Rise to Extremism in Indian Politics during the early years of the twentieth century.

Rise of Extremism:

The policy and the methods that the moderate leaders of the Congress followed during the first twenty years failed miserably. Their prayers and petitions had no effect on the British Government; on the contrary, the government adopted a hostile attitude towards the congress from the very beginning. Consequently, the political ideas and methods of the Congress became out of tune with Indian life and culture. The historical forces, therefore, brought to the surface fresh thinkers who broke completely from the basic assumptions of the moderates and created a profound revolution in the field of political thought and action in the country.

Utley Centre - Extremism – Not in the Name of Islam

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The new school of politics was associated with the name of Bal Gangadhar Tilak of Maharastra. Along with him, Bipin Chandra Pal and Aurobindo Ghosh of Bengal, and Lala Lajpat Rai of Punjab were the most prominent of its leaders. They termed themselves Nationalists’ also ‘integral Nationalists’, and came to be commonly known as ‘Extremists’ in opposition to the ‘Moderates’.

Factors Responsible for the Rise of Extremism

(1) Natural Calamities:-

During the last decade of the 19th century the cup of


A woe of our people was filled to the brim. Famine, pestilence, earthquake, war and

Repressions were let loose on the country. From 1896 to 1900 prolonged and disastrous famines occurred throughout the length and breadth of the land in a bewildering succession. In 1896 bubonic plague broke out in Bombay and took a toll of millions of lives.

(2) Exploitation: –

These natural calamities were accompanied by the intensified exploitation and repression by the Government. In 1890, Lord Lansdowne’s government closed the Indian mint to free exchange of silver and in 1893 granted exchange compensation allowance to the British officials in India. In 1896 a noose was thrown round the neck of the nascent textile industry by the imposition of excise duty on cotton manufactures.

3. Repression: –

These measures were followed by a wave of repression, especially after the murder at Poona of Plague Commissioner Rand and his companion Lt. Ayerst. Four Marathas including Damodar Chapeker, Balkrishna Chapeker and Vasudeva Chapeker were hanged. Two brothers, Sardar Natus, were deported and a number of journalists, including B. G. Tilak were sentenced for sedition to long terms of imprisonment. A number of repressive laws were enacted. Section 124A was stiffened and the Criminal Procedure Code and the Post Office Art were amended with a view to increasing the powers of the Government.

4. Administration of Lord Curzon: –


The administration of Lord Curzon proved to be the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back. In his ill –fated term of office he “inflicted upon the country in almost breathless succession one contentious measure after another to which the people took the strongest exception. His costly Durbars amidst divesting famines, his Indian Universities Act of 1904, his attack on the elected members of the Calcutta Corporation, his expending to Tibet at the cost of Indian revenue his notorious address to the convocation of the Calcutta University in 1905 in which be declared most brazenly that truth had never been an ideal of the Indian people, and finally the partition of Bengal carried out in the teeth of strong opposition from the nation tried the patience even of the most stoic among our Anglophile leaders and sent a wave of indignation throughout the length and breadth of the country.

5. International Events:-

Some international events of the day fanned the smoldering fire into flames. The defeat of Italy at the hands of the Abyssinians in 1.894, the tough fight given by the South African Republics to the British and the Russia by Japan in 1904-05 exploded the myth of European invincibility-and caused a new awakening and self-confidence throughout the Asian continent. It seemed “like overthrow of a European Goliath by an Asiatic David.”

Political Ideas, Objectives and Methods of Extremists:

(1) Ideas:

The leaders of the Extremist Party were men who had either never abandoned or had come back to the faith of their ancestors. They were influenced and inspired by the revivalist movements of Arya Samaj. Theosophical Society, and especially, the New Vedantism of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda. They were not ashamed of India’s past culture and civilization.

The extremists brushed aside the claim that European civilization was superior to that of Asia and Africa and that it was the ideal and of human culture. They believed that “Every civilization is a working out of a Divine Idea, the manifestation of a Divine Ideal, the revelation of a Divine Purpose. The genius of every nation is as much a temple of God, as the body or the spirit of individual manor woman admittedly is.” It was on this basis that they claimed equal rights for all races and nations.

(2) Objectives


In conformity with the general political philosophy, the extremists set complete independence as the goal of the national movement in India. The thesis that British rule had proved a great blessing to the country was against their very basic doctrines.

As regards the shape of things in a fully independent India, the ideal of the extremists was “Democratic Swaraj”. First, it meant full freedom of growth and development to all races and communities of the land, i.e., full cultural autonomy for all the sections of the population. Secondly, the extremists aimed at the establishment of a federal type of government in India.

(3) Methods

The methods that the extremists advocated for the achievement of Swaraj were realistic and farsighted. They had absolutely no faith in the good intentions and promises of the British government or people. They ridiculed the moderates’ methods of prayer and petitions and protests, and called the early Congress a begging institution.

The extremists advocated and adopted the method of passive resistance. It consisted in refusing in an organized way to do anything that might help the government and thereby make the administration impossible. The method had a negative aspect. It included the boycott of foreign goods, the boycott of British courts of justice, of the executive branch of administration and of government schools and colleges. Ultimately, if the government did not listen to reason, it might be extended to include non­payment of taxes. The method, however, had a positive aspect too. The extremists aimed at organizing the civil life of the people independently of government help and control. The programme included the organization of villages, talukas and districts, the setting up of Panchayats for administration of justice and schools and colleges for public education. In this sense the resistance was not passive, it was quite active.

