Period of Militant Uprisings
(1905-1909) Growth of Militant Nationalism
A radical trend of a militant nationalist approach to political activity started emerging in the 1890s and it took a concrete shape by 1905. As an adjunct to this trend, a revolutionary wing also took shape.
Why Militant Nationalism Grew
Many factors contributed to the rise of militant nationalism.
Recognition of the True Nature of British Rule
Having seen that the British government was not conceding any of their important demands, the more militant among those politically conscious got disillusioned and started looking for a more effective mode of political action. Also, the feeling that only an Indian government could lead India on to a path of progress started attracting more and more people. The economic miseries of the 1890s further exposed the exploitative character of colonial rule. Severe famines killed 90 lakh persons between 1896 and 1900. Bubonic plague affected large areas of the Deccan. There were largescale riots in the Deccan.
The nationalists were wide awake to the fact that instead of giving more rights to the Indians, the government was taking away even the existing ones.
1892— The Indian Councils Act was criticised by nationalists as it failed to satisfy them.
1897— The Natu brothers were deported without trial and Tilak and others, imprisoned on charges of sedition.
1898— Repressive laws under IPC Section 124 A were further amplified with new provisions under IPC Section 156 A 1899— Number of Indian members in Calcutta Corporation were reduced.
1904— Official Secrets Act curbed freedom of press.
1904— Indian Universities Act ensured greater government control over universities, which it described as factories producing political revolutionaries.
Also, British rule was no longer progressive socially and culturally. It was suppressing the spread of education, especially mass and technical education.
Growth of Confidence and Self-Respect
There was a growing faith in self-effort. Tilak, Aurobindo and Bipin Chandra Pal repeatedly urged the nationalists to rely on the character and capacities of the Indian people. A feeling started gaining currency that the masses had to be involved in the battle against colonial government as they were capable of making the immense sacrifices needed to win freedom.
Growth of Education
While, on the one hand, the spread of education led to an increased awareness among the masses, on the other hand, the rise in unemployment and underemployment among the educated drew attention to poverty and the underdeveloped state of the country’s economy under colonial rule. This added to the already simmering discontent among the more radical nationalists.
Remarkable progress made by Japan after 1868 and its emergence as an industrial power opened the eyes of Indians to the fact that economic progress was possible even in an Asian country without any external help. The defeat of the Italian army by Ethiopians (1896), the Boer wars (1899- 1902) where the British faced reverses and Japan’s victory over Russia (1905) demolished myths of European invincibility. Also, the nationalists were inspired by the nationalist movements worldwide—in Ireland, Russia, Egypt, Turkey, Persia and China. The Indians realised that a united people willing to make sacrifices could take on the mightiest of empires.
Reaction to Increasing Westernisation
The new leadership felt the stranglehold of excessive westernisation and sensed colonial designs to submerge the Indian national identity in the British Empire. The intellectual and moral inspiration of the new leadership was Indian.
Intellectuals like Swami Vivekananda, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Swami Dayananda Saraswati inspired many young nationalists with their forceful and articulate arguments, painting India’s past in brighter colours than the British ideologues had. These thinkers exploded the myth of western superiority by referring to the richness of Indian civilisation in the past. Dayananda’s political message was ‘India for the Indians’.
Dissatisfaction with Achievements of Moderates
The younger elements within the Congress were dissatisfied with the achievements of the Moderates during the first 15- 20 years. They were strongly critical of the methods of peaceful and constitutional agitation, popularly known as the “Three ‘P’s”—prayer, petition and protest—and described these methods as ‘political mendicancy’.
Reactionary Policies of Curzon
A sharp reaction was created in the Indian mind by Curzon’s seven-year rule in India which was full of missions, commissions and omissions. He refused to recognise India as a nation, and insulted Indian nationalists and the intelligentsia by describing their activities as “letting off of gas”. He spoke derogatorily of Indian character in general. Administrative measures adopted during his rule—the Official Secrets Act, the Indian Universities Act, the Calcutta Corporation Act and, above all, the partition of Bengal—left no doubt in Indian minds about the basically reactionary nature of British rule in India.
Existence of a Militant School of Thought
By the dawn of the twentieth century, a band of nationalist thinkers had emerged who advocated a more militant approach to political work. These included Raj Narain Bose, Ashwini Kumar Datta, Aurobindo Ghosh and Bipin Chandra Pal in Bengal; Vishnu Shastri Chiplunkar and Bal Gangadhar Tilak in Maharashtra; and Lala Lajpat Rai in Punjab. Tilak emerged as the most outstanding representative of this school of thought.
The basic tenets of this school of thought were:
● hatred for foreign rule; since no hope could be derived from it, Indians should work out their own salvation; ● swaraj to be the goal of national movement; ● direct political action required; ● belief in capacity of the masses to challenge the authority; ● personal sacrifices required and a true nationalist to be always ready for it.
Emergence of a Trained Leadership
The new leadership could provide a proper channelisation of the immense potential for political struggle which the masses possessed and, as the militant nationalists thought, were ready to give expression to. This energy of the masses got a release during the movement against the partition of Bengal, which acquired the form of the swadeshi agitation.
The Swadeshi and Boycott Movement
The Swadeshi Movement had its genesis in the anti-partition movement which was started to oppose the British decision to partition Bengal.
Partition of Bengal to Divide People
The British government’s decision to partition Bengal had been made public in December 1903. The idea was to have two provinces: Bengal comprising Western Bengal as well as the provinces of Bihar and Orissa, and Eastern Bengal and Assam. Bengal retained Calcutta as its capital, while Dacca became the capital of Eastern Bengal. The official reason given for the decision was that Bengal with a population of 78 million (about a quarter of the population of British India) had become too big to be administered. It was also stated that partition would help in the development of Assam if it came under the direct jurisdiction of the government. This was true to some extent, but the real motive behind the partition plan was seen to be the British desire to weaken Bengal, the nerve centre of Indian nationalism. This it sought to achieve by putting the Bengalis under two administrations by dividing them:
(i) on the basis of language, thus reducing the Bengalis to a minority in Bengal itself (as in the new proposal Bengal proper was to have 17 million Bengalis and 37 million Hindi and Oriya speakers); and
(ii) on the basis of religion, as the western half was to be a Hindu majority area (42 million out of a total 54 million) and the eastern half was to be a Muslim majority area (18 million out of a total of 31 million).
