The Moderates and the Extremists

The partition of Bengal raised the political tempo in the country. The adoption of swadeshi and boycott of British goods provided new methods of struggle. A radical element began to assert itself from the Congress platform. Its leaders were Tilak, Lajapat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal and Aurobindo Ghosh. This group called extremists, believed in protests and agitations and advocated boycott and passive resistance. They appealed to the masses and looked upon ancient India for guidance and inspiration. They wanted ‘Swaraj’, which they considered as their birthright. The group identified with the moderates believed in prayers and petition and looked to the west for inspiration. Their policy was a policy of mendicancy and as reward of loyalty wanted a colonial self-government. At the Congress session held at Benaras in 1905, a resolution was moved by the moderates to welcome the Prince of Wales, was to visit India in 1906. The extremists opposed the resolution and staged a walkout. The resolution was passed in their absence. The resolution regarding passive resistance moved by Tilak could not be passed. The next session of the Congress was held in Calcutta in 1906. Bipin Chandra Pal proposed Tilak for presiding over the session. As he was not acceptable for the moderates, Dadabhai Naoroji was elected as the president of the Congress session. This time the extremists were able to successfully get the resolution passed on Swaraj, Swadeshi, Boycott and National Education passed. But the moderates did not work actively for the implementation of the resolutions.

The Surat split: In 1907 the Congress session was held at Surat and the extremists proposed the name of Lala Lajpat Rai for presiding over the session. But according to an established convention the moderates wanted Rash Behari Bose, who was the Chairman of the Reception Committee of the last session at Calcutta to be elected as the president. Tilak and his supporters had no faith in him and Lala Lajpat Rai who was recently released from detention refused to accept the president ship. The name of Rash Behari Bose was proposed by S.N.Banerjee and seconded by Moti Lal Nehru. Bose was elected and took over the chair. Chaos followed when Tilak who wanted to address the delegates was not allowed to do so. Men with sticks charged the platform. Shoes were thrown on the platform. Feroz Shah Mehta and S.N.Banerjee were injured. The president declared the meeting closed and the police cleared the hall.

Aftermath the Surat split, the moderates met in Allahabad in April 1908 and drew up a constitution. They again met at Madras in December the same year. In article I of its constitution it mentioned that its goal was to participation of Indian in a system of government similar to that enjoyed by the self-governing members of the British Empire . This was to be achieved through constitutional means. The Congress (moderates) lost popularity after the split and the average number of delegates went on decreasing annually. The nationalists or extremists, left to itself might have developed a separate rival organization to the Congress, but for the repressive measures of the government. Lala Lajpat Rai was deported in 1907, Aurobindo locked as an under-trial prisoner in 1908 and after his release, he retired from politics (February 1910). In 1908 Tilak was imprisoned for six years for provocative writings.

The Muslim League was the only party, which showed new life and strength after the Congress split. The first annual session of the League was held at Karachi on 29 December 1907. The choice of Karachi , the capital of Sindh was due to its religious and historical consideration. As the League publication put it – “If a handful of men under a boy (Mohammad-Bin-Kasim) could teach Kalima to the territory of Sindh and promulgate the Shariat of god, can seven crore Muslims not make their social and political life pleasant”?

The Home Rule League: The people of Ireland were agitating for Home Rule and Mrs Annie Besant, an Englishwomen mooted the idea of Home Rule for India . She believed that the best way to preserve British connection with India was to satisfy the Indian aspirations, which was conferring of self-government. Mrs Annie Besant was the president of the Theosophical Society and was well acquainted with Indian through and culture. She had made India her home and gradually became Indianised. She realized that for the attainment of Home Rule, unity in the National movement was essential and was chiefly instrumental in bringing the reunion of moderates and extremists. Tilak after his release from Mandalay decided to work for self-government through constitutional means. He was also influenced by the freedom struggle movement in Ireland and organized the Home Rule League in Poona in July 1916. Mrs Annie Besant inaugurated her faction of Home Rule League in Madras in September 1916. While the activities of Tilak’s movement was restricted to Maharashtra, that of Mrs Annie Besant embraced the whole of India including Bombay . Tilak visited Belgaum , Sankeshwar and other places in Karnataka and opened the branches of the League. The League had its branches also at Dharwad, Siddapur, Bellary , Hubli and Mangalore. Dattopant Belvi was the president of the Karnataka unit of Home Rule League.

