Extremist-nationalists or the Neo-Nationalists

During the period from 1906 and till 1916 when they joined the Congress fold back, sought ‘Swaraj’ as its major objective. The numerous manifestations of the word ‘Swaraj’ came to be formulated by the extremist leaders. Tilak regarded Swaraj as self-government essential for the exercise of Swadharma. He used to say, “Without Swaraj, there could be no social reforms, no industrial progress, no useful education, no fulfillment of the national life.’ Bipin Chandra Pal did not mean seeking reforms when he talked about Swaraj; what he meant was’re-form’ meaning thereby the abdiction of the Britishers to determine our policies, their despotism, and their right to tax the Indians. Aurobindo defined Swaraj ‘as the fulfillment of the ancient life of India under modern conditions, the return of the Satyuga of national greatness, self-liberation of the people for final fulfillment of the Vedantic ideal in politics. According to Lala Lajpat Rai, Swaraj was the soul of the nation, its very life, and the first requisite of a country to have it. Within the framework of the concept of Swaraj, the major demands of the extremists can be stated as: (i) the Indianisation of administration, i.e.; the Indians would have a larger share in the administration; (ii) the right of the people to seek redressal of their grievances; (iii) the grievances’ techniques be accepted as a matter of glory and dignity; (iv) education needs to be reorganized on national lines; (v) promotion of Swadeshi goods; (vi) passive-resistance be recognized as a right; (vii) increasing emphasis on the traditions and cultures of the people.

The Methodology adopted by the extremists included:

  1. passive resistance,
  2. emphasis on Swadeshi,
  3. boycott of foreign goods,
  4. promotion of national education,
  5. non-cooperation

In fact, the extremists had no faith in the British sense of justice and regarded the British rule in India as a curse.

The Achievements of the Extremists were no less important. The extremists were able to inculcate the nationalist consciousness among the people; they brought back their glory and pride and taught them how to be steadfast amidst challenges. They were the first to seek ‘Swaraj’ as a matter of right. They were successful in broadening the movement’s social base. They gave the Swadeshi and Boycott movement an all-India look, and left behind an ideology and perspective which the later nationalists adopted without any hesitation.

It would not be out of reference if we are able to understand the differences between the moderates and the extremists. In fact, there were differences between the two sections: their perspectives were different; they had different views on their approach towards the British rule in India; their vision of the future India was absolutely different; they differed in their objectives, goals, methodology and on their understanding of the Indian politics. Among the differences between the moderates and the extremists, some major differences may be given here: (i) the moderates had faith in the English people and would regard them good, honest and just; the extremists had faith in their past, in themselves, and thought of the English rulers as exploiters and arrogant; (ii) the moderates thought of the English rule in India as a blessing, hoping that the development of India would be possible only in their association with Britain, the extremists, on the other, considered the British rule in India as a curse and would believe that sooner the English leave, better it is for India, (iii) the moderates sought reforms in India while the extremists demanded Swaraj; (iv) the moderates would not wish the English to leave India-in fact, they could not imagine India without the English; the extremists wanted India of the Indians, all public offices to be held by the Indians; (v) the moderates had faith in the British sense of justice, regarding them ‘just’ while the extremists never nurtured such a faith in the English; (vi) the moderates’ methods were moderate: of prayers, of petitions, of resolutions, of dialogues, of deputations, of conversation while the methods adopted by the extremists were relatively harsher: of persuasion, of dissuasion, of argumentation, of determination, of conviction, of retaliation.

The revolutionary tactics extending to what may be termed as highly violent-terroristic methods constitute a form of extremism which was also a part of the Indian politics after 1906. Such revolutionaries rose in almost all parts of the country, mostly disorganised, secretive, scattered but always assertive. They included men from Bengal, Maharashtra, Punjab, Madras and Rajasthan to mention a few among many. They resorted to killing and bombing, forming, in the process, underground societies and hitting the foreigners, especially the English, planning and executing the act of terrorism.

 (a) Bengal

The revolutionary activities started in late 1907, with blowing up a train in which the Lt. Governor of Bengal was travelling shortly thereafter. Allen, the District Magistrate of Dacca, was shot in the back, though the attack on his life did not prove fatal. In 1908, a bomb intended for Kingsford, the infamous judge of Muzaffarpur in Bihar, misfired and killed Miss and Mrs Kennedy who were coming out of their bungalow. In November, 1908 there was another attempt to murder Andrew Frazer. The Indian Inspector of Police was shot in the streets of Calcutta.