Origin and Growth of the Extremist Movement:

(1) B.G. Tilak-

The Extremist Movement was born in the last decade of the 19th century, but it could not play a decisive role until the partition of Bengal. The credit of enlivening Indian politics with the new spirit goes to Tilak. He was the first Indian political leader who emphasized on the four distinctive features which characterized the new movement. The first was a sincere faith in the glory and greatness of Indian culture in the past and the belief that all future development must be built on this foundation. The second was a conviction that the policy of mendicancy followed by the Congress would not lead to the desired goal, and that Indians must rely on their own strength and assert their inalienable rights. The third was a clear enunciation that the political goal of India was Swaraj rather than reforms in administration. The fourth was the awakening of political consciousness among the people at large and the consequent need of political agitation among the masses.

(2) Ganapati Festivals –

The inauguration of the Ganapati and Shivaji Festivals by Tilak may be said to be important landmark in the history of the new movement. The Ganapati festival was started in 1893. It was an old religious institution in Maharashtra, but Tilak transformed it into a national festival and gave it a political character by organizing lectures, processions, meals and singing parties. The festival appealed instinctively to all clauses of people and provided a platform for Hindus of all classes to stand together and discharge a joint national duty.

(3) Shivaji Festival –

The first Shivaji festival was held at Raigarh in 1895. It was “national hero worship, and round his name relied all the newly aroused national pride and enthusiasm of the Maharashtrian people.” Fiery speeches were delivered on the occasion and Shivaji’s killing of Afzal Khan-was justified as a great and unselfish act for national self-preservation. The festival was used to inculcate national sentiments among young men. In 1897 the festival was also celebrated at Poona, within ten days of celebration at Poona, Rand the collector of Poona and another officer, Lt. Ayerst, were shot dead by Chapeckar brothers. Tilak was held responsible for the crime and was sentenced to 18 months, imprisonment.

The inauguration of Shivaji festival was a memorable contribution of Tilak to the development of Indian nationalism. Tilak’s efforts were ably seconded by Bipin. Chandra Pal, Aurobindo Ghosh, Lala Lajpat Rai and others.

(4) Partition of Bengal

The presidency of Bengal in those days covered an extensive area and was no doubt, inconvenient from the administration point of view. Besides Bengal, it also included Bihar and Orissa. Lord Gurzon’s government partitioned the area inhabited by Bengalis, hitherto known as Bengal proper, and brought it under two different Governments. One of the new provinces retained the name of Bengal with; its capital at Calcutta, the other was called Eastern Bengal and Assam, The new province-included Chittagaon, Decca and Rajshahi divisions, Hill Tippera and Malda apart from Assam.

The partition scheme was formally commenced in July 1905 and put into effect on October 16. In the beginning, the plan was opposed through an intensive use of the conventional ‘Moderate’ methods of press campaigns, meetings and petitions. But these techniques had no effect on the government. Then it was decided to boycott all foreign goods. October 16, 1905 saw in Bengal popular demonstrations unparalleled in India’s history. It was a day of mourning and in many places was closed and Rakshabandhan was observed. Thus, the anti-partition agitation took the form of an undeclared war between the people and the Government.

5. Surat Split

As the movement developed and gained momentum, the division of opinion between moderates and extremists grew apace. By December 1906, extremism had advanced considerably and attempts were made to elect Tilak or Lajpat Rai as President of the coming Calcutta session. But the move was scotched by the moderate leaders by inviting the universally respected father-figure, Dadabhai Naoroji who was at that time living in England. The Calcutta session in a way marked the height of Extremist influence over the Congress. Their resolutions on boycott, Swadeshi, national education and Swaraj were passed. Thus a split was avoided because of the respect which Dadabhai’s personality commanded.

The next session of the Congress was held at Surat. The Moderate leaders were not sincere about the Calcutta resolutions, and rumours spread that they would be dropped at the Surat session. Both sides came prepared for a confrontation. The Moderates wanted to elect Rashbehari Ghosh as President. The Extremists were opposed to this move, the result was that there were violent clashes between the two groups and the session was dissolved in total chaos. Thus, a split took place and the Extremists were ousted from the Congress. Precise responsibility for the actual clash has remained controversial but on a broader view the major provocation seems to have come from the Moderates. Lajpat Rai and Tilak tried for a reunion of the Congress in the months following the Surat Session but the Bombay Moderate group remained adamant. The Congress remained under the control of the Moderates till 1916 when the two groups were reunited by Lucknow Pact.

6. Government policy of Repression and Conciliation

After 1906 the government adopted repressive measures to crush Extremism. The major instruments forged included banning of seditious meetings in specific areas, newspaper acts enabling seizure of presses, the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1908 which permitted a ban on Samities in Bengal, and deportations. Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh were deported in 1907 and many leaders from Bengal in 1908. In 1908 Tilak was tried for sedition, sentenced to six years imprisonment and sent to Mandalay.

In order to conciliate the moderates the British government enacted the Indian Council Act of 1909 which allowed somewhat greater power of budget discussion, putting questions and sponsoring resolutions to members of Legislative Councils; and for the first time formally introduced the principle of elections. The moderates welcomed the Act and rallied to the side of the government.

Evaluation of Extremist Movement

The extremist movement marks a great landmark in the history, of the freedom struggle. First, the Extremists devastated the entire structure of political thoughts of the Moderates and thus affected a veritable resolution in the field of ideas. They taught that administrative reforms could not solve the problems of the country; complete independence was the only solution to this problems. Secondly, the technique of resistance that the Extremists developed was best in the conditions. Thirdly, the Extremists were the first to realize the importance of mass agitation. To sum up, Extremists prepared the way for mass struggles conducted by the Congress under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi.

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