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Moderates and Extremists

Subject: History
Unit: Nationalism: Trends up to 1919

Lesson: Moderates and Extremists

Lesson Developer : Deepasri Baul
College/Department : Ph. D. researcher, Centre for
Policy research, New Delhi and Lecturer in Defence
Studies, King's College, London

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Moderates and Extremists

Table of contents

Chapter 8: Nationalism: trends up to 1919

8.2: Moderates and extremists
Further readings

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Moderates and Extremists

8.2: Moderates and Extremists

Two distinct trends were associated with early Congress politics moderate and
extremist associated with two distinct sets of Congress leaders. The division into
Moderates and Extremists a contemporary characterization - has been since, the most
dominant frame for understanding the dynamics of the pre-Gandhian nationalist
movement. For Moderate leaders British rule was a boon, and they worked to ensure
that the British government fulfilled the promises they had held out to their worthy
colonial subjects. Extremist leaders on the other hand saw colonial rule and thus the
British presence in the subcontinent as alien, exploitative and abhorrent, and hoped that
a resurgence of indigenous nationalism would oust the British from their position of

In the previous lesson we traced the roots of the elite politics of associations to the
social reform movements of the 19th century. Moderate and Extremist groups are often
traced back to reformist and revivalist trends respectively, within these movements. It
is assumed that in the story of the nationalist movement, the Extremist phase of the
Congress followed from the earlier Moderate phase, in a logical, linear and causal
progression. Closer scrutiny however reveals that ideological differences had always
existed within the nationalist leadership. A handful of Moderate leaders came together to
found the Congress and thus established their influence in the initial years, but
disillusionment amongst Extremist leaders set in quite early, and they used the Swadeshi
Movement in 1905 to challenge the preeminence of the former. What blurs this neat
division is the complex personality of individual leaders, which resist easy categorization
and strong interpenetrations between the two ideologies. Well return to this discussion
after we have learnt more about Moderates and Extremists.


Conceptualizing the struggle

The paradox about nationalism as it developed in the subcontinent was that its
ideologues were drawn from a native elite that itself was a product of British
colonialism. This fact was well understood and repeatedly acknowledged by Moderate
leaders. These men had been empowered by the new opportunities opened up by
western education, employment in the colonial government and developments in the
press, and they firmly believed that the British had delivered India from years of
despotism and backwardness. They envisaged a permanent British connection for
India rather than a breach.

Reposing faith in the avowed intentions of British statesmen to uplift and educate natives
in self-government, they saw themselves as mediators between the imperial
government and the ignorant masses, on account of their exposure to western thought
and institutions and their knowledge of the English language. When they did talk of
greater political representation for Indians, they spoke of empowerment only for a small,
western-educated elite, who had proved themselves worthy of being bestowed this
privilege. In their tastes and ideas they felt closer to their colonial rulers than to the
large multitudinous mass in their own country.

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Most of these men were lawyers, and many of them had studied in Britain, and thus they
had a deep understanding of and great admiration for British representative institutions
of government. They also had great faith in the British sense of justice and fair play.
They critiqued colonial rule because they felt that in practice it fell short of their
expectations, and as immortalized by Dadabhai Naoroji, it was un-British. Their critique
of colonial rule employed a modern materialist logic familiar to the British, and was
strongly qualified by a sincere profession of unflinching loyalty. They sought to then play
a role that reconciled loyalty with patriotism; that treasured the privileges of being a
subject of the British Empire, but aspired towards some form of self government.

Value addition: what the sources say

Surendranath Banerjea, 1895
We congressmen are advocates of reform and not of revolution, and reform as
a safeguard against revolution. Above all, we rely with unbounded confidence on
the justice and generosity of the British people and their representatives in
parliament... to England we look for inspiration and guidance.To England we look
for sympathy in the struggle. England is our political guide and our moral
preceptor English history has taught us those principles of freedom which we
cherish with our livelihood we have been taught to admire the eloquence and
genius of the great masters of English political philosophy. We have been brought
face to face with the struggle and the triumphs of the English people in their
progress towards constitutional freedom We did not seek to transplant into our
country the spirit of those free institutions it is the work of Englishmen We
appeal to England gradually to change the character of her rule in India, to
liberalize it, to adopt it to the newly developed environments of the country and
the people so that India may find itself in the great confederacy of free states,
English in their origin, English in their character, English in their institutions,
rejoicing in their permanent and indissoluble union with England.
Source: Report of the eleventh Indian National Congress, Poona, 1895.
Argov, Daniel. 1967. Moderates and Extremists in the Indian Nationalist
Movement 1883-1920.Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 51.

