The birth of Indian National Congress in 1885 marked the beginning of a new era in the history of modern India. The activities of the Indian National Congress were closely associated with the struggle for Indian independence.
The activities of the Indian National Congress up to the achievement of independence in 1947 can be classified broadly under three distinct phases. The first phase, known as the moderate phase, lasted from 1885 to 1905.The second phase known as the Extremist phase, lasted from1906 to 1918.
The third phase is known as the Gandhian Era and it lasted from 1919 to 1947. In the first phase the movement was confined to a handful of educated middle class people which was inspired by western education and liberal thought.
In the second phase a few progressive congressmen adopted revolutionary methods to put an end to the British imperialism. Swaraj was their ultimate goal. In the third phase, complete independence was the aim of the Congress to be achieved under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi through the method of non-violence and non-cooperation.
From 1885 to 1905 the Congress was led by a group of moderate people like Dadabhia Naroji, Pherozeshah Mehta, Dinshaw E.Wacha, W.C. Banerjee, Surendranatha Banerjee, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, M.G.Ranade and Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. They were staunch believers in liberalism and moderate politics.
During the moderate period the Congress was dominated by the middle class intelligentsia. They were men of legal, medical, engineering and literary pursuits.
They believed that the British people were just and freedom-loving and they had brought benefits to the Indians by removing from Indian society many inherent evils like customs of Sati, untouchability and child marriage. You firmly believed that the British would help them to acquire efficiency to govern them properly. They further believed that the chief obstacle on the path of India's progress was social and economic backwardness of the Indians and not the British colonial rule. They recognized the fact that the British rule was the embodiment of peace and order in the country. Thus they relied on the British to guide the politics of India.
Demands of the Moderates:
The Congress met once in every year for three days to prepare the charter of demands in the form of resolutions dealing mainly with political, administrative and economic issues. The early nationalists believed that India should move towards democratic self-Government. Their immediate political demands were extremely moderate.
They said that India should be given larger share in the Government by expanding and reforming the existing Legislative Councils. By the Indian Council Act of 1861, provision was made for the nomination of few non-officials to the Councils.
These non-official Government nominees were usually zamindars and big merchants who always behaved like henchmen of the British authority. The members of the early congress demanded the increase in the powers of the members to discuss the budget and to question and criticize the day to day administration. They wanted to be elected not nominated representatives of the people.
In response to their demands Government amended the old provisions and passed the new Indian Council Act of 1892. The Act increased the number of non-official members, a few of whom were to be elected indirectly. Members were also given the right to speak on the budget but not to right to vote upon it.
The reforms were so meager that they called it a mockery of their demands. The moderates made a great advance in their political goals at the turn of the century. They demanded complete self-Government including full Indian control over all legislation and finances on the model of the self-governing colonies of Canada and Australia.
The moderate nationalists were fearless critics of the administrative system of the British Government in India. They demanded an administrative system in India which should be free from corruption, inefficiency and oppression.
Their most important administrative demand was Idealization of the higher grades of the administrative services. They demanded that Indian Civil Services examinations should be conducted in England and India simultaneously to provide opportunity to the meritorious Indian youth to enter into it.
This demand was put forward on economic, political and moral grounds. Economically, the high-salaried Europeans contributed to the drain of wealth from India. Politically the European Civil Servants ignored the Indian needs and, on other hand, showed undue favour to the Europeans. Morally, it belittled the position of the talented and efficient Indians in their own country by ignoring their position.
The nationalists further demanded the increase of salaries of the low paid government servants with a view to removing corruption at the lower level. They pleaded for the repeal of the Arms act which deprived the Indians of possession of arms. They demanded active administrative measures to develop Indian industries and agriculture.
The early nationalists demanded the separation of judiciary from the executive for providing protection to the people against arbitrary acts of the police and the bureaucracy. They demanded that the principle of equality before the law should be strictly followed. They claimed for higher jobs for the Indians in the raising of an Indian volunteer force.
The moderates firmly opposed the restriction imposed on the freedom of speech, press, thought and association. The Vernacular press Act of 1878, which sought to gag the mouth of the vernacular news papers was vehemently opposed by them till it was repealed in 1880. B.G.Tilak was arrested with some news paper editors on the charge of denouncing the British India government.
Tilak immediately became a popular leader and got the title of 'Lokamanya'.Soon a nation-wide opposition was oraganised against some new laws which were enacted to curb the freedom of the people by increasing the power of the police. The moderates started their struggle in defence of civil liberities. They demanded the scrapping of the Preventive Detention Act and restoration of individual liberties.
The most important work of the moderates was to raise their voice against economic exploitation of the British India government. They took note of all the three forms of existing economic exploitation through trade, industry and finance.
They strongly opposed the British attempt to transform India into a supplier of raw materials, a market for British manufacturers and a field of investment for foreign capital. They linked India's growing poverty with British economic exploitation. They criticized the British official economic policy for bringing about the ruin of Indian's traditional cottage industries and for suppressing the growth of modern industries.
They asked for active administrative measures to keep out foreign capital. They popularized the idea of Swadeshi as a means of promoting Indian industries. They demanded the imposition of tariff duties on all categories of imports.
The moderates pointed out that a large part of Indian's capital and wealth was being drained out to Britain without any return. They demanded to stop it to remove the economic backwardness of the people of India.
Method of Struggle of the Moderates
The moderates believed in the method of constitutional agitation. They had strong faith in the sense of justice and benevolence of the British Government. So, they believed in adopting peaceful and constitutional methods in presenting their demands and grievances to the Government.
Their methods were to apprise the British Government of the grievances of the people through the press, the platform, petitions, political conferences and deputations. Some of the Congress leaders were journalists and editors.
They utilised their news-papers both in English and vernacular languages, as their powerful propaganda agencies. The annual sessions of the congress were also powerful and effective forums through which their demands could be conveniently put forth before the British Government.
The moderate had no definite conception of the ultimate political goal. They did not want freedom from British rule, but self-Government for India within the framework of the British Empire. They demanded a few concessions and not complete freedom for the nation.
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