The idea of Home Rule appealed to a large section of the population. All sections of Congressmen joined the movement. Leaders like Lajpat Rai, C.R.Das, Jinnah, Moti Lal Nehru, Madan Mohan Malaviya and others became heads of local branches, which were set up in towns. By the beginning of 1918, Tilak’s League had 32,000 members and Mrs Annie Besant’s League had 27,000 members. Both the League aimed at conveying the message of Home Rule to the common man. In addition to newspapers, vernacular pamphlets, posters, illustrated post-cards, plays, religious songs adapted for the purpose were used and missionary style preachers were employed for Home Rule propaganda. Reading rooms were started and discussion groups and public meetings were held. Areas that were hitherto considered politically backward such as Gujrat and Sindh were drawn into the movement. For the first time in the history of the freedom struggle students were attracted to the movement in large numbers. So also were women. Tilak and Mrs Besant toured their respective areas and drew huge crowds to their meetings. In their speeches they blamed the British for poverty and backwardness in the country and declared that the only remedy for these ills was Home Rule. Their propaganda caused serious embarrassment to the authorities. Attempts were made to stop students from attending the League meetings and by restricting the movements of the leaders. On 16th June 1917, Mrs Besant along with her lieutenants, B.P.Wadia and G.S.Arundale were arrested. In July 1918 Tilak sent Lala Lajpat Rai, N.S.Hardikar and K.D.Shastri to the United States of America to set a branch of his Home Rule League in San Francisco . They worked hard to counteract the British propaganda that on account of her diversity and backwardness, India was unfit for Home Rule. Tilak himself visited England to enlist the support of the Labour party. He also appealed to Clemenceau, the president of the Paris Peace Conference to place India ‘s case for Home Rule before the representatives of the allied powers. Mrs Annie Besant’s support for the firing which took place at Jallianwallabagh, death of Tilak in 1920 and the enactment of the 1919 Act, all led to the Home Rule movement to lose its momentum. Later Gandhiji renamed the Home Rule League as Swaraj Sabha.

India and First World War: Though the people of India had no stakes in the war, they were forced to contribute in men and material for the British in their fight against Germany . Indian soldiers fought in France , Belgium , Egypt , Sudan , East Africa, North China, Persia , Mesopotamia, Palestine , Aden , etc. India ‘s supply in men, money and material was so large that Viceroy Hardinge declared in the House of Commons and repeated in his autobiography that India had been bled white by the war office. About 12,15,338 Indian soldiers were sent overseas and more than one lakh men died fighting for the British. The British Indian government made a free gift of 100 Million Sterling to England for conducting the war. This amount exceeded the annual revenue of the government of India and increased her nation debt to 30 percent. The total war expenditure of government of India up to 31st March 1918 was about 12,78,000,00 Sterling Pounds. This apart the Indian princes and people contributed about 2,100,000 Sterling in cash. There was also forced conscription and war loans. For instance in Punjab the Revenue Officer (Tahsildar) used to prepare a list of all men in a village and ask each family consisting of three or four brothers to provide one or two recruits for the war. If the fixed number were not made available voluntarily, he would resort to cruel punishment like making the men stand naked in the presence of their women folk or pushing them in between thorny bushes. Sometimes women were taken as hostages and retained until the men came forward to enlist in the army.