Trying to woo the Muslims, Curzon, the viceroy at that time, argued that Dacca could become the capital of the new Muslim majority province, which would provide them with a unity not experienced by them since the days of old Muslim viceroys and kings. Thus, it was clear that the government was up to its old policy of propping up Muslim communalists to counter the Congress and the national movement.
Anti-Partition Campaign Under Moderates (1903-05) In the period 1903-1905, the leadership was provided by men like Surendranath Banerjea, K.K. Mitra and Prithwishchandra
Ray. The methods adopted were petitions to the government, public meetings, memoranda, and propaganda through pamphlets and newspapers such as Hitabadi, Sanjibani and Bengalee. Their objective was to exert sufficient pressure on the government through an educated public opinion in India and England to prevent the unjust partition of Bengal from being implemented.
Ignoring a loud public opinion against the partition proposal, the government announced partition of Bengal in
July 1905. Within days, protest meetings were held in small towns all over Bengal. It was in these meetings that the pledge to boycott foreign goods was first taken. On August 7, 1905, with the passage of the Boycott Resolution in a massive meeting held in the Calcutta Townhall, the formal proclamation of Swadeshi Movement was made. After this, the leaders dispersed to other parts of Bengal to propagate the message of boycott of Manchester cloth and Liverpool salt.
October 16, 1905, the day the partition formally came into force, was observed as a day of mourning throughout Bengal. People fasted, bathed in the Ganga and walked barefoot in processions singing Bande Mataram (which almost spontaneously became the theme song of the movement). ‘Amar Sonar Bangla’, the national anthem of present-day Bangladesh, was composed by Rabindranath Tagore, and was sung by huge crowds marching in the streets.
People tied rakhis on each other’s hands as a symbol of unity of the two halves of Bengal. Later in the day, Surendranath Banerjea and Ananda Mohan Bose addressed huge gatherings (perhaps the largest till then under the nationalist banner).
Within a few hours of the meeting, Rs 50,000 was raised for the movement. Soon, the movement spread to other parts of the country—in Poona and Bombay under Tilak, in Punjab under Lala Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh, in Delhi under Syed Haider Raza, and in Madras under Chidambaram Pillai.
The Congress’s Position
The Indian National Congress, meeting in 1905 under the presidentship of Gokhale, resolved to (i) condemn the partition of Bengal and the reactionary policies of Curzon, and (ii) support the anti-partition and Swadeshi Movement of Bengal.
The militant nationalists led by Tilak, Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal and Aurobindo Ghosh wanted the movement to be taken outside Bengal to other parts of the country and go beyond a boycott of foreign goods to become a fullfledged political mass struggle with the goal of attaining swaraj. But the Moderates, dominating the Congress at that time, were not willing to go that far. However, a big step forward was taken at the Congress session held at Calcutta (1906) under the presidentship of Dadabhai Naoroji, where it was declared that the goal of the Indian National Congress was “self-government or swaraj like the United Kingdom or the colonies” of Australia or Canada. The Moderate-Extremist dispute over the pace of the movement and techniques of struggle reached a deadlock at the Surat session of the Indian National Congress (1907) where the party split with serious consequences for the Swadeshi Movement.
The Movement under Extremist Leadership
After 1905, the Extremists acquired a dominant influence over the Swadeshi Movement in Bengal. There were three reasons for this:
(i) The Moderate-led movement had failed to yield results.
(ii) The divisive tactics of the governments of both the Bengals had embittered the nationalists.
(iii) The government had resorted to suppressive measures, which included atrocities on students—many of whom were given corporal punishment; ban on public singing of Vande Mataram; restriction on public meetings; prosecution and long imprisonment of swadeshi workers; clashes between the police and the people in many towns; arrests and deportation of leaders; and suppression of freedom of the press.
The Extremist Programme
Emboldened by Dadabhai Naoroji’s declaration at the Calcutta session (1906) that self-government or swaraj was to be the goal of the Congress, the Extremists gave a call for passive resistance in addition to swadeshi and boycott which would include a boycott of government schools and colleges, government service, courts, legislative councils, municipalities, government titles, etc. The purpose, as Aurobindo put it, was to “make the administration under present conditions impossible by an organised refusal to do anything which will help either the British commerce in the exploitation of the country or British officialdom in the administration of it”.
The militant nationalists tried to transform the antipartition and Swadeshi Movement into a mass struggle and gave the slogan of India’s independence from foreign rule.
“Political freedom is the lifebreath of a nation,” declared Aurobindo. Thus, the Extremists gave the idea of India’s independence the central place in India’s politics. The goal of independence was to be achieved through self-sacrifice.
New Forms of Struggle
The militant nationalists put forward several fresh ideas at the theoretical, propaganda and programme levels. Among the several forms of struggle thrown up by the movement were the following.
Boycott of Foreign Goods
Boycott included boycott and public burning of foreign cloth, boycott of foreign-made salt or sugar, refusal by priests to ritualise marriages involving exchange of foreign goods, refusal by washermen to wash foreign clothes. This form of protest met with great success at the practical and popular level.
Public Meetings and Processions
Public meetings and processions emerged as major methods of mass mobilisation. Simultaneously they were forms of popular expression.
Corps of Volunteers or ‘Samitis’
Samitis such as the Swadesh Bandhab Samiti of Ashwini Kumar Dutta (in Barisal) emerged as a very popular and powerful means of mass mobilisation. In Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, V.O. Chidambaram Pillai, Subramania Siva and some lawyers formed the Swadeshi Sangam which inspired the local masses. These samitis generated political consciousness among the masses through magic lantern lectures, swadeshi songs, providing physical and moral training to their members, social work during famines and epidemics, organisation of schools, training in swadeshi crafts and arbitration courts.