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Figure 8.2.1: Wacha (left), Naoroji (seated) and Gokhale, 1897

Source: http://www-personal.une.edu.au/~hbrasted/kipling/gnw.jpg


The demands of the Moderates were to be articulated strictly through constitutional

channels of agitation, to prove to the colonial government that the Indian elite were now
ready for representative government. Since British rule was considered providential,
there was no question of disturbing the order that had been painstakingly established in
the colony. The agitation was carried on through pamphlets, newspapers and speeches,
where cogent arguments were made, critiquing specific issues on which reforms were
sought. Within this discourse, there were frequent professions of loyalty emphasizing the
debt that the colony owed its rulers, and this politics of mendicancy was strongly
critiqued by Extremists later. The nature of this agitation was also intermittent. In its
early years, the existence of the Congress was confined to the annual session, and for
the rest of the year most leaders were busy with their personal careers.

The colonial government in India attacked the Congress as pseudo-imitators of English

institutions, far removed from their own countrymen, and a dangerous seditious
organization. Faced with hostility within the country, Congress leaders directed their
grievances towards the English parliament and public. Dadabhai Naoroji had established
a London Indian Society in 1865, and an East India Association was set up in 1866

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through which Indian affairs were organized in London. Moderate leaders also tried to
penetrate English party politics. Lalmohan Ghose lost as a liberal candidate in 1883 and
Dadabhai Naoroji also tried in 1886. After this Naoroji and W. C. Bonnerji spent most of
their time in England working through the Indian Political Agency. Finally, Naoroji
became the first Indian British MP in 1892.


The demands of Moderates could be summed up as demands for reforms political,

administrative and economic. Since the uniqueness of the Congress was that it was one
of the first political associations of an all-India character, its primary demand was for
greater native participation in the colonial government. Demands voiced by Dadabhai
Naoroji in 1885 included the need to hold the Indian Civil Service examination
simultaneously in London and India, and ensure that the maximum age for taking the
examination was not reduced, adoption of a system of un-covenanted services,
increase in representation of Indians in legislative councils, reduction in military charges
and civil expenditure. They wished for the Indian colony to be placed directly under the
control of the British parliament. What Moderates envisaged for India was dominion
status, even though, in the initial sessions of the Congress there was no demand for
home rule.

Representing the masses

Moderate Congress leaders have been critiqued because their demands were very
modest, and directly affected the interests of their own class. Argov has gone to the
extent of arguing that Surendranath Banerjees emphasis on making the Civil Service
more accessible to Indians was linked to his own dismissal from the services earlier on.
Moreover, we have already discussed that Moderate leaders wanted greater
representation only for the western-educated elite, even though they claimed to
represent the interests of the country as a whole. Gokhale had described his ilk as
natural leaders of the country, on account of their education.

But even in the Moderate phase there were moments of great mass euphoria
Surendranath Banerjees arrest in 1883 had been greeted by the first open air political
meeting in Calcutta supported strongly by students, the Indian association had organized
huge meetings with ryots in the countryside before the passing of the Rent Act in 1885,
and a furore had followed the Age of Consent Bill in 1890-91. But their relationship with
the masses remained ambivalent and short-lived. After the Tenancy Bill was passed in
1885, the mass meetings were used by leaders of the Indian Association to lecture
peasants on the desirability of elective legislatures for the country. J. R. McLane points
out that there was an attempt to garner mass support but also a fear of mass
participation and popular violence. Moderate leaders felt alienated from rural people
even as they toured the countryside and in the event of a communal riot or grain riot,
they felt just as vulnerable as Europeans and looked to the police or sepoys for

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Muslim apprehensions

The demand for greater representation in legislatures was also sharply critiqued by Syed
Ahmed Khan on the grounds that it would pave the way for Hindu domination within
native politics. And its true that there was some vague reference to proportional
representation for minorities, but little assurance for Muslims. In fact, Surendranath
Banerjee mentioned how hard they had to work to ensure participation of Muslim
delegates. Badruddin Tyabji, their most prominent Muslim leader, was made the
president of the third Congress session in 1887 and the fourth Congress was held in
Allahabad in 1888, in U.P., the heart of the Aligarh movement. But these symbolic
moves could not mask the existence of a strong Muslim opposition to the Congress.

Figure 8.2.2: Badruddin Tyabji

Source: http://indiansaga.com/whoswho/tyabji.html

Moderate nationalists have been accused of representing issues narrowly pertaining to

their own class interests that of the middle class, but Bipan Chandra has made a
spirited defense of these men as intellectuals, who rose above narrow class interests to
demand overall welfare of all sections of society, as they understood it. He concedes that
they did not take up the issues of peasants or factory workers, but it was because they
believed that overall welfare would be achieved through the growth of industrial
capitalism. Thus they emerged as champions of the industrial capitalist class. However,
the most crucial contribution made by Moderate leaders was their understanding of
economic exploitation as the core critique of colonialism.

