Indian National Congress

The Moderates (1885-1905)

The early Congressmen were described as the moderates: During 1885-1905, the moderates held the leadership of the Congress and determined its programme and course of action. Through their leadership of the Indian National Congress they also moulded the political consciousness of the people. The British Government looked upon them as men who mattered in the. Indian political life and watched their activities with interest and suspicion. The eminent moderates of this period were Dadabhai Naoroji, Surendranath Bannerjea, Pherozeshah Metha, Badruddin Tyabji, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, M.G. Ranade and Pt. Madan Mohan Malaviya, William Wedderburn.

The moderates believed in the British sense of justice and had viewed the British rule as a boon. They thought that the stability of the British rule was the sine qua non of India’s progress. The western education, speedy means of communication, better system of justice etc. etc. were some of its blessings. They also held that the British nation was essentially just and good and that if it could be acquainted with the true state of Indian affairs, all their grievances would be redressed. The only obstacle to reform, in their opinion, the english officials who stood between them and their just rights. Convinced as such, these early Congressmen had leaning towards the West, affirmed loyalty to the British Crown and acknowledged with gratitude the grant of concessions.

The moderates urged the Government to introduce a number of reforms, the most important of which were: the reorganization of the Councils, simultaneous examinations, the abolition or reconstruction of the India Council, the repeal of the Arms Act, the separation of the Judiciary from the Executive, the appointment of Indians to the commissioned ranks, the reduction of military expenditure etc. etc. It is interesting to note that these demands of the moderate, formulated at the first two or three sessions of the Congress, remained more or less the same during the first twenty years of its life.

The Moderates had great faith in the efficacy of peaceful and constitutional agitation. They carried on their propaganda work through the press the platform and the annual sessions. They also sent deputations and petitions to England. The press was their very powerful agency because many Congress leaders were the editors of newspapers which appeared in English or Indian languages. According to Prof. Gurmukh Nihal “Among the various methods of Congress propaganda, the holding of annual sessions was by far the most important. It was at these meetings that the Congress leaders discussed the Government’s policy and put forward their demands in an authoritative manner and it was then that the Congress machinery was in full swing. Besides, the annual sessions not only attracted the attention of the educated classes but also of the Government.” The strength of the members attending the sessions of the Congress kept increasing year after year, for example, it was 72 in 1885; 434 in 1886; 607 in 1887; 1200 in 1888, around 2000 each in 1889 and 1890.

The Congress leaders like Dababhai Naoroji, Wedderburn and A.O. Hume laid much emphasis on propaganda in England. They held that if the British nation and Parliament were properly informed of the Indian affairs, success would soon follow, Dadabhai Naorioji wrote in October, 1898 : “Any well-directed effort here will always be far more effective, as this is the fountainhead where the chief work lies”. Hence Wedderburn and Naoroji started the Congress movement in England and regarded it as important as that in India. In 1888 a paid Indian Agency was set up there under the charge of William Digby. Next year saw the formation of the British Committee of the Indian National Congress. The foundation of this Committee was quite significant in so far as it placed the Congress propaganda on an active and organized footing. It started a monthly paper, called India, which supplied an authoritative and detailed information about the national movement both in England and in India. In July, 1893 the British Committee succeeded in forming an Indian Parliamentary Committee consisting of those who were willing to co-operate in favour of a just and favourable policy towards India. With the election of Dababhjai Naoroji to the British Parliament, there started a more effective propaganda of the Congress in England. The supporters of the Congress succeeded in carrying through a resolution for holding simultaneous examinations. Naoroji’s amendment to the Madras and Bombay Armies Bill was also accepted. It is said that the Congress spent every year about £3,000 for carrying on the work in England. Besides these Committees which carried on propaganda in an organized way, some isolated individuals like John Bright, Henry Fawcett and Charles Bradlaugh also took a keen interest in the Indian affairs. Bradlaugh was s strong advocate of Indian cause in the Parliament. During 1888-1890, he asked questions on almost all important matters relating to India. In 1890 he introduced two Bills which provided for the enlargement of the Councils and the extension of their functions. Some other British members of the parliament like Schwann Mac Neill and Seymour Keay also lent their support to the Indian cause. Mr. Schwann laid emphasis on the representative character and elective basis of the Congress and added that it represented to a great extent the national voice of India. Similarly Mr. Samuel Smith, a great supporter of India’s national movement, remarked that the Congress was loyal and constitutional. All these efforts of the British supporters of India’s cause also added weight to the Congress propaganda in England. The Congress also sent delegates from time to time who appealed to the British to redress the Indian grievances. The first official deputation consisting of Surendernath Bannerjea, R.N. Mudholkar, W.C. Bonnerjee, Eardley Norton and A.O. Hume visited England in 1890 and delivered many lectures on Indian affairs. G.K. Gokhale, Surendranath Baneerjea, D.E. Wacha and G. Subramania Iyer who had gone to England to give evidence before the Welby Commission, addressed a large number of meetings and made a very good impression by their political speeches. A.M. Bose and Bipin Chandra Pal also visited England in 1898 and 1899 respectively and spoke at various places. Thus, during 1885-1905, the moderates did their best to keep the interest of the India alive in Britain.

The policy and programme of the moderate nationalist did not find favour with the Indian youth. They ridiculed their methods of agitation and denounced them as political mendicants. But, despite this attitude of the younger generations, these early Congressmen made a notable contribution to the progress of national movement. It was under their leadership that the Congress regularly held its annual sessions, passed resolutions, sent deputations and thus focused the attention of the people and the Government on the Indian’s grievances. Their role in moulding the public opinion as well as in drawing the Indians within the fold of the Congress was no less commendable. They also worked to produce men and material necessary for the upholding of the national life. Dr. Ishwari Prasad has aptly remarked: “With all the ridicule to which their methods had been subjected none can withhold the need of praise from its early leaders (moderates) – men of high intellectual attainments, character and patriotism-for doing pioneer work in the path of India’s regeneration and championing the cause of the people against a powerful, alien bureaucracy strongly entrenched in its own citadel of obstinacy and prejudice”. The early Congressmen thus, did in those days a great amount of spade work in national awakening, political education and in uniting Indians and in creating in them the consciousness of common nationality.

It is true that the moderate nationalists put up their argument well, but they did not outrightly condemn the British rule. The moderates went on progressing without serious opposition from the Government. Their constitutional methods were also justified under the circumstances. They were faced with an alien bureaucracy which was as strong in its organization as it was conservative in its attitude, behaviour and traditions.

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