 (b) Maharashtra

Maharashtra was another important centre of the revolutionary activities. Abhinaya Bharat, the well-known revolutionary association of Nasik, seriously took up the revolutionary activities and tried to have its branches all over the province, Majumdar says, “As a result of its efforts there was at that time a network of secret societies all over the country. Many colleges and educational institutions in Poona and Bombay had atleast one secret society branch of “Abhinaya Bharat”, other secret societies were set up factories in Nasik, Poona, Bombay, Kothura, Basai ect. for manufacturing bombs or bomb materials. Their activities also included collection of and training in arms and explosives, whereever and whenever possible. Among the revolutionary leaders of Maharashtra Shyamji Krishan Verma, the Chapekar brothers and the Savarkar brothers were the most eminent. In December, 1909, Jackson, the District Magistrate of Nasik who had tried Savarkar, was shot dead.

 (c) Punjab

Punjab also witnessed the outbursts of revolutionary activities. Hardyal, Ajit Singh and Sufi Amba Prasad spread the revolutionary spirit all over the province. Lala Lajpat Rai helped them a great deal. As usual, secret arrangements were made for collecting arms and manufacturing bombs. Ajit Singh along with Amba Prasad distributed a number of revolutionary materials. Taking advantage of the discontent caused by the Colonization Bill, Ajit Singh and Syed Hyder Riza formed the ‘Indian Patriots Association’ and addressed a series of meetings at Lyallpur. The reactionary policy of Lieutenant Governor Denzil Ibberteson also added fuel to the fire. In consequence, there were riots in Lahore and Rawalpindi. The Arya Samaj was supposed to be chiefly responsible for sedition in Punjab. I.M. Chatterji and Dinanath who were joined by Amir Chand of Delhi, carried on the work initiated by Hardyal.

 (d) Madras, Rajasthan etc.

The revolutionary activities, though unorganized came up in Madras, Benaras and Rajasthan. On March 13, 1908 a serious riot broke out in Tinnevelly. Many public building were attacked and partially burnt. The furniture and official records were set on fire. Revolutionary ideas were preached in public meetings and some sort of secret association was organized by Nilakanta Brahmachari. On June 17, 1911 the District Magistrate of Tinnevelly was shot in a railway carriage. The revolutionaries of Rajasthan carried on their activities under the leadership of Arjun Lal Sethi, Bharat Keshari Singh and Rao Gopal Singh. Benaras also became a very big centre of the revolutionary activities.

The revolutionary activities were carried beyond the borders of India. In London, an India House was started by Shyamji Krishna Verma who published a paper called the Indian Sociologist. The India House soon became the centre of revolutionary activities. In July, 1909, Madan Lal Dhingra assassinated Col. William Curzon Wyllie. The new centres emerged on the continent-Paris and Geneva, from where Madame Cama, a Parsee revolutionary who had close contacts with the socialists and who brought out Bande Mataram. Lala Hardayal published the weekly Ghadr.

The outbursts of revolutionary activities greatly alarmed the British. The Government, thereupon, adopted a threefolod policy of repression, reforms and division to meet the situation. A series of stringent Acts viz. Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act, 1907, the Explosive Substances Act, 1908, the Newspapers (Incitement to Offences) Act, 1908 etc. were passed within a couple of years. Some of these measures were even extended and made more comprehensive in scope. Lala Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh were deported. In 1908, Krishan Kumar Mittra, Aswini Kumar Dutt, Shayam Sundra Chakarvari, Sabodh Chandra and five others were chosen for the honour of detention without trial. For his two articles in the Kesari in connection with the bomb incident of Muzaffarpur, Tilk was sentenced to six years imprisonment. These repressive measures of the Government could not root out the terrorist activities. They, however, went underground for a time. In their efforts to win over the moderates to their own side, the Government offered the Reforms of 1909. But they, too, failed to achieve their object. Even Gopal Krishna Gokhale, the leader of the moderates, expressed dissatisfaction with the concessions granted to the Indians. The British, however, succeeded in creating division between the Hindus and the Muslims. By conceding the Muslims’ demand for communal electorates, they made them their allies against the Hindus. But the British success in this respect also proved short-lived. The developments at home and abroad soon weakened the AngloMuslim friendship and brought about a close alliance between the Congress and the Muslim League.


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