Economic nationalism

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Moderate leaders were initially dazzled by the impact of British rule, especially the
railways, roads and canals, new links with the world market for agricultural produce and
the textile industry. They expected to witness a transformation of their economy through
rapid industrial development, but were soon disappointed as they were faced with
intensifying poverty in the country. The Moderate leadership expressed deep concern for
the growing poverty of the people, and started questioning the efficacy of British rule.
They soon realized that the drain of the economic resources of India was a necessary
condition of colonial rule, not a regrettable, unintended consequence as they had
previously thought.

Supreme in this regard was the contribution of Dadabhai Naoroji in propounding the
theory of drain of wealth in his work, Poverty and un-British Rule in India. He clearly
delineated the ways in which wealth was draining out of the country through all the
sectors of the economy commercial, industrial and financial. He resented Indias role
as a supplier of raw material, a market for British manufactures and a field of investment
for foreign capital. He attacked colonial tariff and taxation policies, land revenue
settlements, the use of the Indian army and revenues for British expansion in Asia and
Africa and questioned the whole logic of burdening Indian revenues with meeting the
cost of maintaining the huge machinery for British rule, in the first place.

Moderate economic demands were much more radical than political ones. They
demanded an economic policy geared to serve the interests of the colony, especially
directed towards achieving independent industrial growth and prosperity. Their demand
for greater participation in colonial administration was linked to their desire to initiate
economic development of a capitalist kind. The economic critique of colonialism was built
upon and invoked by all kinds of nationalist leaders to understand and critique British
rule, and eventually developed into a political critique and a movement for

Sanjay Seth has pointed out that even though Moderate leaders didnt directly work to
alleviate poverty in the country, their discourse was constructed around it, because they
used poverty as a metaphor for backwardness. They saw India as backward and Britain
as the fount of modernity for the world. When they lamented the persistence of poverty
in their country, they were in fact expressing their disappointment at the distorted pace
at which the capitalist prosperity of Britain was being transmitted to its Indian colony.

Personal lives

It has often been argued that Moderate leaders were drawn from and represented the
big bourgeoisie and the landowning sections whereas Extremists represented the petty
bourgeoisie. While this division is difficult to sustain, it is true that early Congress
leaders were highly anglicized men, and most of them boasted of lucrative legal
professions and landed property. The political virtue of austerity or self-sacrifice, seen
among later leaders like Gokhale or Tilak, was largely absent from the lives of these
leaders. The core group which dominated the Congress in the first ten years at least,
men like Pherozeshah Mehta, Badruddin Tyabji, W. C. Bonnerjee, Surendranath
Banerjea, R. C. Dutt, Naoroji, were all men who had met each other in London. These
men had close friends and aides among the British. The influence of these successful

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professionals may explain why in its early years the Congress remained an annual affair,
and most of the communication, especially the speeches, was carried on in English. Most
of them belonged to upper castes, and lived ostentatiously wealthy lives. Their display of
wealth was a way of symbolically reversing the social order to establish equality with
English society, and thus an act of empowerment in some ways.

Figure 8.2.3: Badruddin Tyabji in the middle with his brother Camruddin seated next to
him, 1902, Hyde Park
Source: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3247/3073871100_0d742e8d92_o.jpg

Because of their radical approach to the question of social reforms, they were not merely
isolated, but actively ostracized by their own people and families. Ranade came under
intense attack for educating his wife Ramabai; W. C. Bonnerjee and Bipin Chandra Pal
were not allowed to enter the inner quarters of their family homes. This isolation may
have intensified their alienation from their countrymen at large.

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Figure 8.2.4: Bipin Chandra Pal

Source: http://www.whereincity.com/india/great-indians/freedom-fighters/bipin-chandra.php

Younger nationalists like Gokhale and Lala Lajpat Rai were more sensitive to accusations
of elitism within the Congress, and criticized older leaders and also set a different
example. Moderate leaders already felt alienated from their own people, but they were
also actively attacked and ostracized by their own people, including their families, for
daring to question and reject traditional social mores for instance crossing the oceans,
marrying widows or educating their wives. As social reformers they came to be pitched
against leaders who were characterized by a strong revivalist streak in their programme
for reforms. This became one of the many points on which their critics consolidated
themselves into a strong Extremist opposition.

