Rise of Militant Nationalism (Extremism)

  • By the dawn of the 20th century, militant nationalists emerged. Its main leaders were Tilak, A K Dutt, Raj Narain Bose, Bipin Chandra Pal, Vishnu Shastri Pandit and Lala Lajpat Rai.
  • Main ideas: Extremists had hatred for foreign rule and believed in the capacity of masses. They saw Swarajya as the goal and advocated direct political action through self-sacrifice.

Factors behind the rise of Extremists

  • Loss of Faith in British Rule: Moderates were dominant in Congress, had faith in the benevolent rule of Britishers and looked to cooperate by transmitting the voice and grievances to Government. However, various factors led to the decline in this faith, ranging from exposure to economic drain from India to Britain as well as the insensitive attitude of British to even minor demands of the Congress. This led to the rise of the Extremists faction which considered British responsible for several problems in the country.
  • British Approach towards Famine & Plague:In 1896-97, a severe famine swept over the country resulting in great economic distress. In the same year, bubonic plague broke out in Bombay Presidency, claiming thousands of lives. The relief machinery set up by the government was found to be utterly inadequate. Consequently, the nationalists stood watching helplessly while millions were starving and dying because of the famine and epidemic. This negligence on the part of the British rulers shocked the people.
  • Political despondency:Moderates could not achieve much from Government other than Indian Council Acts, of 1892. This ineffectiveness of Congress led to an atmosphere of political despondency, further fueled by harsh measures employed by British Government like arrest of Tilak and passage of Sedition Act.
  • Lord Curzon’s reactionary policy (Immediate cause): Curzon took several reactionary steps in pursuit of strengthening British rule in India. Many of his policies displayed colonial arrogance and a lack of any sensitivity towards Indians. They included:
  • Calcutta Corporation Act, 1899 which reduced the Indian representation in this body.
  • Universities Act, of 1904 reduced the elected members in the University bodies & reduced the autonomy of universities and made them government departments.
  • Widescale enforcement of Sedition Act, 1870 and the Official Secrets Act, 1904 reduced the freedom to criticize or protest against the British government.
  • Partition of Bengal (1905) was the culmination point of his Anti-people policies.
  • Influence of International Political Events:The rise of Japan, an Asian nation, as an important power and the defeat of Italy by Ethiopia, a small African country, inspired national movements across the world, including India. The Russian defeat at the hands of the Japanese shattered the myth of European invincibility and inspired a sense of confidence among nationalists who wanted to confront colonial rule radically.
  • Effects of Reform movements of the 19th century resulted in the growth of confidence and self-respect: Various reform movements of the 19th century such as Arya Samaj as well as reformers like Vivekananda instilled the values of Nationalism and self-respect among Indians and called for rejuvenation of society. This call was answered by the likes of Tilak and Aurobindo Ghosh who came to represent the extremist faction of the Congress.
  • Growth of Education: While, on the one hand, the spread of education led to increased awareness among the masses, on their hand, the rise in employment and under-employment 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.
  • Reaction to Increasing Westernization: The new leadership felt stranglehold of excessive westernization and sensed colonial designs to submerge Indian national identity in British Empire. Intellectual and moral inspiration of new leadership was Indian intellectuals like Swami Vivekananda, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Swami Dayanand Saraswati who 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 civilization in the past. E.g., Dayanand’s political message was ‘India for the Indians.’
  • Existence of a Militant School of Thought: By 20th 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 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, Indian should work out their salvation.
      • Swaraj is the goal of the national movement.
      • Direct political action is required.
      • Belief in the capacity of masses to challenge authority.
      • Personal sacrifices were required, and a true nationalist should be always ready for it.
  • Trained leadership had emerged: Emergence of trained leadership could provide proper channelization of the immense potential for the political struggle that the masses possessed and, as the militant nationalists thought, were ready to give expression to. This energy of the masses got released during the movement against the partition of Bengal, which acquired the form of the swadeshi agitation.

Objective of Extremists

  • Goal of extremists was ‘swaraj,’ which different leaders interpreted differently.
    • For Tilak, it meant, Indian control over administration, but not a total severance with Great Britain.
    • Bipin Chandra Pal believed that no self-government was possible under British rule. So, for him, swaraj was complete autonomy, absolute freedom from British control.
    • Aurobindo Ghosh in Bengal visualized swaraj as self-rule within parameters of British Imperial structure.
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