Extremist Phase

Extremist Phase

This article deals with ‘ Extremist Phase – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here

Rise of Extremists

  • Failure of Moderate politics became quite apparent by end of 19th century & new trend that rose was that of extremists
  • Extremism developed in 3 main regions under three leaders
Bepin Chandra Pal Bengal
Bal Gangadhar Tilak Maharashtra
Lala Lajpat Rai Punjab

Reasons for rise of Extremism

1 . Recognition of true nature of British Rule

  • Early nationalist leaders exposed the true nature of British rule in India. They conclusively proved by elaborate data that British rule & its policies were responsible for the economic ruin of India & deepening her poverty
    • MG Ranade : Essays in Indian Economics(1898)
    • Dadabhai Naoroji : Indian Poverty & un-British Rule in India(1901)
    • RC Dutt : Economic History of India
  • With their economic critique & Drain Theory , they exposed real nature of British rule.
  • Thus extremist ideology was next & logical step to these developments in political thinking.

2. Dissatisfaction with Congress’s achievements

  • Younger elements within the Congress were dissatisfied with the achievements of Congress during first 15-20 years & also with cold & reactionary attitude of the government . They lost their faith in British sense of justice & were strongly critical of the peaceful & constitutional means
  • On his return from England in 1905, Lala Lajpat Rai said that British democracy was too busy with their own affairs & British press is unlikely to champion their cause. They have to make a blow for freedom themselves.

3. Curzonian Administration

  • Curzonian administration  magnified this nationalist anger further .
  • Initiated number of unpopular legislations & administration  measures which hurt educated Indians
    • Indian Universities Act : placed Calcutta University under complete government control
    • Indian Official Secrets Act, 1904 : placed restrictions on press
    • Reform of Calcutta Corporation(1898) : Reduce the elected members by increasing official members because large number of nationalist leaders were getting birth from this institute
    • Partition of Bengal

4. Deteriorating economic condition

  • Large number of famines in 1890s
  • Total toll of 90 lakh
  • Government did nothing & people not satisfied with government efforts

5. International Influence

  • 1896 : Ethiopia defeated Italy
  • Russia defeated by Japan
  • Irish, Turkish movements

All this gave  impression to nationalists that United India can take on British &  that Europeans are not invincible

6. Partition of Bengal

  • Worst & most hated work of Curzon’s policy.
  • From 1903-1905 , Moderates were in commanding position . It was made public in 1903 that partition would be done & finally took place in 1905 & in meantime , Moderates were not able to do anything
  • Utter disregard of Curzon showed to public that Moderate’s policy of ‘petition, prayers & protests’ wasn’t going to work

Fighting Factions in different regions : Moderates vs Extremists

At start of 20th century , there was great deal of faction fighting at almost all levels

Bengal Bitter journalistic rivalry between Bengalee edited by Moderate SN Banerjea & Amrita Bazaar Patrika by Radical leader Motilal Ghosh
Maharashtra Competition between Gokhale & Tilak for controlling Poona Sarvajanik Sabha .
Split in the Congress at Surat was the product of a fierce struggle between ‘the Tilakites of Poona’ and Moderates of Bombay, led by Pherozeshah Mehta.
Madras Three factions fighting with each other
Punjab Arya Samaj divided after death of Dayanand between Moderate College group & Radical Revivalist group

These factions in all parts fighting for supremacy was ultimately  won by  Extremists

Side Note – Historians of the ‘Cambridge school‘ have been trying in recent years to present the emergence of Extremist dissent as basically a set of factional quarrels for the control of the Congress. Certainly there was no lack of factionalism in Congress circles during the 1890s. Yet Cambridge scholars surely press it much too far. It is difficult to understand why dissidents should have been so eager to capture the Congress—not yet a real political party with power and patronage opportunities & not more than an annual platform with very inadequate funds—unless it was because they had certain alternative strategies and ideals to put forward. Above all, such scholarship ignores entirely the fairly systematic critique of Moderate politics which was emerging in the 1890s, most notably in the three principal bases of later Extremism—Bengal, Punjab and Maharashtra.

