release from Jail, Tilak became Moderate.
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  • Kishore Nalabolu

    Very detailed information. Thank you very much.