Imaginative use of Traditional Popular Festivals and Melas
The idea was to use traditional festivals and occasions as a means of reaching out to the masses and spreading political messages. For instance, Tilak’s Ganapati and Shivaji festivals became a medium of swadeshi propaganda not only in western India, but also in Bengal. In Bengal also, the traditional folk theatre forms were used for this purpose.
Emphasis given to Self-Reliance
Self-reliance or ‘atma shakti’ was encouraged. This implied re-assertion of national dignity, honour and confidence and social and economic regeneration of the villages. In practical terms, it included social reform and campaigns against caste oppression, early marriage, dowry system, consumption of alcohol, etc.
Programme of Swadeshi or National Education
Bengal National College, inspired by Tagore’s Shantiniketan, was set up with Aurobindo Ghosh as its principal. Soon national schools and colleges sprang up in various parts of the country. On August 15, 1906, the National Council of Education was set up to organise a system of education— literary, scientific and technical—on national lines and under national control. Education was to be imparted through the vernacular medium. A Bengal Institute of Technology was set up for technical education and funds were raised to send students to Japan for advanced learning.
Swadeshi or Indigenous Enterprises
The swadeshi spirit also found expression in the establishment of swadeshi textile mills, soap and match factories, tanneries, banks, insurance companies, shops, etc. These enterprises were based more on patriotic zeal than on business acumen.
V.O. Chidambaram Pillai’s venture into a national shipbuilding enterprise—Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company—at Tuticorin, however, gave a challenge to the British Indian Steam Navigation Company.
Impact in the Cultural Sphere
The nationalists of all hues took inspiration from songs written by Rabindranath Tagore, Rajnikant Sen, Dwijendralal Ray, Mukunda Das, Syed Abu Mohammad and others. Tagore’s Amar Sonar Bangla written on this occasion was later to inspire the liberation struggle of Bangladesh and was adopted by it as its national anthem. In Tamil Nadu, Subramania Bharati wrote Sudesha Geetham.
In painting, Abanindranath Tagore broke the domination of Victorian naturalism over the Indian art scene and took inspiration from Ajanta, Mughal and Rajput paintings. Nandalal Bose, who left a major imprint on Indian art, was the first recipient of a scholarship offered by the Indian Society of Oriental Art, founded in 1907.
In science, Jagdish Chandra Bose, Prafullachandra Roy and others pioneered original research which was praised the world over.
Extent of Mass Participation Students Students came out in large numbers to propagate and practise swadeshi, and to take a lead in organising picketing of shops selling foreign goods. Student participation was visible in Bengal, Maharashtra, especially in Poona, and in many parts of the South—Guntur, Madras, Salem. Police adopted a repressive attitude towards the students. Schools and colleges whose students participated in the agitation were to be penalised by disaffiliating them or stopping of grants and privileges to them. Students who were found guilty of participation were to be disqualified for government jobs or for government scholarships, and disciplinary action—fine, expulsion, arrest, beating, etc.— was to be taken against them.
Women Women, who were traditionally home-centred, especially those of the urban middle classes, took active part in processions and picketing. From now onwards, they were to play a significant role in the national movement.
Stand of Muslims Some of the Muslims participated— Barrister Abdul Rasul, Liaqat Hussain, Guznavi, Maulana Azad (who joined one of the revolutionary terrorist groups); but most of the upper and middle class Muslims stayed away or, led by Nawab Salimullah of Dacca, supported the partition on the plea that it would give them a Muslim-majority East Bengal. To further government interests, the All India Muslim League was propped up on December 30, 1905 as an antiCongress front, and reactionary elements like Nawab Salimullah of Dacca were encouraged. Also, the nature of the Swadeshi Movement, with leaders evoking Hindu festivals and goddesses for inspiration, tended to exclude the Muslims.
Labour Unrest and Trade Unions In the beginning, some strikes were organised on the issue of rising prices and racial insult, primarily in the foreign owned companies.
In September 1905, more than 250 Bengali clerks of the Burn Company, Howrah, walked out in protest against a derogatory work regulation. In July 1906, a strike of workers in the East Indian Railway, resulted in the formation of a Railwaymen’s Union. Between 1906 and 1908, strikes in the jute mills were very frequent, at times affecting 18 out of 18 mills.
Subramania Siva and Chidambaram Pillai led strikes in Tuticorin and Tirunelveli in a foreign-owned cotton mill. In Rawalpindi (Punjab), the arsenal and railway workers went on strike led by Lala Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh. However, by summer of 1908, the labour unrests subsided under strict action.
Thus, the social base of the movement expanded to include certain sections of the zamindari, the students, the women, and the lower middle classes in cities and towns.
An attempt was also made to give political expression to economic grievances of the working class by organising strikes. But the movement was not able to garner support of the Muslims, especially the Muslim peasantry, because of a conscious government policy of divide and rule helped by overlap of class and community at places.
All India Aspect
Movements in support of Bengal’s unity and the swadeshi and boycott agitation were organised in many parts of the country. Tilak, who played a leading role in the spread of the movement outside Bengal, saw in this the ushering in of a new chapter in the history of the national movement. He realised that here was a challenge and an opportunity to organise popular mass struggle against the British rule to unite the country in a bond of common sympathy.
Annulment of Partition
It was decided to annul the partition of Bengal in 1911 mainly to curb the menace of revolutionary terrorism. The annulment came as a rude shock to the Muslim political elite. It was also decided to shift the capital to Delhi as a sop to the Muslims, as it was associated with Muslim glory, but the Muslims were not pleased. Bihar and Orissa were taken out of Bengal and Assam was made a separate province.
Evaluation of the Swadeshi Movement The Movement Fizzles Out
By 1908, the open phase (as different from the underground revolutionary phase) of the Swadeshi and Boycott movement was almost over. This was due to many reasons— ● There was severe government repression.