Goal of the Extremists

Their goal was SWARAJ but different people interpreted it differently

Tilak Indian control over the administration  but not a total severance of relations with British 
Bipin Pal Believed no self government was possible under British paramountcy & for him swaraj meant complete autonomy free from British control
Aurobindo Ghosh Absolute political freedom
Most others Self rule within Parameters of British imperial structure

Methods of Agitation

  • Passive resistance :  opposition of colonial rule through violation of its unjust laws , boycott of British goods & institutions
  • Development of indigenous alternatives ie Swadeshi & national education

Revivalism & Extremists

  • They gave Revivalist discourse . They sought to invoke an imagined golden past & used symbols from a retrospectively constructed history to arouse nationalist passions. Historical figures who had demonstrated valour & prowess were now projected as national heroes .  Tilak started Shivaji festivals in Maharashtra .  Marathas , Rajputs & Sikhs stereotyped as martial races by Britishers were now placed in Aryan tradition & appropriated as national heroes
  • Some of the leaders like Tilak & Aurobindo Ghosh also believed that  use of Hindu mythology & history was best mean to reach the masses & mobilise them in support
  • Vivekananda’s teaching effects – physical culture movement started with great enthusiasm with gymnasiums coming up in Bengal to reclaim physical prowess
  • Indian Political leaders also looked back to ancient Indo -Aryan traditions as an alternate to Anglo -Saxon political systems . Extremists tried to define Indian nation in terms of distinctly Indian cultural Idioms which led to religious revivalism invoking glorious past

More on Revivalism in next article. Click here to jump over to article.

Main Leaders During Extremist Phase

1 . Bal Gangadhar Tilak

  • 1856-1920
  • Known as Lokmanya and father of Indian unrest
  • He began his political career as moderate but turned extremist by beginning of the 20th century

Pioneer in many ways:

  • Use of religious orthodoxy as a method of mass contact through organisation of Ganpati festival in 1893
  • First to develop patriotic cum historical cult through organisation of the Shivaji festival in 1897
  • Experimented with kind of non revenue campaign among the famine stricken peasants of Maharashtra in 1896-97

Vision on social reforms :

  • Although a radical in politics , he was conservative in social reforms
  • He said both were distinct & political freedom must come before social freedom
  • He opposed any initiative by British government as it was an alien government as well as by congress as it would estrange masses from it

Education & Press

  • He was prominent member of DECCAN EDUCATION SOCIETY
  • He helped to found new English school later known as  Ferguson school
  • Editor of 2 newspapers :
Maharatta In English
Kesari In Marathi

Freedom struggle

  • Also founded Home Rule League in 1916 April
  • Gave slogan : Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it
  • He was imprisoned twice for his nationalist activities :
1897  For 18 months
1908 For 6 years to Mandalay
  • Prominent role in anti partition movement (1905-08).  Made it an all India movement

2. Lala Lajpat Rai

  • 1865-1928
  • Known as Punjab Kesari
  • Leader of the ‘college faction’ of Arya Samaj
  • Played role in anti partition movement 1905
  • Deported to Burma in 1907
  • Went to USA after his release & in  1914 founded  INDIAN HOME RULE LEAGUE there
  • Editor of newspaper PUNJABEE, KOHINOOR & VANDE MATARAM
  • Wrote biographies of Mazzini, Garibaldi, Shivaji and Shrikrishna; stayed in America for some time; and was also elected to the Central Assembly.
  • Died of lathi charge injuries in protests to Simon commission

3. Bipin Chandra Pal

  • 1858-1932
  • Father of revolutionary thought in India
  • Began his journalist career with PARIDARSAK
  • Started NEW INDIA to propagate nationalism
  • He started his political career as a moderate but after partition of Bengal switched to radical methods
  • He and Aurobindo Ghosh were exponents of new nationalism – swaraj + boycott+ swadeshi + national education
  • After the end of anti partition movement he retired from active politics

4. Aurobindo Ghosh

  • 1872-1950
  • Wrote New lamps for the old
  • Advocated the Doctrine of PASSIVE RESISTANCE in series of articles in 1907 in VANDE MATRAM of which he was editor
  • Part of swadeshi boycott movement
  • Principal of Bengal National College started in Calcutta as a part of scheme of national education
  • Arrested in 1908 for Kennedy murders and immediately after being judged innocent gave up politics and escaped to Pondicherry to take up religion.

