The Rise of the Extremist Movement in India

The period from 1885 to 1905 is called moderate Phase of Indian Nationalism. The Moderates had made large number of people conscious of the evils of foreign domination and of the need for fostering patriotism.

They believed in purely constitutional methods and agitated for piecemeal reforms in the Indian administration system. They had imparted the necessary political training to Indian people. The moderates also succeeded to create democratic temper among the people.

But during these very years of the Congress, certain developments in India and abroad produced among the younger section of the nation, a group of people, who began to question the wisdom of the method of prayers and petitions followed by the moderates in order to achieve their political objectives. They were called extremist or militant nationalists.

The following factors were responsible for the rise of extremist in the Indian politics.

Factors for the Rise of Extremism:

Firstly, some of the Congress leaders, specially the younger element, were greatly disappointed with the attitude of the British Government towards their demand. The Indian Council Act of 1892 which was enacted as a sort of concession to the people of India did not concede anything substantial.

Even the moderates who had faith in the British sense of justice and fair play were greatly disillusioned. Accordingly the younger leaders felt that the policy of prayers and petitions would not lead them anywhere because this was interpreted by the British as a sign of weakness.

Therefore, they advocated direct action. For example, Bal Gangadhar Tilak said “Political rights will have to be fought for the Moderates think that these can be won by pursuation. We think that they can only be obtained by strong pressure”.

Secondly, as a result of the socio-religious reform movements of the late nineteenth century, a large number of young Congress leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lai Lajpat Rai, B.C. Pal were convinced of the glorious culture of India and wanted to revive the same instead of aping the western civilization. They emphasised that most of country’s ills were due to foreign rule and promoted a feeling of patriotism among the Indian people.

Thirdly, the misery and suffering caused by the famines of 1896-98 and 1899-1901, and bubonic plague around the same time also greatly agitated people. They were greatly dissatisfied with the measures taken by the Government to deal with the situation.

The people felt that if there had been a national Government in the country, it would have taken appropriate measures to deal with the situation and their miseries would have been considerably reduced.

The famines were attributed to the anti-Indian economy policies of the British. Even Moderate leaders like R.C. Dutta. Naoroji, Ranade were disillusioned with the British sense of justice and wrote extensively on the ill-effect of British economic exploitation.

The resentment of the people against the Government found outlet in the murder of Mr. Rand, the pleague commissioner. The Government held the nationalist leaders like Balgangadhar Tilak and other responsible for murder and imprisoned them. Bal Gangadhar was even denied the right to make an appeal to the Privy Council as permissible under the existing rules. All these greatly agitated the people.

Fourthly, the ill-treatment meted out to Indians in foreign countries, especially South Africa, also gave fillip to the extremist movement. In the beginning of the present century the South African enacted a number of discriminatory Laws which imposed restrictions on travel, trade act.

The British Government did not exert any pressure on the South African Government to withdraw these measures nor did it take any retaliatory measures against the citizens of South Africa.

This convinced the Indians that they were being subjected to humiliating treatment because they were slave nation and the citizens of an independent country certainly get a better treatment.

Fifthly, the partition of Bengal in 1905 also contributed to the growth of extremism. Curzon divided the province of Bengal into two provinces western province dominated by the Hindus, and the Eastern province dominated by the Muslims.

Though ostensibly Curzon took this step on the plea of administrative efficiency but his real purpose was to draw wedge between the Hindus and the Muslims to check the growing wave nationalism.

This was strongly resented by the Indians in general and the Bengali in particular. A number of meetings were organised in Bengal and at other places against the partition of Bengal. This was a clear sign of the growing strength of nationalism in India.

The Indians were determined to get the partition cancelled by peaceful methods, if possible, and by violent and direct methods, if necessary. In view of the agitation generated by the partition of Bengal, it has been contended by scholars that extremism and terrorism in India chiefly own their origin to the partition of Bengal.