● The movement failed to create an effective organisation or a party structure. It threw up an entire gamut of techniques that later came to be associated with Gandhian politics—noncooperation, passive resistance, filling of British jails, social reform and constructive work—but failed to give these techniques a disciplined focus.
● The movement was rendered leaderless with most of the leaders either arrested or deported by 1908 and with Aurobindo Ghosh and Bipin Chandra Pal retiring from active politics.
● Internal squabbles among leaders, magnified by the Surat split (1907), did much harm to the movement.
● The movement aroused the people but did not know how to tap the newly released energy or how to find new forms to give expression to popular resentment.
● The movement largely remained confined to the upper and middle classes and zamindars, and failed to reach the masses—especially the peasantry.
● Non-cooperation and passive resistance remained mere ideas.
● It is difficult to sustain a mass-based movement at a high pitch for too long.
● It proved to be a “leap forward” in more ways than one. Hitherto untouched sections—students, women, workers, some sections of urban and rural population—participated.
All the major trends of the national movement, from conservative moderation to political extremism, from revolutionary activities to incipient socialism, from petitions and prayers to passive resistance and non-cooperation, emerged during the Swadeshi Movement.
● The richness of the movement was not confined to the political sphere, but encompassed art, literature, science and industry also.
● People were aroused from slumber and now they learned to take bold political positions and participate in new forms of political work.
● The swadeshi campaign undermined the hegemony of colonial ideas and institutions.
● The future struggle was to draw heavily from the experience gained.
Moderate Methods Give Way to Extremist Modes
With the coming of Swadeshi and Boycott Movement, it became clear that the Moderates had outlived their utility and their politics of petitions and speeches had become obsolete.
They had not succeeded in keeping pace with time, and this was highlighted by their failure to get the support of the younger generation for their style of politics. Their failure to work among the masses had meant that their ideas did not take root among the masses. Even the propaganda by the Moderates did not reach the masses. No all-India campaigns of the scale of Swadeshi and Boycott Movement had been organised earlier by the Moderates and, in this campaign, they Differences between Moderates and Extremists
discovered that they were not its leaders, which was rather natural.
The Extremist ideology and its functioning also lacked consistency. Its advocates ranged from open members and secret sympathisers to those opposed to any kind of political violence. Its leaders—Aurobindo, Tilak, B.C. Pal and Lala Lajpat Rai—had different perceptions of their goal. For Tilak, swaraj meant some sort of self-government, while for Aurobindo it meant complete independence from foreign rule. But at the politico-ideological level, their emphasis on mass participation and on the need to broaden the social base of the movement was a progressive improvement upon the Moderate politics. They raised patriotism from a level of ‘academic pastime’ to one of ‘service and sacrifice for the country’. But the politically progressive Extremists proved to be social reactionaries. They had revivalist and obscurantist undertones attached to their thoughts. Tilak’s opposition to the Age of Consent Bill (which would have raised the marriageable age for girls from 10 years to 12 years, even though his objection was mainly that such reforms must come from people governing themselves and not under an alien rule), his organising of Ganapati and Shivaji festivals as national festivals, his support to anti-cow killing campaigns, etc., portrayed him as a Hindu nationalist. Similarly B.C. Pal and Aurobindo spoke of a Hindu nation and Hindu interests.
This alienated many Muslims from the movement.
Though the seemingly revivalist and obscurantist tactics of the Extremists were directed against the foreign rulers, they had the effect of promoting a very unhealthy relationship between politics and religion, the bitter harvests of which the Indians had to reap in later years.
The Surat Split
The Congress split at Surat came in December 1907, around the time when revolutionary activity had gained momentum. The two events were not unconnected.
Run-up to Surat
In December 1905, at the Benaras session of the Indian National Congress presided over by Gokhale, the Moderate- Extremist differences came to the fore. The Extremists wanted to extend the Boycott and Swadeshi Movement to regions outside Bengal and also to include all forms of associations (such as government service, law courts, legislative councils, etc.) within the boycott programme and thus start a nationwide mass movement. The Extremists wanted a strong resolution supporting their programme at the Benaras session. The Moderates, on the other hand, were not in favour of extending the movement beyond Bengal and were totally opposed to boycott of councils and similar associations.
They advocated constitutional methods to protest against the partition of Bengal. As a compromise, a relatively mild resolution condemning the partition of Bengal and the reactionary policies of Curzon and supporting the swadeshi and boycott programme in Bengal was passed. This succeeded in averting a split for the moment.
At the Calcutta session of the Congress in December 1906, the Moderate enthusiasm had cooled a bit because of the popularity of the Extremists and the revolutionaries and because of communal riots. Here, the Extremists wanted either Tilak or Lajpat Rai as the president, while the Moderates proposed the name of Dadabhai Naoroji, who was widely respected by all the nationalists. Finally, Dadabhai Naoroji was elected as the president and as a concession to the militants, the goal of the Indian National Congress was defined as ‘swarajya or self-government’ like the United Kingdom or the colonies of Australia and Canada. Also a resolution supporting the programme of swadeshi, boycott and national education was passed. The word swaraj was mentioned for the first time, but its connotation was not spelt out, which left the field open for differing interpretations by the Moderates and the Extremists.
The Extremists, encouraged by the proceedings at the Calcutta session, gave a call for wide passive resistance and boycott of schools, colleges, legislative councils, municipalities, law courts, etc. The Moderates, encouraged by the news that council reforms were on the anvil, decided to tone down the Calcutta programme. The two sides seemed to be heading for a showdown.
The Extremists thought that the people had been aroused and the battle for freedom had begun. They felt the time had come for the big push to drive the British out and considered the Moderates to be a drag on the movement.
They decided that it was necessary to part company with the Moderates, even if it meant a split in the Congress.
The Moderates thought that it would be dangerous at that stage to associate with the Extremists whose antiimperialist agitation, it was felt, would be ruthlessly suppressed by the mighty colonial forces. The Moderates saw in the council reforms an opportunity to realise their dream of Indian participation in the administration. Any hasty action by the Congress, the Moderates felt, under Extremist pressure was bound to annoy the Liberals, then in power in England.
