The Moderates and Extremists: Part IV

The Moderates and Extremists: Part IV

Extremist period (1905 – 1920)

  • When the failure of moderate politics became quite apparent by the end of the nineteenth century, a reaction set in from within the Congress circles and this new trend is referred to as the “Extremist” trend. The moderates were criticised for being too cautious and their politics was stereotyped as the politics of mendicancy.
    • This extremism developed in three main regions and under the leadership of three important individuals, Bepin Chandra Pal in Bengal, Bal Gangadhar Tilak in Maharashtra and Lala Lajpar Rai in Punjab; in other areas extremism was less powerful if not totally absent.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The process of split in the Congress Party began when Lokamanya Tilak clashed with the Moderates over the question of Social Reforms. In July 1895 Tilak and his group ousted Ranade and Gokhale from the control of Poona Sarvajanik Sabha.
    • Gokhale organised a separate political association called “The Deccan Sabha’.
    • There was no love lost between Tilak and Gokhale. Tilak outmanoeuvred Gokhale from national politics over the ‘apology affair’ (where Gokhale had given unconditional apology to the Government for his criticism of the behaviour of the Plague Commissioners) and Gokhale was labelled as spineless who could be brow beaten by the Government.
  • Tilak was forthright in his criticism of the Government and its policies and was prepared to make sacrifices to get wrongs redressed.
    • He was the first Congress leader to suffer several terms of imprisonment for the sake of the country.
    • As early as 1882, for criticising in strong language the treatment meted out to the Maharaja of Kolhapur, the Government tried and sentenced Tilak to four months’ imprisonment.
    • Again, in 1897 Tilak was charged with ‘exciting feelings of disaffection to the British Government’ and sent to jail for 18 months’ Rigorous Imprisonment.
  • At the Congress session at Amraoti (Dec. 1897) the supporters of Tilak made an attempt to push a resolution demanding the release of Tilak.
    • The Moderate leaders who controlled the Congress did not permit it.
    • Similarly, the Moderates foiled the attempt of martyrdom at the Congress session at Madras (Dec. 1898).
    • At the Lucknow session of the Congress (Dec. 1899). Tilak’s attempt to move a resolution condemning Governor Sandhurst’s administration of Bombay was also blocked by the Moderates on the plea that the matter was of provincial interest and could not be discussed at the National Congress.
  • The dissatisfaction with the working of the Congress had been expressed by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee when he described the Congressmen as “place hunting politicians”.
  • Aurobindo Ghose wrote a series of articles during 1893-94 entitled ‘New Lamps for Old’ wherein he described the Congress as being out of contact with the ‘proletariat’, its character as ‘unnational’ and its work as ‘failure’ and added : “Yet more appalling was the general timidity of the congress, its glossing of hard names, its disinclination to tell the direct truth, its fear of too deeply displeasing our masters”.

Causes of the rise of Extremism:

(1) Factionalism:

  • According to some historians, factionalism is one of the reason for the rise of extremism, as at the turn of the century we observe a good deal of faction fighting at almost every level of organised public life in India.
  • In Bengal there was division within the Brahmo Samaj and bitter journalistic rivalry between the two newspaper groups, the Bengalee, edited by moderate leader Surendranath Banerjea and the Amrita Bazar Patrika, edited by the more radical Morilal Ghosh.
  • There was also faction fighting between Aurobindo Ghosh on the one hand and Bipin Chandra Pal and Brahmabandhab Upadhyay on the other, over the editorship of Bande Mataram.
  • In Maharashtra there was competition between Gokhale and Tilak for controlling the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha. The contest came to the surface when in 1895 Tilak captured the organisation and the following year Gokhale starred his rival organisation, the Deccan Sabha.
  • In Madras three factions, the Mylapur clique, the Egmore clique and the suburban elites fought among each other.
  • In Punjab, the Arya Samaj was divided after the death of Dayanand Saraswati, between the more moderate College group and the radical revivalist group.
  • One could argue therefore, that the division in Congress between the moderates and the extremists was just faction fightings that plagued organised public life everywhere in India around this time. But the rise of extremism cannot be explained in terms of factionalism alone.