Sixthly, the imperialist policies followed by Lord Curzon during his viceroyalty from 1899-1905 gave a further fillip to the extremist movement in India. Lord Curzon was staunch advocate of an efficient administration and strong opponent of the Indian association with administration because he had no faith in the capacity of Indians to rule them.

He therefore enacted a number of measures which evoked strong resentment from the Indians and helped the extremist leaders to exploit the situation. Some of the controversial measures adopted by Lord Curzon which were universally condemned by the Indians include Official Secrets Act, Calcutta Corporation Act.

The Indian Universities Act. According to Surendra Nath Banerjee, “He (Curzon) has built better than he know he had laid broad and deep foundations of our national life; he has stimulated those forces which contribute to the up building of nations, he has made us a nation and the most reactionary of Indian viceroys will go down to the posterity as the architect of Indian life.”

Seventhly, as a result of Western education, the Congress leaders learnt that even countries like America, Germany, Italy, France, and Britain had to resort to force to gain independence or preserve democracy.

While U.S.A., Germany, Italy and France had to pass thought violent struggle to gain independence or unification, even Britain beheaded one of her king (Charles) to preserve the freedom and liberty of the people.

If these methods could be used in western countries, why could the Indians also not resort to these methods to attain their goal? This feeling greatly helped in the rise of extremism.

Finally, certain events in foreign lands during the closing years of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century also provided inspiration to the Indian, and imparted great vigour to the national movement.

In 1896 Abyssinia, and Africa Kingdom, succeeded in defeating a powerful country like Italy. In 1904-05, Japan, a tiny Island country inflicted a defeat on Russia, one of the largest state.

These victories of the countries of East against the West interpreted in India as an indication of the rise of the East against the West, and demolished the myth that West was invincible. The nationalist movement in Egypt, Turkey and Persia also encouraged the Indians to wage more vigorous struggle.

As a result of above mentioned causes, a left wing of the Congress began to be formed under the leadership of Lokmaniya Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai. They adopted a programme which was different from the moderates.

The programme of the new group was summed up by Tilak “Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it.” Elaborating the programme he said Swaraj or self-government is essential for exercise of Swadharma. Without Swaraj there could be no social reforms any industrial progress no useful education no fulfillment of national life. That is what we seek, that is why God has sent us into the world to fulfil him.”

B.C. Pal laid great emphasis on the development and self- reliance amongst Indians; He said “Untrained in the crooked ways of civilized diplomacy, they had believed what their rulers had said, either of themselves or of their subjects as gospel truth.

They had been told that people of India were unfit to manage their own affairs and they believed to be true. They had been told that India stood on a lower plane of humanity and England’s mission was to civilise the some barbarous native”.

The demands of the extremist it is said that it is the right of the abdication of the right of the England to determine the policy of the Indian Government, the right of the present foreign despotism to enact whatever law they please to govern the people of this country.

Swadeshi was another important aspect of extremist movement. The extremist resorted to this method to cause financial loss to the British manufacturers so that they may pressures the British Government to annul the partition of Bengal.

So they extended this movement as a potent weapon against the British economic imperialism. Regarding significance Lala Lajpat Rai said “We desire to turn our faces away from the Government House and turn them to huts of the people. This is the psychology, this is the ethics, this is the spiritual significance of the, boycott movement.”

Another objective was national Scheme of Education, which was to replace the boycott of Government controlled universities and colleges. When the Government threatened to take to disciplinary action against the students, the national leaders advocated national Universities independent of Government control.

The extremist tried to rope in the students in their movements and encouraged them to withdraw from government colleges and join the national Universities which were independent of government control. Private colleges were set up in Bengal and Madras by various trusts.

Another important feature of the extremists programme was that it laid great emphasis on progressive resistance and non- cooperation. In 1902 Tilak said “You must realise that you are a great factor in the power with which the administration of India is controlled. You are yourselves the great lubricants which enable the gigantic machinery to work smoothly.

Though down-trodden and neglected, you must be conscious of your power of making the administration impossible if you but choose to make it”. They also encouraged cooperative organisations. Voluntary associations were set up for usual sanitation, preventing police duties, and for natural calamities. They also pinned faith for constructive work, physical and moral uplift of Indians.