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Figure 8.2.5: Motilal Nehru, seated, with his son Jawaharlal Nehru in his law chamber
around 1910


Sumit Sarkar and Rajat Kanta Ray have argued that the Extremist brand of Congress
politics was less of an ideology and more of a method. Much of it emerged within the
Congress, in reaction to the failures of the Moderate agitation and disillusionment with
the functioning of Moderate leaders. The struggle between Moderates and Extremists
started earlier on, but the Swadeshi Movement provided the context within which the
Extremist section tried to strengthen its hold over the Congress, and precipitated a
shameful public split within the Congress in Surat in 1907.

The main way in which Extremist discourse marked a departure from that of Moderates
is in their invocation of cultural nationalism as opposed to the Moderates
conceptualization of the nation primarily as a political and secular category. The
Congress was initially established as a political organization that would transcend
parochialism to enable regional leaders to come together. Extremist leaders on the other
hand used an emotionally invested vocabulary that lamented the enslavement of the
motherland. Extremists detested British rule not only because it was imperialist, but
because it was foreign.

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Goals and methods

There was some ambivalence regarding the goal of Extremist leaders, although they
spoke of it as swaraj. Tilak famously spoke of swaraj as his birthright, but never clearly
stated whether he meant a complete rejection of and breach with the British. Lajpat Rai
emphasized more the need for a social revolution within native society in the struggle
against the British. Bipin Chandra Pal spoke of political autonomy at all costs. They
demanded equal rights and liberty for Indians not as British subjects, but because these
were fundamental human rights as enunciated by the French Revolution. Aurobindo
Ghosh, however, clearly spoke of complete independence from the British as the
eventual goal of their movement.

The extremist agitation was more clearly an indictment of Moderate aims and methods.
They severely criticized Moderate politics of mendicancy and rejected constitutional
agitation as derogatory to national honour. Moderate politics was also attacked because
it confined itself to the English-educated elite, and alienated the common people. The
main methods of agitation preached by Extremists were swadeshi and boycott. Swadeshi
entailed positive and active encouragement and patronage to indigenous products and
production techniques, and boycott was a negative programme of rejecting British
goods, and by extension, British institutions like schools and colleges, law courts,
administrative and legislative posts. Aurobindo Ghosh also spoke of civil disobedience or
the peaceful violation of unjust laws as a mode of agitation to build a complete
movement of passive resistance. He also emphasized readiness to use violent methods if
the need arose.

Though a wide range of political positions has been clubbed together as Extremist
politics, there were divisions within the Extremist fold, based on the degree of radicalism
preached. These positions were articulated by Aurobindo Ghosh and have been
delineated by historian Sumit Sarkar. The earliest Extremist politics envisaged a
programme of constructive swadeshi, which entailed setting up swadeshi enterprises
and stores, the spread of vernacular education and social work in villages, and the use of
traditional and customary festivals to draw in common people. Rabindranath Tagore was
an important proponent of this approach. By 1906, a new radicalism infused extremist
politics, as extended boycott and strikes were undertaken through mass participation in
the agitation against the partition of Bengal, and complete swaraj was established as the
objective. By 1908, against the background of intense government repression,
revolutionary terrorism as a form of political agitation came to dominate especially
Bengal politics. This was a movement of small groups of elite young men, who organized
themselves in secret societies to carry out political assassinations and swadeshi
dacoities in a bid to inspire people into action. They also had a plan of infiltrating the
Indian army to carry out a coup. This politics of individual violence is also closely
associated with and seen as having emerged from extremist ideology.

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Figure 8.2.6: Sri Aurobindo Ghosh

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Aurobindo

Figure 8.2.7: Lala Lajpat Rai, Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal, 1910

Breach between the Moderates and the Extremists

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Rajat Kanta Ray has argued that the differences between Moderates and Extremists
were not just ideological or class differences, but psychological in nature, born out of and
constituted by issues of personal rivalry, compulsions of local politics and levels of
identification with colonial rule. The intensification of anti-imperialist sentiment at the
turn of the century may have been a reaction to the actions of the colonial state and the
viceroy Lord Curzon, which were characterized by an active indifference towards the
demands of Moderate leaders. Tilak had been arrested in 1897 for inciting seditious
feelings against the government. In 1898 a plague epidemic had broken out in Bombay
city, which soon spread to Bihar and Kanpur. The coercive quarantine measures taken by
the colonial government to contain the epidemic caused great alarm amongst people and
plague riots broke out in many colonial towns. In 1899 the Calcutta Corporation Act was
passed that reduced the strength of elected members in the Corporation, giving British
members a majority. In 1902, possibly to curb political activism among students, a
Universities Commission was set up to tighten official control over universities. No
educational institution was permitted to have any links with political activity speeches,
writings, meetings or parties. Moreover the truth about the economic exploitation of the
country under British colonial rule, expounded by Naoroji and R.C.Dutt, was popularized
by the press and fed into a general atmosphere of discontent.

