Moderate Phase

Moderate Phase

This article deals with ‘ Moderate 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


  • For first 20 years,  politics of Congress is referred  to as moderate politics because  Congress was hardly a full fledged political party by then . It was more in nature an annual conference which deliberated & adopted resolutions during 3 day tamasha (name given to them by extremists (rival group within Congress))
  • Moderates were basically influenced by Utilitarian theories of Edmund Burke, John Stuart Mill& John Morley
  • Moderates represented what can be said as Indian Liberalism . They wanted gradual or piece-meal reforms .  Their complaint was only against “un-British rule” in India perpetrated by the Viceroy, his Executive Council and the Anglo-Indian bureaucracy-an imperfection that could be reformed or rectified through gentle persuasion
  • They had intrinsic faith in the providential nature of British rule in India, they hoped that one day they would be recognized as partners and not subordinates in the affairs of the empire and be given the rights of full British citizenship.
  • Expectation of the Moderates was that full political freedom would come gradually and India would be ultimately given self governing right like those enjoyed by other colonies. But before achieving self government , Indians should be enlightened via education so that they can become responsible citizens (many Congress leaders were associated with educational institutions like Gokhale , SN Bannerjee) 

Methods of work in Initial Years

  • Early Congressmen had an implicit faith in the efficacy of peaceful and constitutional agitation.
  • Press and the platform at the annual sessions were their agencies. However, the press was the only agency through which the Congress propaganda was carried out throughout the year. Many leaders, in fact, were editors of either English or Indian language newspapers and wielded their pen powerfully.
  • Congressmen had great belief in British sense of Justice. They  worked under the illusion that all would be well if  British could be acquainted with true state of affairs in India . They thought that it was bureaucracy that stood in the way of their rights & intended to inform the Britishers about their problems & remind them their duty towards India . They send delegations to Britain to present Indian viewpoint . Dadabhai Naoroji spend his life in England
  • They took recourse to making earnest appeals , sending applications & petitions , holding meetings, organizing public opinion , propaganda through press (Key word : Petitions , Prayers and Press (PPP) )

Demands of the Moderates

All they wanted was Limited Self Government within the imperial framework

  • Indianization of Civil Services and Simultaneous examination for the I.C.S. in India and England (Indianized civil service would be more responsive to the Indian needs. It would stop the drainage of money, which was annually expatriated through the payment of salary and pension of the European officers. )
  • Abolition or reconstitution of the India Council,
  • Separation of the Judiciary from the Executive,
  • Repeal of the Arms Act,
  • Appointment of Indians to the commissioned ranks in the Army,
  • Reduction of military expenditure
  • Introduction of Permanent Settlement to other parts of India.
  • Expand & reform the Legislative Councils for elected representatives of people
  • Budget to be referred to legislature which should have right to discuss & vote
  • Military expenditure which used  Indian exchequer to fight imperial wars should be evenly shared by India & Britain

These demands were repeated year after year but there was hardly any response by the Britishers

They worked for the political unity of the country , for welding diverse people into a nation . For this, they kept all issues & demands which would bring one class in conflict with other out of their political agenda

Social demands too weren’t part of their agenda. Congress to them was a political body to represent political aspiration of Indian people as a whole & not a platform to discuss social reform. Separate organisation called Indian  Social Conference (1887)  was formed for this.

Moderate leaders

D Naoroji B Tyabji Pherozshah Mehta
MG Ranade G K Gokhale D E Wacha
S N Banerjee Anand Mohan Bose Rash Behari Ghosh

How many of their demands were met ?

Lord Cross’s Act or Indian Councils Act , 1892

  • Provided for marginal expansion of Legislative Councils (LCs) both at centre & provinces but members were to be selected & not elected
  • Budget can be discussed in Legislatures but not to be voted on
  • Government was given power to legislate without referring to Legislatures . Role of LC was recommendatory & not mandatory

Reformation of Administration : Charles Wood who was president of Board of Control opposed their demand of simultaneous holding of ICS exam in India & Britain on ground that there was no institution in India that can train boys but Public Service Commission was appointed later under Aitchison which recommended simultaneous exam . 

