The period from 1885 to 1905 is known as the ‘Era of Moderates’. It is only because Badruddin Tyabji, Ferozshah Mehta, P. Ananadacharlu, S. N. Banerjee, Ramesh Chandra Dutt, Anand Mohan Bose, Gala Krishna Cochlea. Mahadev Govind Ranade etc., the moderate leaders took over the charge of the Congress.
The aim of these leaders was to popularize the Congress movement inside the country, to educate the public regarding their deal with the British government and to convince the government for launching several political reforms.
Believing on the principle of democracy, they resorted to the method of ‘prayer and petition’. If both these ways failed, they also resorted to constitutional agitation method. They also sent delegation to England to convince the government regarding the requirements of the Indians.
Programme of the Moderates: Protection of civil rights:
The Moderate leaders wanted to protect the civil rights of the Indians. Freedom of speech, thought, action, to organize procession and public meetings etc., were included under this programme.
In concrete action, they protested vehemently the Vernacular Press Act of Lord Lytton and wanted its repeal. Further, they also mounted pressure on the government to separate Judiciary from Executive.
The Moderate leaders never demanded independence for the Indians. They put forth before the British government to increase the number of elected Indian representatives in central and provincial Legislatures. They further demanded the Indian representation in the Indian Council at London. This led the British Government to pass the Indian Council Act in 1892 and empowered the council to discuss the annual budget but the members of the council could not vote on it.
Besides, the Moderates demanded the representation of Indians in different bodies who would rightly advise the government in protecting the interests of the, Indian mass. The Indian Council Act, 1892 brought dissatisfaction in the mind of the leaders. The Moderate leaders like G. K. Cochlea and Dadabhai Naoroji demanded Swaraj or self-government with the British Empire in India like the self-governing colonies in Canada and Australia.
The Moderate leaders urged before the British authority for removal of certain administrative abuses and to launch public welfare projects. The leaders opposed Lord Curzon’s Calcutta Corporation, Act. They demanded the withdrawal of Lord Lytton’s Arms Act. They also advised the British authorities to improve education, health facilities, agricultural banks, irrigation facilities etc. They were concerned about the exploitation of Indian laborers working in different plantations and who had gone to foreign countries for earning their livelihood. They demanded that the British authorities should look after their problems.
Among the Moderate leaders, there were many notable economists. Dadabhai Naoroji advocated the “Drain Theory” by which he made the Britishers responsible for draining the wealth of this land to England and, thereby, making the condition of Indian mass miserable. Other leaders and economists like R.C. Dutta, Mahadev Govind Ranade, Goal Krishna Cochlea etc., elaborately discussed the British economic policy and made the Government responsible for the poverty of India. Further, they also popularized ‘Swadeshi’ and advocated the idea of boycott of the foreign goods.
Among other programmes of the Moderates, they demanded the reduction of military expenditure. They wanted to remove the growth of industries in India. To protect the peasants from the exploitation of zamindars was another demand of the leaders. They urged for granting extensive freedom to the Indian press.
Reduction of salt tax, opening of more technical colleges and military training schools, granting loan facilities to peasants through agricultural banks, facilities for railway passengers travelling in third class etc., were some of other demands which the moderates wanted to be fulfilled immediately by the British authority for the benefit of Indians.
From the very beginning, Lord Duffer in believed in the ‘Safety Value’ theory of Allan Octavian Hume and paid casual attention towards the activities of the Congress.
However, after 1888, when the Congress gained popularity, Lord Deferring changed his outlook towards the Congress. So, he warned government servants not to collect any donation for the Congress and to participate in any activity of the Congress.
The British Government wanted to DE popularizes the Congress. Slayed Ahmad Khan and Raja Shiv Prasad formed anti-Congress forums and criticized the works of the Congress. This situation was well exploited by the British Government. Lord Curzon adopted the policy ‘Divide and rule’ and tried to fan the fire of bitterness between the Hindus and Muslims. The partition of Bengal in 1905 and birth of MuslirnLeague in 1906 were natural corollaries to it.
Assessment of the works of Moderates:
Through their methods of ‘prayer, petition and protest, the Moderates could not achieve much in the practical field. They failed to arouse the mass sentiment against the Britishraj. However, one concrete achievement they did by exposing the true nature of the British rule – its colonialism and exploitation which made the country poor. This was, perhaps, the lasting achievement of the Moderates.