Extremist also realised that the use of force was not prudent, because India was peace loving and disarmed nation. At the same time there was a body of extremist, who believed that the use of force, in some form, at some stage, might prove unavoidable in order to wrest power from the unwilling hands.

The Extremist believed that the end justified the means. Somehow swaraj must be won and the British driven out from the land. This was in direct contract to the lifelong policy of Mahatma Gandhi, who believed not only in the purity of end, but also in the purity of means. Tilak was the godfather of the Extremist movement.

The extremist had no faith in the British sense of justice, or fair play. They believed that the Britishers had c6nquered India for selfish end and would continue to govern India for similar ends, unless compelled to quit. It was against the economic interest of England to release India from her bondage.

The extremist did not regard Indian connection with England to be for the good of India. Most of them believed that the British people had harmed, were harming and would continue to harm Indians. The extremists believed that the ancient Indian culture was superior to the western culture. They loved everything swadeshi.

The Birth of Extremist Party:

As a result of the above mentioned causes, a left wing of the Congress began to be formed under the leadership of Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai. During the 1905 session, the difference between the two wings of the Congress became quite apparent. Before the session started, Gokhale and Lala Lajpat Rai returned from England.

The session was held at a time when the wounds caused by the partition of Bengal. Gokhale was presided over this session. The Prince of Wales was to visit India in 1906. The moderates wanted to pass resolution welcoming the Royal party.

The extremist and especially the delegates were opposed to it. The resolution was passed in the absence of Bengal delegates. Gokhale in his address criticised the Government, condemned the partition and approved the swadeshi movement. Tilak wanted a resolution to be passed for authorising passive resistance movement against the Government, but this was not done. Thus 1905 session ended with a great deal of estrangement.

In 1906, the session was held at Calcutta. In this session Extremist proposed the name of Tilak for the presidentship. This was too bitter a pill for the Moderates to sallow. The difficulty was overcome by the name of Dadabhai Naoroji, the grand old man of India, who was universally loved and respected.

In fact, the Calcutta session was a win for the extremist because they compelled the Moderates to pass a resolution of all the four important planks. These are Swaraj, Swadeshi, boycott and national education. The result of the Calcutta session was irritating for the Moderates.

The Sural Split:

The Surat session of Indian National Congress was held in 1907. At this session there developed a difference of opinion regarding the election of the president. According to convention, the president of the reception committee of the last session was generally voted to the power.

So moderates wanted to propose the name of Dr. Rash Behari Ghosh, whom the extremists opposed for his moderate views. The extremist wanted to have an open election and desired to propose the name of Lala Lajpat Rai, who declined to stand under such circumstances.

The name of Dr. Ghosh was eventually proposed for chair, which the extremist opposed. The meeting was adjourned to avoid unruly sences that followed.

Thus, the Surat session of Indian National Congress ended in a complete rupture between the moderates and extremists. As the extremist were in a minority they left the Congress.

A committee was appointed by the Surat Congress to draft a constitution for the Congress to avoid such conflict in future. In the constitution drafted by the Committee, it was clearly laid down that the method followed by the Congress must be constitutional.

The constitution lay down that in future only those who submit to the constitution in writing would be admitted as delegates. Thus all threats of passive resistance and boycott as a means for achieving the objective of the Congress, on which Tilak and his followers were so keen, were permanently ruled out. There was a clear attempt to step down, even from the position taken up in 1904, regarding the boycott and national education.

The emergency of the extremist greatly alarmed the government and it decided to deal with fireness. In May 1907, Lala Lajpat Rai and Sardar Ajit Singh of Punjab were deported to Mandalay without trial. Even Gokhale criticised the Government for this act. Lala Lajpat Rai was released after about 6 months.

He went to England and returned to join the Surat session. Sardar Ajit Singh decided to stay outside India. To deal with their activities effectively it introduced a number of changes in the Indian Penal Code viz, it added Sections 124A and 153A.