The Moderates were also ready to part company with the Extremists. The Moderates failed to realise that the council reforms were meant by the government more to isolate the Extremists than to reward the Moderates. The Extremists did not realise that the Moderates could act as their front line of defence against state repression. And neither side realised that in a vast country like India ruled by a strong imperialist power, only a broad-based nationalist movement could succeed.
Split Takes Place
The Extremists wanted the 1907 session to be held in Nagpur (Central Provinces) with Tilak or Lajpat Rai as the president along with a reiteration of the swadeshi, boycott and national education resolutions. The Moderates wanted the session at Surat in order to exclude Tilak from the presidency, since a leader from the host province could not be session president (Surat being in Tilak’s home province of Bombay).
Instead, they wanted Rashbehari Ghosh as the president and sought to drop the resolutions on swadeshi, boycott and national education. Both sides adopted rigid positions, leaving no room for compromise. The split became inevitable, and the Congress was now dominated by the Moderates who lost no time in reiterating Congress’ commitment to the goal of self-government within the British Empire and to the use of constitutional methods only to achieve this goal.
The government launched a massive attack on the Extremists.
Between 1907 and 1911, five new laws were brought into force to check anti-government activity. These legislations included the Seditious Meetings Act, 1907; Indian Newspapers (Incitement to Offences) Act, 1908; Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1908; and the Indian Press Act, 1910. Tilak, the main Extremist leader, was tried in 1909 for sedition for what he had written in 1908 in his Kesari about a bomb thrown by Bengal revolutionaries in Muzaffarpur, resulting in the death of two innocent European women.
Tilak had written: “This, no doubt, will inspire many with hatred against the people belonging to the party of rebels. It is not possible to cause British rule to disappear from this country by such monstrous deeds. But rulers who exercise unrestricted power must always remember that there is also a limit to the patience of humanity … many newspapers had warned the government that if they resorted to Russian methods, then Indians too will be compelled to imitate the Russian methods”.
In another article, Tilak wrote that the real means of stopping the bombs consisted in making a beginning towards
the grant of rights of ‘Swarajya’ to the people. Tilak was judged guilty and sentenced to six years’ transportation and a fine of Rs 1,000. He was sent to Mandalay (Burma) jail for six years. Aurobindo and B.C. Pal retired from active politics. Lajpat Rai left for abroad. The Extremists were not able to organise an effective alternative party to sustain the movement. The Moderates were left with no popular base or support, especially as the youth rallied behind the Extremists.
After 1908, the national movement as a whole declined for a time. In 1914, Tilak was released and he picked up the threads of the movement.
The Government Strategy
The British government in India had been hostile to the Congress from the beginning. Even after the Moderates, who dominated the Congress from the beginning, began distancing themselves from the militant nationalist trend which had become visible during the last decade of the nineteenth century itself, government hostility did not stop. This was because, in the government’s view, the Moderates still represented an anti-imperialist force consisting of basically patriotic and liberal intellectuals..
With the coming of Swadeshi and Boycott Movement and the emergence of militant nationalist trend in a big way, the government modified its strategy towards the nationalists.
Now, the policy was to be of ‘rallying them’ (John Morley— the secretary of state) or the policy of ‘carrot and stick’.
It may be described as a three-pronged approach of repressionconciliation- suppression. In the first stage, the Extremists were to be repressed mildly, mainly to frighten the Moderates.
In the second stage, the Moderates were to be placated through some concessions, and hints were to be dropped that more reforms would be forthcoming if the distance from the Extremists was maintained. This was aimed at isolating the Extremists: With the Moderates on its side, the government could suppress the Extremists with its full might; the Moderates could then be ignored.
Unfortunately, neither the Moderates nor the Extremists understood the purpose behind the strategy. The Surat split suggested that the policy of carrot and stick had brought rich dividends to the British India government.
In October 1906, a group of Muslim elites called the Simla Deputation, led by the Agha Khan, met Lord Minto and demanded separate electorates for the Muslims and representation in excess of their numerical strength in view of ‘the value of the contribution’ Muslims were making “to the defence of the empire”. The same group quickly took over the Muslim League, initially floated by Nawab Salimullah of Dacca along with Nawabs Mohsin-ul-Mulk and Waqar-ul- Mulk in December 1906. The Muslim League intended to preach loyalty to the empire and to keep the Muslim intelligentsia away from the Congress.
Gopal Krishna Gokhale also went to England to meet the Secretary of State for India, John Morley, to put Congress demands of self-governing system similar to that in the other British colonies.
The viceroy, Lord Minto, and the Secretary of State for India, John Morley, agreed that some reforms were due so as to placate the Moderates as well as the Muslims. They worked out a set of measures that came to be known as the Morley-
Minto (or Minto-Morley) Reforms that translated into the Indian Councils Act of 1909.
● The elective principle was recognised for the nonofficial membership of the councils in India. Indians were allowed to participate in the election of various legislative councils, though on the basis of class and community.
● For the first time, separate electorates for Muslims for election to the central council was established—a most detrimental step for India.
● The number of elected members in the Imperial Legislative Council and the Provincial Legislative Councils was increased. In the provincial councils, non-official majority was introduced, but since some of these non-officials were nominated and not elected, the overall non-elected majority remained.
● According to Sumit Sarkar, in the Imperial Legislative Council, of the total 69 members, 37 were to be the officials and of the 32 non-officials, 5 were to be nominated. Of the 27 elected non-officials, 8 seats were reserved for the Muslims under separate electorates (only Muslims could vote here for the Muslim candidates), while 4 seats were reserved for the British capitalists, 2 for the landlords and 13 seats came under general electorate.
● The elected members were to be indirectly elected.
The local bodies were to elect an electoral college, which in turn would elect members of provincial legislatures, who in turn would elect members of the central legislature.
● Besides separate electorates for the Muslims, representation in excess of the strength of their population was accorded to the Muslims. Also, the income qualification for Muslim voters was kept lower than that for Hindus.