Moderates versus Extremists

Moderates Extremists /Militant Nationalists 
Social base : Anglicised Upper Class of Urban Areas Social base :Educated middle class and lower  middle classes in towns
Ideological inspiration: Western liberal thought and European history Ideological inspiration : Indian history ,cultural heritage and Hindu traditional symbols
They claimed social equality & share in British Government of India on grounds that they were British subjects They demanded social & political equality as their birthright .
Believed in England’s providential mission in India Rejected providential mission theory as illusion
Believed that political connections with Britain were in India’s social,political and cultural interests Believed that political connections with Britain would perpetuate British exploitation of India
Professed loyalty to British crown British crown was unworthy of claiming Indian loyalty
Movement should be limited to middle class intelligentsia ,masses not yet ready for participation in the political work Immense faith in the capacity of masses to participate and to make sacrifices
Demanded constitutional reforms,  limited self-government within the imperial framework and share for Indians in the services Demanded Swaraj
Insisted on use of only constitutional methods Did not hesitate to use non constitutional methods like boycott and the passive resistance
They were patriots but did not play the role of comprador class They were patriots who made sacrifices for the sake of the country

Unlike  the  Moderates  who  drew  upon  the  ideas  of Gladstone,  Disraeli  and  Burke  to  refine  their  political  strategy,  the  Extremists  found  Bankim’s Anandamath,  a  historical  novel  that  narrated  the  story  of  the  rise  of  the  Hindu  Sannyasis visavis the  vanquished  Muslim  rulers  and  Vivekananda’s  interpretation  of Vedanta  philosophy. The  poem  “Bande  Mataram”  in  Anandamath  clearly  set  the  tone  of  the  Extremist  philosophy in  which  the  notion  of  ‘Mother’  seemed  to  be  prominent.    But by  overlooking  the  non-Hindu  tradition  completely  and  accepting  the  Hindu  tradition as  Indian  tradition,  they  however,  nurtured  a  narrow  view  of  history  which  is  misleading given  the  cross-fertilisation  of  multiple  traditions  in  Indian  civilisation.

Assessment of Extremism

  • Extremist as a political philosophy wasn’t consistent philosophy . Advocates of extremism ranged from
    • Active revolutionaries who werent even objected to non violent acts to those who opposed all violent methods
    • Their definition of Swaraj wasn’t consistent either

However, all extremist leaders were one in realising the evils of foreign rule & in demanding some degree of independence from colonial stranglehold.

  • They broadened the social base of nationalist movement . Most of them represented the urban lower middle class & aimed at spreading the message of Congress to the people. They spoke , wrote & edited newspapers in vernacular languages & thus succeeded in conveying their message to larger audience
  • Socially speaking  , their ideology proved to be a reactionary development. In contrast to Moderates , the Extremists became revivalist & obscurantists in matters of social reforms. Tilak’s opposition to Age of Consent Act & his association with Anti-Cow killing societies & his organisation of Ganesh & Shivaji festivals projected them as leader of Hindu orthodoxy. Although the revivalist dimension of Extremist politics was mainly directed against the foreign rulers , it developed an unhealthy inter-relationship between religion & politics  & encouraged Muslim separatism

Side Note – Age of Consent issue , revealed how much the climate of educated opinion had changed since 1860, when sexual intercourse with a girl below the age of ten had been declared to be rape without much protest from anyone. The relatively minor reform raising this age from ten to twelve,  in 1891 provoked massive opposition, particularly in Bengal and Maharashtra. Frankly conservative and obscurantist sentiments mingled here with the nationalist argument, put forward most notably by Tilak, that foreign rulers had no right to interfere with religious and social customs. The latter argument, it must be added, was slightly specious, since Hindu orthodox groups in the same period seldom hesitated to plead for legislation against cow-slaughter. Such legislation would surely also have been an interference with the religious and social customs of a big part of Indian society—the Muslims.

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