It resorted to summary trial of the extremist political offenders and put restrictions on the right of the people to hold public meetings. Restrictions were imposed on the press through the Press Acts of 1900 and 1908. No doubt, despite these repressive measures the extremist continued to be active but they generally worked underground.

But as most of the extremist leaders were behind the bar the movement lost momentum. The role played by some of the moderate Congress leaders (who openly supported the Government) also contributed to the decline of the extremist nationalist movement by creating a sense of degeneration among its leaders.

But above all, the unpractical nature of the extremist policies contributed to their failure. The people of India by temperament were not suited to the methods of openly challenging the authority of the British government.

Even though they fully sympathized with the policies and programmes of the extremist, they were not willing to openly support or associate with them. In the absence of active support of the masses the movement was bound to end in failure.

Impact of the Extremist Movement:

Though the extremist Nationalist movement was short-lived, yet it left a deep impact on the nationalist movement. The moderates were, no doubt, honest and sincere in their love for the country, but their method lacked effectiveness and vigour.

Simple request and petitions would have taken India nowhere. Some sanctions were necessary to back up the national demand and this was supplied by the extremist. It was to prevent the national movement from failing into the hand of the extremist those Morley-Minto reforms were hastened.

During 1907-16, the extremist remained a hidden danger for the bureaucracy. Anything worthwhile is seldom achieved, unless it is backed up by willingness to make sacrifice. The moderates were perhaps not prepared to make sacrifice of the extreme type. The extremist supplied martyrs for the national movement.

The extremist leaders maintained close link with the people and thus broadened the base of national movement. They emphasised that the national movement could not succeed without the support and co-operation of the people. It was mainly due to the mass support that annulment of the partition of Bengal in 1911 could be possible.

Lucknow Pact-1916:

The Muslim league came closer to Congress after the introduction of Morley-Minto reforms. With the annulment of the partition of Bengal the Muslims realised that the Government was no large but to oblige them at the cost of Hindu.

Secondly, Lord Harding’s policy was one or the neutrality between the Hindus and Muslims. Thirdly, the head office of the Muslim league was transferred from Aligarh to Lucknow and it was thus freed from the poisonous influence or Becks.

And lastly, some educated and enlighted Muslims like Maulana Mohammed Ali and M.A. Jinnah wanted the League to abandon its hostile policy of communalism and desired to pursue a united policy with the Congress. All these causes made Muslims to change their attitude towards the Governments and come closer to the Congress.

Secondly, two wings of the Congress were united. The old controversies had lost their meaning and the split in the Congress had not benefited either group. Because the National agitation remained at a very low ebb from 1910-1913.

But with advent of Annie Besant, the political life of the country got a fresh lease of life. Her immediate step was to disentangle the extremist and to reconcile them with the Congress. Secondly Tilak, who was imprisoned in 1908, was released in 1914.

Because the Government wanted to pacify the extremist. He was keen on supporting the war effort of the Government but was equally in favour of continuing national agitation. So the year 1916 not only saw a union between the Congress and the Muslim League in the form of Lucknow pact but also reunion of the two wings of the Congress.

This became successful when the Congress and the League both adopted the famous Congress-League pact in Lucknow.

However, the Lucknow pact, therefore, left the way open to the future resurgence of communalism in modern India. Because in the Lucknow pact, the right of separate electorate for the Muslim was admitted.

Secondly, the right of the minority to weight age was also conceded. Thirdly, the minority were given the right of vetoing Legislation. A provision was made that no bill or a resolution affecting a community should be preceded with, any Legislature, if 3/4 of the representative of that community were opposed to it.

But the Hindu Muslim amity created by the Lucknow pact proved illusory. The communal demands once accepted continues to figure in more and more heinous and dangerous forms in all later constitutional reforms.

They habituated to claim more and more rights as a minority from the Congress. The Congress believed after this compromise, the Hindus and Muslims would work together such a sense of unity, fellow-feeling and brotherhood would grow among them. So the dream of the Congress never fulfilled.