● Powers of legislatures—both at the centre and in provinces—were enlarged and the legislatures could now pass resolutions (which may or may not be accepted), ask questions and supplementaries, vote separate items in the budget though the budget as a whole could not be voted upon.
● One Indian was to be appointed to the viceroy’s executive council (Satyendra Sinha was the first Indian to be appointed in 1909).
The reforms of 1909 afforded no answer to the Indian political problem. Lord Morley made it clear that colonial self-government (as demanded by the Congress) was not suitable for India, and he was against the introduction of parliamentary or responsible government in India. He said, “If it could be said that this chapter of reforms led directly or indirectly to the establishment of a parliamentary system in India, I, for one, would have nothing at all to do with it.” The ‘constitutional’ reforms were, in fact, aimed at dividing the nationalist ranks by confusing the Moderates and at checking the growth of unity among Indians through the obnoxious instrument of separate electorates. The government s
aimed at rallying the Moderates and the Muslims against the rising tide of nationalism. The officials and the Muslim leaders often talked of the entire community when they talked of the separate electorates, but in reality it meant the appeasement of just a small section of the Muslim elite.
Besides, the system of election was too indirect and it gave the impression of “infiltration of legislators through a number of sieves”. And, while parliamentary forms were introduced, no responsibility was conceded, which sometimes led to thoughtless and irresponsible criticism of the government. Only some members like Gokhale put to constructive use the opportunity to debate in the councils by demanding universal primary education, attacking repressive policies and drawing attention to the plight of indentured labour and Indian workers in South Africa.
What the reforms of 1909 gave to the people of the country was a shadow rather than substance. The people had demanded self-government but what they were given was ‘benevolent despotism’.
First Part of Revolutionary Actions (1907-1917) Why the Surge of Revolutionary Activities
The activities of revolutionary heroism started as a byproduct of the growth of militant nationalism. The first phase acquired a more activist form as a fallout of the Swadeshi and Boycott Movement and continued till 1917. The second phase started as a fallout of the Non-Cooperation Movement.
After the decline of the open movement, the younger nationalists who had participated in the movement found it impossible to leave off and disappear into the background.
They looked for avenues to give expression to their patriotic energies, but were disillusioned by the failure of the leadership, even the Extremists, to find new forms of struggle to bring into practice the new militant trends. The Extremist leaders, although they called upon the youth to make sacrifices, failed to create an effective organisation or find new forms of political work to tap these revolutionary energies. The youth, finding all avenues of peaceful political protest closed to them under government repression, thought that if nationalist goals of independence were to be met, the British must be expelled physically by force.
The Revolutionary Programme
The revolutionaries considered, but did not find it practical at that stage to implement, the options of creating a violent mass revolution throughout the country or of trying to subvert the loyalties of the Army. Instead, they opted to follow in the footsteps of Russian nihilists or the Irish nationalists.
This methodology involved individual heroic actions, such as organising assassinations of unpopular officials and of traitors and informers among the revolutionaries themselves; conducting swadeshi dacoities to raise funds for revolutionary activities; and (during the First World War) organising military conspiracies with expectation of help from the enemies of Britain.
The idea was to strike terror in the hearts of the rulers, arouse people and remove the fear of authority from their minds. The revolutionaries intended to inspire the people by appealing to their patriotism, especially the idealistic youth who would finally drive the British out.
The Extremist leaders failed to ideologically counter the revolutionaries as they did not highlight the difference between a revolution based on activity of the masses and one based on individual violent activity, thus allowing the individualistic violent activities to take root.
A Survey of Revolutionary Activities
Following is a brief survey of revolutionary activities in different parts of India and abroad before and during the First World War.
By the 1870s, Calcutta’s student community was honeycombed with secret societies, but these were not very active. The first revolutionary groups were organised in 1902 in Midnapore (under Jnanendranath Basu) and in Calcutta (the Anushilan Samiti founded by Promotha Mitter, and including Jatindranath Banerjee, Barindra Kumar Ghosh and others.) But their activities were limited to giving physical and moral training to the members and remained insignificant till 1907-08.
In April 1906, an inner circle within Anushilan (Barindra Kumar Ghosh, Bhupendranath Dutta) started the weekly Yugantar and conducted a few abortive ‘actions’. By 1905- 06, several newspapers had started advocating revolutionary violence. For instance, after severe police brutalities on participants of the Barisal Conference (April 1906), the Yugantar wrote: “The remedy lies with the people. The 30 crore people inhabiting India must raise their 60 crore hands to stop this curse of oppression. Force must be stopped by force.” Rashbehari Bose and Sachin Sanyal had organised a secret society covering far-flung areas of Punjab, Delhi and United Provinces while some others like Hemachandra Kanungo went abroad for military and political training.
In 1907, an abortive attempt was made by the Yugantar group on the life of a very unpopular British official, Sir Fuller (the first Lt. Governor of the new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam, although he had resigned from the post on August 20, 1906).
In December 1907, there were attempts to derail the train on which the lieutenant-governor, Sri Andrew Fraser, was travelling In 1908, Prafulla Chaki and Khudiram Bose threw a bomb at a carriage supposed to be carrying a particularly sadistic white judge, Kingsford, in Muzaffarpur. Kingsford was not in the carriage. Unfortunately, two British ladies, instead, got killed. Prafulla Chaki shot himself dead while Khudiram Bose was tried and hanged.
The whole Anushilan group was arrested including the Ghosh brothers, Aurobindo and Barindra, who were tried in the Alipore conspiracy case, variously called Manicktolla bomb conspiracy or Muraripukur conspiracy. (Barindra Ghosh’s house was on Muraripukur Road in the Manicktolla suburb of Calcutta.) The Ghosh brothers were charged with ‘conspiracy’ or ‘waging war against the King’ – the equivalent of high treason and punishable with death by hanging.