This was the context within which Extremist politics consolidated and strengthened itself
and with Curzons decision to partition Bengal, Extremist leaders found a pretext to try
out new agitational methods. We will focus on three issues in this period which will help
us understand the ways in which the consolidation of extremist opinion took place.

The Age of Consent bill

One of the first public rifts in the Congress was witnessed during the debates that
surrounded the issue of raising the age of consent from 10 to 12 years, which was
brought up by reformers in Poona to prevent the rape of young girls in marriage. Ranade
had initiated discussions on the issue of infant marriage and minimum marriageable age
in 1881 within the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha. In 1884 Malabari presented his Notes on
Infant Marriage and Enforced Widowhood to Lord Ripon, asking for legislative action to
increase the marriageable age for girls. Moderate Congress leaders like Ranade, K. T.
Telang, Gopal Rao Agarkar and R. G. Bhandarkar came out in strong support of
Malabaris initiative.

The one Congress leader who conspicuously stood in opposition to such legislation was
Tilak. The Act was vigorously being debated in the public sphere and it faced the
strongest orthodox reaction in Bengal, reminiscent of earlier reactions to the Widow
Remarriage Act passed in 1856. But in the Bombay presidency Tilak turned the issue into
a national debate, condemning state interference in the inner lives of Hindu society. He
built it up as a colonial affront on Hindu pride and honour that had to be protected.
Initially Tilak had argued that public opinion had to first change before such a radical
legislation could be undertaken, but gradually his position became more conservative
and dogmatic. In his stinging journalistic style he heaped ridicule on the proponents of
the Bill, and in not so delicate terms trivialized the death of a child bride Phulmani Bai in
his article Rape-statistics, etc., and the Age of Consent Bill. His anti-reform stance
hardened and he called upon people to hold mass meetings and send petitions to the

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legislative council. Tilak saw his hardened stand as a heroic position of non-cooperation
with the government, and became the spokesperson for the orthodox majority.

Many historians have tried to redeem Tilaks position by calling him a moderate and a
reformer by heart, but a pragmatist in his politics. He did not care about the means he
followed to reach his eventual goal. Wolpert has emphasized his personal ambition, and
his stance on the Age of Consent debates as an attempt to consolidate his position
against Gokhale who would challenge his political leadership in the Deccan. Rebuffed by
his Moderate colleagues for his uncompromising attitude, he looked elsewhere for
support and attempted to organize a Hindu militant section by consolidating the
discontent generated by the Bill. His attempts however met with little success at this

Value addition: what the sources say

Tilak, on the matter of the Age of Consent bill
the common rule is for intercourse to take place on that very night when she has
the first menstruation after having performed the homa sacrifice. This custom has
been practiced for at least 2500 years since the ancient era of the sutras. If you
want the Shastra then this is the way. Take it or leave it but please do not try to
misinterpret the ancient authors. Dont try to oppress them or to oppress our
Dharma. This is what we have to say to Mr. Telang, Bhandarkar and others.
There are a thousand other places where they can show the skill of their
argument. The subject of Dharma Shastra is not one of them. You are not told to
find new discoveries in Dharma Shastra, and you are not asked to bring good
tidings out of them. If you dont know how to interpret the Shastra correctly,
then at least try to remain silent.
Source: Kesari, XI:7 (February 17, 1891/, 2) Wolpert, Stanley A. 1989.
Tilak and Gokhale: revolution and reform in the making of modern India.
Delhi: Oxford University Press.

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Figure 8.2.8: Tilak

Source: http://hif.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bal_Gangadhar_Tilak.jpg

The Congress constitution

Differences between Moderates and Extremists also came to a head over the issue of
drafting and implementing a written constitution for the Congress. By the late 1890s the
Congress had become an ineffective body controlled by an oligarchy of Moderate leaders,
and attendance at its annual sessions was falling at an alarming rate. New Extremist
leaders within the Congress sought to change the way in which the Congress functioned,
to reinvigorate it and make it more democratic, for they argued that an organization
fighting for democracy ought to be run on democratic principles. Objections were raised
about the lack of clarity in the way delegates were selected and presidents were decided
upon. The constitution framed in 1899 envisaged a decentralized set up with a Congress
Committee, Provincial Committees and Standing Committees in districts, organized
mainly on an elective basis. This decentralization was expected to spread the influence of
the Congress beyond cities into the countryside, to gain mass support, not necessarily
participation. However, this constitution provided protection to the inner coterie of
leaders so they could retain real power.