None of other demand was even considered by British authorities like

  • Income tax, abolished in the 1870s, was reimposed in 1886
  • Salt tax was raised from Rs. 2 to Rs. 2.5
  • Customs duty was imposed, but it was matched by a countervailing excise duty on Indian cotton yarn in 1894
  • Fowler Commission artificially fixed the exchange rate of rupee at a high rate of 1 shilling and 4 pence.

British attitude towards Moderates

  • From the beginning, Government was hostile towards development of nationalist forces. Dufferin was critical of its formation.  He even suggested to Hume that Congress should devote itself to social rather than political affairs but congress leaders refused to make the change . But they couldn’t be openly hostile to Congress . They hoped that Congress would keep itself busy with academic discussions confined to handful of people
  • Soon, it became clear (by 1887) that Congress & other nationalist associations & newspapers would not confine themselves to such a limited role. Newspapers reached out to people & Congress began to publish pamphlets in Indian languages . British couldn’t tolerate political awareness spreading among common people . This was nothing but sedition for administration because they exposed real, exploitative face of imperialism
  • Officials now publicly began to criticize & condemn Congress & other nationalist spokesperson.  They were branded as disloyal babus, seditious Brahmins & violent villains
  • In 1887 , Dufferin  attacked Congress by ridiculing it to be representing only a microscopic minority of people
  • British authorities pushed further their policy of Divide & Rule to counter nationalist movement
    • Encouraged Sayyid Ahmed Khan, Raja Shiva Prasad & Pro-Britishers to start anti congress movements. This started to drive a wedge between Hindu-Muslims
    • Cleverly exploited a controversy around Hindi & Urdu & give it a communal touch
    • Cow protection movement started by Hindu nationalist was used for same purpose

Achievements & contributions of Moderates

  • Creation of national awakening among the people and trained people in the art of the political work
  • Popularise the idea of democracy & nationalism among the people
  • Exposition of the exploitative character of the British imperialism eg drain of wealth theory & Economic Critique of  moderates was their greatest achievement
  • Creation of the common political & economic programme around which Indians gathered and waged political struggles
  • Providing sound base for foundation on which Indian national movement build up the momentum
  • They adopted the values of women empowerment , equality in the society and secularism and democracy
  • Shook the very belief that British Rule was for benefit of Indians – turned legislatures into forums

Limitations of Moderates

  • Don’t have much of political success to their credit but however meagre their success is it has to be seen in the context of prevailing political circumstances & colonial conditions they worked in
  • The movement under them failed to acquire roots in the masses and mobilise them  & their programme remained confined to educated elite called Bhadraloks
  • Landed interests dominated : For initial few years British Indian Association of landlords was major source of their finance + among lawyers most of them had landed interest . They demanded extension of Permanent Settlement only in interest of zamindars + in 1898 pro zamindari amendments were added to Bengal Tenancy Act,1885 on their demand  . 
  • Didn’t take pro worker stand – They opposed factory reforms to improve living condition of the workers & were pro industrial class always .They were opposed to factory reforms like the Mining Bill, which proposed to improve the living condition of women and children and restrict their employment under certain age. They also opposed similar labor reforms in Bombay on the plea that they were prompted by Lancashire interests. However, they supported labour reforms for Assam tea gardens, as capitalist interest involved there was of foreign origin
  • Early moderates were  all mainly Hindus barring notable Bombay politician Badruddin Tyabji . From 1892 to 1902- 90%. Hindus & 6.5 % Muslim delegates & among Hindus 40% were Brahmins & rest upper class Hindus . When congress demanded elected councils it was not liked by Sir Syed KHAN who feared that it would mean Hindu Majority rule . On cow protection issue although it has no sympathy with Hindu nationalists didn’t speak against them fearing losing Hindu votes &  all this further alienated Muslims from them

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