Chittaranjan Das defended Aurobindo. Aurobindo was acquitted of all charges with the judge condemning the flimsy nature of the evidence against him. Barindra Ghosh, as the head of the secret society of revolutionaries and Ullaskar Dutt, as the maker of bombs, were given the death penalty which was later commuted to life in prison. During the trial, Narendra Gosain (or Goswami), who had turned approver and Crown witness, was shot dead by two co-accused, Satyendranath Bose and Kanailal Dutta in jail.
In February 1909, the public prosecutor was shot dead in Calcutta and in February 1910, a deputy superintendent of police met the same fate while leaving the Calcutta High Court. In 1908, Barrah dacoity was organised by Dacca Anushilan under Pulin Das to raise funds for revolutionary activities. Rashbehari Bose and Sachin Sanyal staged a spectacular bomb attack on Viceroy Hardinge while he was making his official entry into the new capital of Delhi in a procession through Chandni Chowk in December 1912. (Hardinge was injured, but not killed.) Investigations following the assassination attempt led to the Delhi Conspiracy trial. At the end of the trial, Basant Kumar Biswas, Amir Chand and Avadh Behari were convicted and executed for their roles in the conspiracy. Rashbehari Bose was known as the person behind the plan but he evaded arrest because, it is said, he escaped donning a disguise.
The western Anushilan Samiti found a good leader in Jatindranath Mukherjee or Bagha Jatin and emerged as the Jugantar (or Yugantar). Jatin revitalised links between the central organisation in Calcutta and other places in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.
During the First World War, the Jugantar party arranged to import German arms and ammunition through sympathisers and revolutionaries abroad. Jatin asked Rashbehari Bose to take charge of Upper India, aiming to bring about an all-India insurrection in what has come to be called the ‘German Plot’ or the ‘Zimmerman Plan’. The Jugantar party raised funds through a series of dacoities which came to be known as taxicab dacoities and boat dacoities, so as to work out the Indo-German conspiracy. It was planned that a guerrilla force would be organised to start an uprising in the country, with a seizure of Fort William and a mutiny by armed forces.
Unfortunately for the revolutionaries, the plot was leaked out by a traitor. Police came to know that Bagha Jatin was in Balasore waiting for the delivery of German arms. Jatin and his associates were located by the police. There was a gunfight as a result of which the revolutionaries were either killed or arrested. The German plot thus failed. Jatin Mukherjee was shot and died a hero’s death in Balasore on the Orissa coast in September 1915.
“We shall die to awaken the nation”, was the call of Bagha Jatin. The newspapers and journals advocating revolutionary activity included Sandhya and Yugantar in Bengal, and Kal in Maharashtra.
In the end, revolutionary activity emerged as the most substantial legacy of swadeshi Bengal which had an impact on educated youth for a generation or more. But, an overemphasis on Hindu religion kept the Muslims aloof.
Moreover, it encouraged quixotic heroism. No involvement of the masses was envisaged, which, coupled with the narrow upper caste social base of the movement in Bengal, severely limited the scope of the revolutionary activity. In the end, it failed to withstand the weight of State repression.
The first of the revolutionary activities in Maharashtra was the organisation of the Ramosi Peasant Force by Vasudev Balwant Phadke in 1879, which aimed to rid the country of the British by instigating an armed revolt by disrupting communication lines. It hoped to raise funds for its activities through dacoities. It was suppressed prematurely.
During the 1890s, Tilak propagated a spirit of militant nationalism, including use of violence, through Ganapati and Shivaji festivals and his journals Kesari and Maharatta. Two of his disciples—the Chapekar brothers, Damodar and Balkrishna—murdered the Plague Commissioner of Poona, Rand, and one Lt. Ayerst in 1897.
Savarkar and his brother organised Mitra Mela, a secret society, in 1899 which merged with Abhinav Bharat (after Mazzinni’s ‘Young Italy’) in 1904. Soon Nasik, Poona and Bombay emerged as centres of bomb manufacture. In 1909, A.M.T. Jackson, the Collector of Nasik, who was also a well-known indologist, was killed by Anant Lakshman Kanhere, a member of Abhinav Bharat.
It was found that the killing was part of a conspiracy to overthrow the British government in India by means of armed revolution. Thirty-eight people were arrested. Among these, it was found that Savarkar (with his two brothers,) was the brain, leader, and moving spirit of the conspiracy. At the trial, Savarkar as the soul, inspiration, and moving spirit of the conspiracy extending over a number of years, was sentenced to transportation for life and forfeiture of all his property.
The Punjab extremism was fuelled by issues such as frequent famines coupled with rise in land revenue and irrigation tax, practice of ‘begar’ by zamindars and by the events in Bengal.
Among those active here were Lala Lajpat Rai who brought out Punjabee (with its motto of self-help at any cost) and Ajit Singh (Bhagat Singh’s uncle) who organised the extremist Anjuman-i-Mohisban-i-Watan in Lahore with its journal, Bharat Mata. Before Ajit Singh’s group turned to extremism, it was active in urging non-payment of revenue and water rates among Chenab colonists and Bari Doab peasants. Other leaders included Aga Haidar, Syed Haider Raza, Bhai Parmanand and the radical Urdu poet, Lalchand ‘Falak’.
Extremism in the Punjab died down quickly after the government struck in May 1907 with a ban on political meetings and the deportation of Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh.
After this, Ajit Singh and a few other associates—Sufi Ambaprasad, Lalchand, Bhai Parmanand, Lala Hardayal— developed into full-scale revolutionaries.
During the First World War, Rashbehari Bose was involved as one of the leading figures of the Ghadr Revolution.
At the close of 1913, Bose met Jatin to discuss the possibilities of an all-India armed rising of 1857 type. Then, he worked in cooperation with Bagha Jatin, extending the Bengal plan to Punjab and the upper provinces. As the plan for revolution did not succeed, Rashbehari Bose escaped to Japan in 1915. Much later, he was to play an important part in the founding of the Indian National Army.
Revolutionary Activities Abroad
The need for shelter, the possibility of bringing out revolutionary literature that would be immune from the Press Acts and the quest for arms took Indian revolutionaries abroad.