The constitution could not be successfully implemented, because it became a casualty of

distrust between factions. Moderate delegates from Calcutta and Bombay felt threatened

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by the growing influence of new groups, especially extremists from Punjab, and made
sure that the election of the Congress Committee was frustrated. Eventually the
Congress lapsed back into the oligarchy that it was, run by the same Moderates,
jealously guarding their power.

J. R. McLane has argued that the failure of the Congress constitution was indicative of an
unbridgeable gap that had developed between the Moderate and Extremist factions. The
Extremists sought to change the nature of nationalist politics by making it a full-time
pursuit for the Congress and its leaders. For this, Congress leaders would have to invest
and sacrifice much more time and effort. Lajpat Rai in fact openly criticized the working
of the Congress in the press and tried to initiate discussions on industrial and educational
issues facing the country in the Congress sessions, instead of rhetorical speeches.

The Surat split, 1907

Ideological differences were intensified by personal rivalries among leaders. One of the
strongest Moderate leaders, Pherozeshah Mehta, was called into active politics within the
Congress by his Moderate colleagues to help counter the growing influence of Tilak. But
Pherozeshah Mehta, although a courageous and effective leader, represented the worst
form of elitism that the Moderates stood accused of. He was to a large extent
responsible for the failure of the Congress constitution and his authoritative ways came
in for attack in Lalmohan Ghoshs presidential speech in the 1903 Congress in Madras.

Figure 8.2.9: Oil painting of Pherozeshah Mehta by V. V. Oak

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pherozeshah_Mehta

But the Swadeshi movement infused a new enthusiasm into the Congress, especially in
Bengal. Gokhale, liked by most, presided over the 1905 Congress, where Moderate
factions established self-government as the goal for the Congress agitation, praised

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Swadeshi in guarded words and expressed grave doubts over using boycott as a tool for
agitation. Moderates in Bengal however showed themselves to be relatively more radical
as Surendranath Banerjea espoused swadeshi and boycott in all public meetings,
although his main rivals Aurobindo Ghosh and Bipin Chandra Pal became stridently
militant in their preaching and spoke of impending revolution. The latter had made
alliances with Tilak. The Calcutta congress of 1906 also opened up a rift on regional
lines, as the powerful Bombay Moderates did not much care for the local issue of
Bengals partition. Bengali delegates, both Moderates and Extremists had the boycott
resolution passed amidst great pandemonium. The Surat Congress of 1907 saw a large
turn-out as Tilak and the Bengal Extremists on the one hand and Pherozeshah Mehta on
the other had come with huge bodies of delegates. This session ended in such shameful
chaos that the police had to take over the pandal.

Figure 8.2.10: Tilak and Aurobindo Ghosh in the Surat Congress of 1907
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sri_aurobindo_tilak_surat1907.jpg

Value addition: what the sources say

Henry Nevinson, present at the Surat Congress, 1907

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Suddenly something flew through the air a shoe! A Mahratta shoe! reddish
leather, pointed toe, sole studded with lead. It struck Surendra Nath Banerjea on
the cheek; it cannoned off upon Sir Pherozeshah Mehta. It flew, it fell and as at a
given signal, white waves of turbaned men surged up the escarpment of the
platform. Leaping, climbing, hissing the breath of fury, brandishing long sticks
they came, striking at any head that looked to them Moderate, and in another
moment, between brown legs standing upon the green baize table, I caught
glimpses of Indian National Congress dissolving in chaos.
Source: Ray, Rajat Kanta, 1988. Moderates, Extremists and
Revolutionaries: Bengal 1900-1908. In Sisson, Richard and Stanley A.
Wolpert eds. Congress and Indian Nationalism: The Pre-independence
Phase. London: University of California Press.