(2) Recognition of true nature of British rule:

  • The early nationalist leaders had exposed the their nature of British Rule in India through their writings. They  proved by elaborate study that British rule and its policies were responsible for the economic ruin of India and her deepening poverty.
  • The second session of the Congress (Calcutta, 1886) brought a resolution on increasing poverty of India and this resolution was affirmed year after year at subsequent Congress sessions.
  • Scholarly writings of nationalist leaders like Ranade’s Essays in Indian Economics (1898), Dadabhai Naoroji’s Indian Poverty and un British Rule in India (1901), R.C. Dutt’s Economic History of India (1901) were the arsenals from which the new leaders shot their arrows at the British rule in India. Thus the Extremist ideology was a natural and logical next step in the development of Indian political thinking.

(3) Reaction to increasing westernization:

  • 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.
  • The new leadership felt the stranglehold of excessive Westernization in Indian life, thought and politics:
    • Christianity and utilitarianism were a challenge to Indian religion and thought.
    • The materialistic and individualistic Western civilization was eroding the values of Indian culture and civilization.
    • The merger of Indian national identity in the British Empire was being attempted.
  • The intellectual and emotional inspiration of the Extremists was Indian.
    • They drew inspiration from Indian spiritual heritage, they appealed to heroes of Indian history and hoped to revive the glories of ancient India.
    • The writings of Bankim, Vivekananda and Swami Dayanand appealed to their imagination.
    • Bankim dreamed of a united India under the leadership of  Lord Krishna. Bankim saw in Lord Krishna a Karamyogin i.e. a man of action who fought evil and stood for righteousness.
    • Vivekanand a great Vedantist, gave new confidence to the Indians in India’s past heritage.
      • He exhorted his compatriots to realize the value of their rich cultural heritage.
      • He gave a feeling of self confidence to the youth and gave them a new mission-to conquer the West with India’s spirituality.
    • Swami Dayanand exploded the myth of Western superiority by referring to India’s rich civilization of the Vedic Ages and gave political message of ‘India for Indians‘.
  • Education gave them a new vision and they got inspiration from India history. Western thinkers also influenced them.

(4) Frustration with moderate politics:

  • The Congress under moderate leadership was being governed by an undemocratic constitution. Although after repeated attempts by Tilak a new constitution was drafted and ratified in 1899, it was never given a proper trial.
  • The Congress was also financially broke, as the capitalists did not contribute and the patronage of a few rajas and landed magnates was never sufficient.
  • The social reformism of the moderates, inspired by Western liberalism, also went against popular orthodoxy. This came to the surface at the Poona Congress of 1895, when the moderates proposed to have a national social conference running at tandem with the regular sessions of the Congress. More orthodox leaders like Tilak argued that the social conference would split the Congress and the proposal was ultimately dropped.
  • But more significantly, moderate politics had reached a dead end, as most of their demands remained unfulfilled and this was certainly a major reason behind the rise of extremism. This increased the anger against colonial rule and this anger was generated by the moderates themselves, through their economic critique of colonialism.
  • The Extremists had nothing but disgust for the Old Guard. According to them:
    • the only ‘political religion’ of the Congress was loyalty to the Crown ;
    • their only ‘political aim’ to improve their chances of getting seats in the central / provincial legislatures or judicial services or acquiring titles etc.;
    • their only ‘political activity excessive speech and attending Congress session towards December end every year.
  • The Moderate leaders were accused of limiting the range of their activities for the benefit of the middle class intelligentsia and limiting the membership of the Congress to the middle class-for fear of losing their leadership if the masses joined the movement.
  • Tilak described the Congress as ‘a Congress of flatterers’ and Congress session ‘a holiday recreation’ while Lajpat Rai dubbed Congress meeting ‘the annual national festival of educated Indians.’ Tilak said: “We will not achieve any success in our labours if we croak once a year like a frog.”

(5) Economic miseries and famines:

  • The economic miseries of the closing years of the 19th century provided a congenial atmosphere for the growth of extremism in Indian national activity.
  • The famines of 1896-97 and 1899-1900 coupled with the bubonic plague which broke out in Maharashtra took a heavy toll of life. The Government relief machinery was inadequate, slow moving and badly organised.
  • Tilak criticised the callous and over bearing Plague Commissioners who caused more harm than good.
    • He said that “plague is less cruel to us than the official measures”.

(6) Contemporary international influences:

  • The humiliating treatment meted out to Indians in British colonies, especially in South Africa, created anti British feelings.
  • Nationalist movements in Egypt, Persia, Turkey and Russia gave Indians new hopes and new aspirations.
  • Abyssinia’s repulsion of Italian Army in 1896, and Japan’s victory over Russia in 1905 broke the spell of European invincibility and Indian nationalists gained more confidence.