Shyamji Krishnavarma had started in London in 1905 an Indian Home Rule Society—‘India House’—as a centre for Indian students, a scholarship scheme to bring radical youth from India, and a journal The Indian Sociologist.
Revolutionaries such as Savarkar and Hardayal became the members of India House.
Madanlal Dhingra from this circle assassinated the India office bureaucrat Curzon-Wyllie in 1909. Soon, London became too dangerous for the revolutionaries, particularly after Savarkar had been extradited in 1910 and transported for life in the Nasik conspiracy case.
New centres emerged on the continent—Paris and Geneva—from where Madam Bhikaji Cama, a Parsi revolutionary who had developed contacts with French socialists and who brought out Bande Mataram, and Ajit Singh operated. And after 1909 when Anglo-German relations deteriorated, Virendranath Chattopadhyaya chose Berlin as his base.
● The Ghadr
The Ghadr Party was a revolutionary group organised around a weekly newspaper The Ghadr with its headquarters at San Francisco and branches along the US coast and in the Far East.
These revolutionaries included mainly ex-soldiers and peasants who had migrated from the Punjab to the USA and Canada in search of better employment opportunities. They were based in the US and Canadian cities along the western (Pacific) coast. Pre-Ghadr revolutionary activity had been carried on by Ramdas Puri, G.D. Kumar, Taraknath Das, Sohan Singh Bhakna and Lala Hardayal who reached there in s
1911. To carry out revolutionary activities, the earlier activists had set up a ‘Swadesh Sevak Home’ at Vancouver and ‘United India House’ at Seattle. Finally in 1913, the Ghadr was established.
The Ghadr programme was to organise assassinations of officials, publish revolutionary and anti-imperialist literature, work among Indian troops stationed abroad, procure arms and bring about a simultaneous revolt in all British colonies.
The moving spirits behind the Ghadr Party were Lala Hardayal, Ramchandra, Bhagwan Singh, Kartar Singh Saraba, Barkatullah, and Bhai Parmanand. The Ghadrites intended to bring about a revolt in India. Their plans were encouraged by two events in 1914—the Komagata Maru incident and the outbreak of the First World War.
Komagata Maru Incident and the Ghadr The importance of this event lies in the fact that it created an explosive situation in the Punjab. Komagata Maru was the name of a ship which was carrying 370 passengers, mainly Sikh and Punjabi Muslim would-be immigrants, from Singapore to Vancouver. They were turned back by Canadian authorities after two months of privation and uncertainty. It was generally believed that the Canadian authorities were influenced by the British government. The ship finally anchored at Calcutta in September 1914. The inmates refused to board the Punjabbound train. In the ensuing conflict with the police at Budge Budge near Calcutta, 22 persons died.
Inflamed by this and with the outbreak of the First World War, the Ghadr leaders decided to launch a violent attack to oust British rule in India. They urged fighters to go to India. Kartar Singh Saraba and Raghubar Dayal Gupta left for India. Bengal revolutionaries were contacted; Rashbehari Bose and Sachin Sanyal were asked to lead the movement. Political dacoities were committed to raise funds.
The Punjab political dacoities of January-February 1915 had a somewhat new social content. In at least 3 out of the 5 main cases, the raiders targeted the moneylenders and the debt records before decamping with the cash. Thus, an explosive situation was created in Punjab.
The Ghadrites fixed February 21, 1915 as the date for an armed revolt in Ferozepur, Lahore and Rawalpindi garrisons.
The plan was foiled at the last moment due to treachery. The authorities took immediate action, aided by the Defence of India Rules, 1915. Rebellious regiments were disbanded, leaders arrested and deported and 45 of them hanged.
Rashbehari Bose fled to Japan (from where he and Abani Mukherji made many efforts to send arms) while Sachin Sanyal was transported for life.
The British met the wartime threat with a formidable battery of repressive measures—the most intensive since 1857—and above all by the Defence of India Act passed in March 1915 primarily to smash the Ghadr movement. There were large-scale detentions without trial, special courts giving extremely severe sentences, numerous court-martials of armymen. Apart from the Bengal revolutionaries and the Punjab Ghadrites, radical pan-Islamists—Ali brothers, Maulana Azad, Hasrat Mohani—were interned for years.
Evaluation of Ghadr The achievement of the Ghadr movement lay in the realm of ideology. It preached militant nationalism with a completely secular approach. But politically and militarily, it failed to achieve much because it lacked an organised and sustained leadership, underestimated the extent of preparation required at every level—organisational, ideological, financial and tactical strategic—and perhaps Lala Hardayal was unsuited for the job of an organiser.
● Revolutionaries in Europe
The Berlin Committee for Indian Independence was established in 1915 by Virendranath Chattopadhyay, Bhupendranath Dutta, Lala Hardayal and others with the help of the German foreign office under ‘Zimmerman Plan’. These revolutionaries aimed to mobilise the Indian settlers abroad to send volunteers and arms to India to incite rebellion among Indian troops there and to even organise an armed invasion of British India to liberate the country.
The Indian revolutionaries in Europe sent missions to Baghdad, Persia, Turkey and Kabul to work among Indian troops and the Indian prisoners of war (POWs) and to incite anti-British feelings among the people of these countries.
One mission under Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh, Barkatullah and Obaidullah Sindhi went to Kabul to organise a ‘provisional Indian government’ there with the help of the crown prince, Amanullah.
● Mutiny in Singapore
Among the scattered mutinies during this period, the most notable was in Singapore on February 15, 1915 by Punjabi Muslim 5th Light Infantry and the 36th Sikh battalion under Jamadar Chisti Khan, Jamadar Abdul Gani and Subedar Daud Khan. It was crushed after a fierce battle in which many were killed. Later, 37 persons were executed and 41 transported for life.
There was a temporary respite in revolutionary activity after the First World War because the release of prisoners held under the Defence of India Rules cooled down passions a bit; there was an atmosphere of conciliation after Montagu’s August 1917 statement and the talk of constitutional reforms; and the coming of Gandhi on the scene with the programme of non-violent non-cooperation promised new hope.