Hindu revivalism amongst Extremists

No discussion on Extremist politics can be concluded without referring to its strong Hindu
revivalist streak that its leaders strengthened through their actions, causing irreparable
damage to the cause of Hindu-Muslim unity. It was later left to Gandhi to pacify Muslim
sentiment during the Khilafat agitation. Extremists used Hindu vocabulary and symbols
to mobilize mass opinion in their support, and imagined the cultural nation as a Hindu

In an atmosphere already vitiated by riots provoked by the Arya Samajs cow protection
movement, Tilak started the Ganpati festival in 1893, as a public event imbued with a
strong political message. In 1896 he started the Shivaji festival on similar lines. Shivaji
was constructed as a hero who had fought Muslim tyranny to defend the honour of the
Hindus and the Marathas. We have already seen how he built himself up as a protector
of a virile Hindu pride, under threat from the British, marking Hindus out as separate
from other aliens like Muslims and Parsis. Lala Lajpat Rai was deeply influenced by the
Arya Samaj, and argued that an alliance with Muslims was not just useless but
detrimental to Hindu interests. When he demanded that the Congress dedicate itself to
issues of social improvement, he referred mostly to the uplift of Hindu society. Aurobindo
Ghosh, the most radical and militant of Extremist leaders was deeply inspired by
Ramkrishna whose philosophy was pervaded by popular Hindu motifs and the cult of the
goddess Kali. Aurobindo, along with his brother Barindra used Kali or Bhavani as the
central symbol for their new order of revolutionary devotees. The idea of the
conspiratorial sanyasi was borrowed from Bankimchandra Chatterjees novel
Anandamath. The patriotic cry of Bande Matarm was also drawn from the same novel.

In conclusion

The differences between Moderates and Extremists have been referred to in this chapter,
but they are difficult to sustain when one looks more closely at individual leaders, whose
actions often belie easy categorization. These differences were constituted at various
levels and perhaps as Rajat Kanta Ray has argued, they were different psychological
moods. Moderates were the first generation of nationalists, who were the cream of the
native elite. As lesser social groups aspired to power, they redefined the nature of

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Moderates and Extremists

politics as they engaged with it. The promises held out by colonial rule contrasted
severely with lived realities, which may have caused a psychological turmoil in their
minds, which was clearly manifest in the politics of the period.

8.2 Summary
Moderate leaders in the Congress believed that British rule had been providential
for India and only demanded greater participation for educated Indians in the
colonial government.

Extremist leaders saw British rule as alien and unjustified, and aspired to oust the
British from their position of power. They propagated a complete rejection of the
British and all colonial institutions.

Moderate politics entailed agitation through constitutional means and this

exasperated Extremist leaders since the colonial government remained unmoved
by it.

Moderate leaders contributed one of the first critiques of colonialism as a system

of economic exploitation that became crucial for all kinds of anti-imperialist
politics in future.

Extremists used agitational techniques like the call for swadeshi, boycott and
passive resistance, and would contemplate resorting to violence if the need arose.
There was a strong Hindu-revivalist and militant streak in their nationalist vision.

Extremist leaders felt a growing resentment against Moderates for their loyalist
politics, their alienation from the masses and the undemocratic functioning of the
Congress. The two factions split in Surat in 1907, on the issue of adopting more
extreme methods during the Swadeshi movement.

8.2: Exercises
Essay questions

1) What were the defining elements of Moderate politics? What role did they
envisage for the masses in the nationalist movement?

2) Who were the Extremists? Critically assess their methods.

3) What did Moderate leaders have to say about Indias intensifying poverty under
British colonial rule?

4) What led to the rift between Moderates and Extremists?

5) Differentiate between Moderates and Extremists within the Congress.

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Moderates and Extremists

Objective questions

Question Number Type of question LOD

1 True or False 1

Which of these statements about Moderates is false?

a) They demanded lowering the age limit for the civil service examination.

b) Most of them were well-off lawyers who had studied in Britain.

c) They were great admirers of British political institutions.

d) They wanted the British to leave India.

Correct Answer /
a) and d)

Justification/ Feedback for the correct answer

a) They did not want the age limit lowered because that would make it almost
impossible for Indians to take the examination.

d) They saw British rule as providential for India, and merely wanted reforms in the
system, not a break with the British.

Resource/Hints/Feedback for the wrong answer

Reviewers Comment:

Question Number Type of question LOD

2 True or False 1

Which of these statements is false about Extremists?

a) They saw colonial government as bad because it was alien rule.

b) They acknowledged their debt to Moderate leaders for producing a sharp critique
of colonial economic policy.

c) They rejected western institutions and preached a revival of indigenous ways of

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Moderates and Extremists


d) They led very ostentatious lives of great luxury.

Correct Answer /

Justification/ Feedback for the correct answer

They criticized Moderate leaders for leading luxurious lives in imitation of the British,
and themselves lived in austerely.

Resource/Hints/Feedback for the wrong answer

Reviewers Comment:

Question Number Type of question LOD

3 True or False 1

Which of these statements is false about the reasons for the split in the Congress?

a) Extremists were impatient with the Moderate politics of mendicancy.

b) Moderates were opposed to the boycott of British goods and institutions.

c) There were personal rivalries between Moderate and Extremist leaders.

d) Extremists wanted to bypass democratic procedures within the Congress.