(7) Curzon’s reactionary policies:

  • Lord Curzon’s reactionary policy was also responsible for the growth of extremism.
  • Lord Curzon (1899-1905), a true believer in British righteousness, had the courage to chastise an elite British regiment for its racial arrogance against native Indians.
    • But he was also the last champion of that self-confident despotic imperialism.
    • Cutzon’s seven year rule in India which was full of ‘missions, omissions and commissions‘ created a sharp reaction in the Indian mind.
    • Curzon refused to recognize India as a nation and characterized Indian nationalists activities as the ‘letting off gas‘.
  • He initiated a number of unpopular legislative and administrative measures, which hurt the susceptibilities of the educated Indians.
    • The reconstitution of the Calcutta Corporation through the Calcutta Municipal Amendment Act of 1899 reduced the number of elected representatives in it;
    • Indian Universities Act of 1904 placed Calcutta University under the most complete governmental control;
    • Indian Official Secrets Amendment Act of 1904 further restricted press freedom.
    • Then, his Calcutta University convocation address, in which be described the highest ideal of truth as essentially a Western concept, most surely hurt the pride of the educated Indians.
    • The last in the series was the partition of Bengal in 1905, designed to weaken the Bengali nationalists who allegedly controlled the Congress.
    • But instead of weakening the Congress, the Curzonian measures acted as a magic potion to revitalise it, as the extremist leaders now tried to take over Congress, in order to commit it to a path of more direct and belligerent confrontation with colonial rule.
  • The Delhi Durbar held in 1903 after famine of 1899-1900 was said to be ‘a pompous pageant to a starving population.’

(8) The partition of Bengal:

  • The worst and most hated aspect of Curzon’s administration was the partition of Bengal into two provinces of Bengal and Eastern Bengal and Assam in 1905.
  • The partition forced in teeth of Bengali opposition and protests from the Indian National Congress (in 1904) showed the contemptuous disregard Curzon and the Home authorities had for Indian public opinion.
  • The partition of Bengal was a devise to divide the people on the basis of religion and to put the Muslims against the Hindus. The utter disregard Curzon showed for public opinion gave ample evidence that the Moderates’ policy of ‘petitions, prayers and protests’ had failed.

(9) Other causes:

  • Most of the limitations/ failures of moderates were cause of birth of extremism.

Goal of Swaraj:

  • The Nationalists’ (Extremists’) demand for Swaraj was a demand for mainly freedom from foreign control and independence to manage national affairs without any foreign restrain. The Swaraj of the Moderate leaders was merely a demand for colonial self government within the Empire.
  • The goal of the extremists was ‘swaraj’, which different leaders interpreted differently. Even the views of individual leaders underwent change with changing circumstances.
  • For Tilak, it meant, Indian control over the administration, but not a total severance with Great Britain.
    • Tilak said “Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it.
    • According to Tilak, ‘Swaraj or self government is essential for the exercise of Swadharma. Without Swaraj there could be no social reform, no industrial progress, no useful education, no fulfilment of the national life.
    • Tilak’s revolutionary fervour somewhat mellowed towards the end of his political career and he showed signs of cooperation with the government.
  • For Bipin Chandra Pal, swaraj was “complete autonomy” from the British control as he believed that no self-government was possible under British paramountcy.
  • Aurobindo Ghosh conceived of ‘Swaraj’ as ‘complete independence’ (absolute political independence) from foreign rule,
    • He “based his claim for freedom for India on the inherent right to freedom, not on any charge of misgovernment or oppression”.
    • Aurobindo emphasised tha political freedom is the life breath of a nation; to attempt social reform, educational reform, industrial expansion, the moral improvement, political freedom is must.
    • Writing about Swaraj in Bande Mataram (April 1907) Sri Aurobindo wrote: “We of the new school would not pitch our ideal one inch lower than aboslute Swaraj, self-government as it exists in the United Kingdom.” To strive for anything less than Swaraj, he argued, “would be to insult the greatness of our past and the magnificent possibilities of our future.
    • Aurobindo’s concept of ‘complete independence’ was transformed into “human unity’ and ‘world union’ in his later career.
  • However, all extremist leaders were one in realising the evils of foreign rule and in demanding some degree of independence from colonial stranglehold.

Leave a Reply