Growth of Militant Nationalism
Militant Nationalism :– A radical trend of a militant nationalist approach to political activity started emerging in the 1890s and it took a concrete shape by 1905. As an adjunct to this trend, a revolutionary wing also took shape.
Why Militant Nationalism Grew
Many factors contributed to the rise of militant nationalism.
Recognition of the True Nature of British Rule
Having seen that the British government was not conceding any of their important demands, the more militant among those politically conscious got disillusioned and started looking for a more effective mode of political action. Also, the feeling that only an Indian government could lead India on to a path of progress started attracting more and more people. The economic miseries of the 1890s further exposed the exploitative character of colonial rule. Severe famines killed 90 lakh persons between 1896 and 1900. Bubonic plague affected large areas of the Deccan. There were largescale riots in the Deccan.
The nationalists were wide awake to the fact that instead of giving more rights to the Indians, the government was taking away even the existing ones.
- 1892 — The Indian Councils Act was criticised by nationalists as it failed to satisfy them.
- 1897 — The Natu brothers were deported without trial and Tilak and others, imprisoned on charges of sedition.
- 1898 — Repressive laws under IPC Section 124 A were further amplified with new provisions under IPC Section 156 A
- 1899 — Number of Indian members in Calcutta Corporation were reduced.
- 1904 — Official Secrets Act curbed freedom of press.
- 1904 — Indian Universities Act ensured greater government control over universities, which it described as factories producing political revolutionaries.
Also, British rule was no longer progressive socially and culturally. It was suppressing the spread of education, especially mass and technical education.
Growth of Confidence and Self-Respect
There was a growing faith in self-effort. Tilak, Aurobindo and Bipin Chandra Pal repeatedly urged the nationalists to rely on the character and capacities of the Indian people. A feeling started gaining currency that the masses had to be involved in the battle against colonial government as they were capable of making the immense sacrifices needed to win freedom.
Growth of Education
While, on the one hand, the spread of education led to an increased awareness among the masses, on the other hand, the rise in unemployment and underemployment 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.
Remarkable progress made by Japan after 1868 and its emergence as an industrial power opened the eyes of Indians to the fact that economic progress was possible even in an Asian country without any external help. The defeat of the Italian army by Ethiopians (1896), the Boer wars (1899- 1902) where the British faced reverses and Japan’s victory over Russia (1905) demolished myths of European invincibility. Also, the nationalists were inspired by the nationalist movements worldwide—in Ireland, Russia, Egypt, Turkey, Persia and China. The Indians realised that a united people willing to make sacrifices could take on the mightiest of empires.
Reaction to Increasing Westernisation
The new leadership felt the stranglehold of excessive westernisation and sensed colonial designs to submerge the Indian national identity in the British Empire. The intellectual and moral inspiration of the new leadership was Indian. Intellectuals like Swami Vivekananda, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Swami Dayananda Saraswati 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 civilisation in the past. Dayananda’s political message was ‘India for the Indians’.
Dissatisfaction with Achievements of Moderates
The younger elements within the Congress were dissatisfied with the achievements of the Moderates during the first 15- 20 years. They were strongly critical of the methods of peaceful and constitutional agitation, popularly known as the “Three ‘P’s”—prayer, petition and protest—and described these methods as ‘political mendicancy’.
If there is a sin in the world, it is weakness; avoid all weakness,
weakness is sin, weakness is death.
The Extremists of today will be the Moderates of tomorrow, just
as the Moderates of today were the Extremists of yesterday.
What one Asiatic has done, others can do… if Japan can drub
Russia, India can drub England with equal ease… let us drive
the British into the sea and take our place side by side with
Japan among the great powers of the world.
Karachi Chronicle (June 18, 1905)
Reactionary Policies of Curzon
A sharp reaction was created in the Indian mind by Curzon’s seven-year rule in India which was full of missions, commissions and omissions. He refused to recognise India as a nation, and insulted Indian nationalists and the intelligentsia by describing their activities as “letting off of gas”. He spoke derogatorily of Indian character in general. Administrative measures adopted during his rule—the Official Secrets Act, the Indian Universities Act, the Calcutta Corporation Act and, above all, the partition of Bengal—left no doubt in Indian minds about the basically reactionary nature of British rule in India.
