The early years of the 20th century witnessed the emergence of a new and younger group within the congress. They were known as Extremists. They were critical of the old leadership and advocated the adoption of ‘Swaraj’ as the goal of the congress. They represented aggressive Indian nationalism and became responsible for the split of the congress in 1907 at Poona. Several factors contributed to the rise of extremism or militant nationalism in the National Movement.
Firstly, the true nature of the British rule in India was exposed and the nationalist leaders realised that the British wanted to rule India either by sword or diplomacy. The writings of Dinshaw wacha, R.C. Dutta and Dadabhai Naoroji proved that the impoverishment of the people of India was due largely to the deliberate policy of the British government. Reforms introduced by the Indian Council Act of 1892 were found to be hopelessly inadequate and totally disappointing.
Secondly, the younger elements within the congress were dissatisfied with the achievements of the Congress during the first twenty years. They had lost faith in the British sense of justice and fairplay. They were strongly critical of the methods of peaceful and constitutional agitation popularly known as 3 Ps-petition, prayer and protest. Being dissatisfied with the ideology and techniques of the Moderates, they advocated the adoption of European revolutionary methods to meet European imperialism.
In 1896-97, a severe famine swept over the country resulting in great economic distress. Next, plague broke out and took a heavy toll of life in Bombay Presidency. The relief machinery set up by the government was found utterly inadequate. Consequently, the nationa 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.
Events outside India exercised a powerful influence on the youths. The humiliating treatment meted out to Indians in British colonies especially in South Africa created anti- British feelings. Nationalist movements in Egypt, Persia, Turkey and Russia gave Indians new hopes and aspirations. Indian nationalists received great inspiration from Abyssinians repulston of the Italian army in 1896 and Japan’s victory over Russia in 1905. These events destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the Europeans.
The repressive policy of Lord Curzon was the most potent cause of political discontent. His regime was full of missions, omissions and commissions. He was a diehard conservative and seldom paid any heed to political sentiments and demands. The Calcutta Corporation Act, the official Secrets Act and the Indian Universities Act created great resentment in India. The Delhi Dubar held in 1903 at a time when India had not fully recovered from the devastating effects of the famine of 1899-1900 was interpreted as a pompousj pageant to a starving population.
Finally, the last official act of Curzon was the partition of Bengal in 1905. It was the worst and most foolish Act of his viceroyalty. Although the partition was made apparently on administrative grounds, its underlying aim was to disrupt the political unity of Bengali people. According to R.C. Majumdar it was a master strategy to destroy the nascent nationalism in Bengal. While the discontent of the people was piling up, Curzon’s partition of Bengal provided the matchstick to enflame it. A vigorous agitation started against the move. Curzon paid no need to a petition signed by thousands of Indian people. The tremendous upsurge in Bengal found expression in the emergence of a new slogan, new method of agitation and new leadership. Swadeshi, Boycott and National Education suddenly became the battle cries of a resurgent nationalism.
The extremist block was organised under the leadership of the famous trio Lal-Bal- Pal. The extremists drew inspiration from the India’s past, invoked the great episodes of distant and recent history and tried to infuse national pride and self-respect among the people. The Bengal school of militant nationalism led by B.C. Pal and Aurobindo Ghosh was influenced by the neo-vedantic movement of. Swami Vivekananda, the Maharastra School led by B.G.
Tilak roused the people of Maharastra by reviving the memory of Shivaji. Tilak even revived and utilised Ganapati festival for political propaganda. While the Moderates regarded the British rule as a beneficial necessity, the Extremists believed that any foreign rule, however just and benevolent wasacurse.The Extremists put Poorna Swarajya as their goal. Tilak declared, “Swarajya is my birth right and I shall have it”. In place of constitutional methods, they substituted it with “passive Resistance”. Their programme comprised of Boycott, Swadeshi and National Education.
The goal of Poorna Swarajya inspired the people while boycott, and swadeshi brought economic advantage to the Indians and prepared them to make certain sacrifices. National education helped in the cultural regeneration of Indian youths. Even Mahatma Gandhi later on adopted these very techniques of the Extremists. The Extremists brought the congress nearer to the middle and lower middle class. Since the movement for self-rule led by militant nationalists was based on religion and tradition of the Hindu society, it has been criticised for introducing religious obscurantism and Hindu mysticism in politics. It has also been attacked for creating a sense of estrangement among the Muslims.
According to Prof. A.R. Desai, ” By identifying national awakening with a revival of Hinduism, the extremists not only cut off the Muslim masses from the national movement but also opened the way to the government’s astute counter-move as the formation of the Muslim League in 1906.” Despite this, the militant nationalists were the first to experience imprisonment, deportation and suffered privation. They were distinguished for the great qualities of immense self-sacrifice and suffering for the cause of natioanl freedom. They not only gave militancy and assertiveness to the Indian National Movement but also instilled self- reliance into it.
Because of ideological and methodological differences the two blocks of the congress began to move away from each other. But the immediate cause of estrangement was that the Moderates were satisfied with the prepared scheme of reform under Lord Minto but the Extremists found them wholly unacceptable. All this resulted in the split in the congress in 1907 at Surat and it was not until 1916 that the two wings were reunited. The Extremists were practically excluded from the congress and the Moderates enjoyed undisputed sway till 1914.