During the war, the government of India had enacted the Defence of India Act to curb revolutionary activities. In March 1919, as a substitute to this act, the government passed the Rowlatt Act. The Act conferred provincial governments with extraordinary powers to search, arrest, demand securities, etc. Another feature of this act was that a person accused of crime by a Special Court had no provision to go for appeal against the judgment given. Indian felt that after their splendid help for England in World War I such a repressive Act was uncalled for. In spite of opposition from all elected Indian members of the Central Legislature, the Act was passed.
The Jallianwallabagh Massacre: As a mark of protest against the Act, Gandhiji gave a call for an All India hartal on 30th March 1919, which was later postponed to 6th April. In Amritsar , the hartal organized on April 6th passed off peacefully. Michael O’ Dwyer, the Lt Governor of Punjab wanted to prevent Congress political ideas from pertaining to Punjab and hence on 10th Congress leaders, Kitchlew and Satyapal were deported from Amritsar . Mobs gathered to see the District Magistrate to entreat him to cancel the orders were stopped by police who fired upon them, causing injuries and deaths. The mob was filed with rage and started assaulting Europeans, man or woman. It sacked the National Bank and the Alliance Bank, set afire their premises and killed their European managers. The Town Hall and a number of public buildings were gutted. Telegraph wires were pulled down. A Christian missionary, Miss Sherwood was assaulted and left unconscious. (But later rescued by Indians and taken care of) These incidents led the authorities to hand over the administration of Amritsar to the military authorities and on April 11th Brigadier Dyer took charge. Proclamations were issued giving warning of dire consequences if meetings were held or processions taken. The reaction of the people was to make a protest against these threats and a meeting was summoned at Jallianwallabagh in the afternoon of April 13th. Dyer regarded this as a challenge to his authority and decided to disperse it by force.

On 13th April, the authorities had allowed the people to assemble in Jallianwallabagh, an open space surrounded by high walls on three sides with a narrow entrance. Some 20,000 people had gathered to hear the speech of Hansraj, when Dyer entered with about 50 British and 100 Indian troops and without warning ordered firing upon the people. In all 1,650 rounds were fired continuously for ten minutes. While the Hunter Committee reported 379 deaths, the Congress alleged that 1,000 people were killed. The wounded on Dyer’s order were left groaning the whole night without water and medical aid.

Repressive tactics: About 51 persons were sentenced to death and 46 to life imprisonment. Water and electricity supply were cut off in Amritsar . To avenge the assaulting of Miss Sherwood, a ‘Crawling Order’ was passed by which every passerby in the lane in which she was assaulted was not allowed to walk but to crawl on their belly. Sale of third class railway tickets was prohibited, which virtually meant stopping Indian from traveling by train. All bicycles other than those belonging to Europeans were confiscated and public platform for whipping were erected in different parts of the city. Students were asked to report themselves four times daily at a place several miles away from their colleges in the burning sun of April. These youths were made to walk 19 miles to and fro daily. Even small children were paraded three times a day to salute the British flag and many fainted due to sunstroke. Motor Cars and electric fans belonging to Indian were seized for the troops. Occupants of premises on whose walls martial law notices were pasted were ordered to protect them and were liable to punishment if in any way they were defaced or torn. Hence the household used to appoint their servants to watch them, lest they be torn or defaced perhaps by a police agent. When they applied for permission to guard the notice after 8 pm, they were told that they could have passes for this purpose for themselves but not for their servants.

Martial law was imposed in other parts of Punjab also. In Lahore , people who came out after 8 pm, violating curfew orders were liable to be shot, flogged or fined. An elderly man tending his cow outside his shop door in a side land after 8 pm was flogged. In a village not far from Lahore , a Muslim marriage party including the bridegroom, priest and guests were flogged for the offence of assembling together violating the martial law prohibiting assemblage of people. In Gujranwala , Colonel O’Brien ordered that when Indian met British officers, they must salute, alight from their carriages or dismount if they riding or driving and lower their umbrellas if they were carrying one. In one case a number of leading citizens were summarily arrested, marched several miles in the burning sun and put in a goods truck. They were refused permission to answer nature calls and kept in the truck in these condition for about 48 hours. At Kasur, Capt. Doveton confessed that some people were made to touch the ground with their forehead by way of making them acknowledge the British authority. People including Sadhus were whitewashed and lime washed and made to stand in the hot sun. About 107 persons were kept in a public cage without any overhead covering specially built for the purpose. Gradually, news of the happenings in Punjab reached the rest of India and there was an outburst of condemnation from every part. The true colour of the British was manifested when Brigadier Dyer was not only acquitted of all charges, but also showered with praise. But Michael O’Dwyer was not so lucky and in 1940 Udham Singh shot him dead in London .

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  • Vipul Halwai  On June 12, 2009 at 3:23 am

    nicely composed…..good work

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