Correct Answer /

Justification/ Feedback for the correct answer

A small group of Moderate leaders ran the Congress in an oligarchic way, and the
Extremists demanded greater democracy and transparency in the way it was run.

Resource/Hints/Feedback for the wrong answer

Reviewers Comment:

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Moderates and Extremists

Question Number Type of question LOD

4 True or False 1

Which of the following conclusions about Moderates and Extremists is false?

a) Extremists alienated Muslims with their Hindu revivalism.

b) Extremists wanted Moderate leaders to continue to hold positions of power within

the Congress.

c) The colonial government remained unaffected by the Moderates pleas.

d) Moderates felt closer to the British than to people of their own country.

Correct Answer /

Justification/ Feedback for the correct answer

One of the reasons for the split between the Moderate and Extremist leaders was
personal and factional rivalries over greater control of the Congress.

Resource/Hints/Feedback for the wrong answer

Reviewers Comment:

Question Number Type of question LOD

5 True or False 1

Which of the following statements is false about these Congress leaders?

a) Pherozeshah Mehta was well-loved by Congressmen of all hues.

b) Tilak defended orthodox Hindu revivalist arguments to try and stop the Age of
Consent Bill from being passed.

c) Badruddin Tyabji was made president of the third Congress to pacify Muslim

d) Lala Lajpat Rai was deeply influenced by the Arya Samaj in his early life.

Correct Answer /

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Justification/ Feedback for the correct answer

Pherozeshah Mehta was acknowledged as a great leader, but he was arrogant and
autocratic in his functioning, because of which others disliked him.

Resource/Hints/Feedback for the wrong answer

Reviewers Comment:

8.2 Glossary
Un-covenanted: subordinate short-term contract positions in the civil service
Home rule: self-government
Dominion: a self-governing territory of the British Commonwealth
Mendicancy: begging
Materialist: a theory or attitude that physical well-being and worldly possessions
constitute the greatest good and highest value in life.
Ideologue: a theorist
Despotism: absolute or autocratic rule

8.2 Further readings

Argov, Daniel. 1967. Moderates and Extremists in the Indian Nationalist Movement
1883-1920.Bombay: Asia Publishing House.

Bandyopadhyay, Sekhar. 2004. From Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India.

Hyderabad: Orient Longman.

Bayly, Christopher. 1975. The Local Roots of Indian Politics: Allahabad, 1880-
1920.Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Chandra, Bipan. et. al. 1987. Indias Struggle for Independence. New Delhi: Penguin

Chandra, Bipan. 1965. Lord Dufferin and the Character of the Indian Nationalist
Leadership.in Bipan Chandra, 1975, Nationalism and Colonialism in Modern India, New
Delhi:Orient Longman.

Chatterjee, Partha. 1994. The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial
Histories. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Heimsath, Charles, H. 1962. The Origins and Enactment of the Indian Age of Consent
Bill, 1891. The Journal of Asian Studies. Vol. 21. No. 4 : 491-504.

Joshi, Sanjay. 2001. Fractured Modernity: Making of a Middle Class in Colonial North
India.New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Institute of Lifelong Learning, University of Delhi
Moderates and Extremists

McLane, John R. 1977. Indian Nationalism and the Early Congress.Princeton: Princeton
University Press.

Mclane, J. R. 1988. The Early Congress, Hindu Populism and the Wider Society. In
Sisson, Richard and Stanley A. Wolpert eds. Congress and Indian Nationalism: The Pre-
independence Phase. London: University of California Press.

Mehrotra, S. R. 1971. The Emergence of the Indian National Congress.Delhi: Vikas


Pati, Biswamoy. 2007. National Politics and the Making of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Social
Scientist. Vol. 35 No. 9/10: 52-66.

Ray, Rajat Kanta, 1988. Moderates, Extremists and Revolutionaries: Bengal 1900-1908.
In Sisson, Richard and Stanley A. Wolpert eds. Congress and Indian Nationalism: The
Pre-independence Phase. London: University of California Press.

Sarkar, Sumit. 1973. The Swadeshi Movement in Bengal, 1903-1908.New Delhi: Peoples
Publishing House.

Sarkar, Sumit. 1983. Modern India. New Delhi: Macmillan India.

Seal, Anil. 1968. The Emergence of Indian Nationalism: Competition and Collaboration in
the Later Nineteenth Century.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wolpert, Stanley A. 1961. Tilak and Gokhale: revolution and reform in the Making of
Modern India.California: University of California Press.

Institute of Lifelong Learning, University of Delhi