Existence of a Militant School of Thought
By the dawn of the twentieth 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 Bal Gangadhar 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, Indians should work out their own salvation;
- swaraj to be the goal of national movement;
- direct political action required;
- belief in capacity of the masses to challenge the authority;
- personal sacrifices required and a true nationalist to be always ready for it.
Emergence of a Trained Leadership
The new leadership could provide a proper channelisation of the immense potential for political struggle which the masses possessed and, as the militant nationalists thought, were ready to give expression to. This energy of the masses got a release during the movement against the partition of Bengal, which acquired the form of the swadeshi agitation.
The Swadeshi and Boycott Movement
The Swadeshi Movement had its genesis in the anti-partition movement which was started to oppose the British decision to partition Bengal.
Partition of Bengal to Divide People
The British government’s decision to partition Bengal had been made public in December 1903. The idea was to have two provinces: Bengal comprising Western Bengal as well as the provinces of Bihar and Orissa, and Eastern Bengal and Assam. Bengal retained Calcutta as its capital, while Dacca became the capital of Eastern Bengal. The official reason given for the decision was that Bengal with a population of 78 million (about a quarter of the population of British India) had become too big to be administered. It was also stated that partition would help in the development of Assam if it came under the direct jurisdiction of the government. This was true to some extent, but the real motive behind the partition plan was seen to be the British desire to weaken Bengal, the nerve centre of Indian nationalism. This it sought to achieve by putting the Bengalis under two administrations by dividing them:
- (i) on the basis of language, thus reducing the Bengalis to a minority in Bengal itself (as in the new proposal Bengal proper was to have 17 million Bengalis and 37 million Hindi and Oriya speakers); and
- (ii) on the basis of religion, as the western half was to be a Hindu majority area (42 million out of a total 54 million) and the eastern half was to be a Muslim majority area (18 million out of a total of 31 million).
Bengal united is a power. Bengal divided will pull in several
different ways…….. One of our main objects is to split up and
thereby to weaken a solid body of opponents to our rule.
—Risley (home secretary to the
Government of India, 1904)
Trying to woo the Muslims, Curzon, the viceroy at that time, argued that Dacca could become the capital of the new Muslim majority province, which would provide them with a unity not experienced by them since the days of old Muslim viceroys and kings. Thus, it was clear that the government was up to its old policy of propping up Muslim communalists to counter the Congress and the national movement.
Anti-Partition Campaign Under Moderates (1903-05)
In the period 1903-1905, the leadership was provided by men like Surendranath Banerjea, K.K. Mitra and Prithwishchandra Ray. The methods adopted were petitions to the government, public meetings, memoranda, and propaganda through pamphlets and newspapers such as Hitabadi, Sanjibani and Bengalee. Their objective was to exert sufficient pressure on the government through an educated public opinion in India and England to prevent the unjust partition of Bengal from being implemented.
Ignoring a loud public opinion against the partition proposal, the government announced partition of Bengal in July 1905. Within days, protest meetings were held in small towns all over Bengal. It was in these meetings that the pledge to boycott foreign goods was first taken. On August 7, 1905, with the passage of the Boycott Resolution in a massive meeting held in the Calcutta Townhall, the formal proclamation of Swadeshi Movement was made. After this, the leaders dispersed to other parts of Bengal to propagate the message of boycott of Manchester cloth and Liverpool salt.
October 16, 1905, the day the partition formally came into force, was observed as a day of mourning throughout Bengal. People fasted, bathed in the Ganga and walked barefoot in processions singing Bande Mataram (which almost spontaneously became the theme song of the movement). ‘Amar Sonar Bangla’, the national anthem of present-day Bangladesh, was composed by Rabindranath Tagore, and was sung by huge crowds marching in the streets. People tied rakhis on each other’s hands as a symbol of unity of the two halves of Bengal. Later in the day, Surendranath Banerjea and Ananda Mohan Bose addressed huge gatherings (perhaps the largest till then under the nationalist banner). Within a few hours of the meeting, Rs 50,000 was raised for the movement.
Soon, the movement spread to other parts of the country—in Poona and Bombay under Tilak, in Punjab under Lala Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh, in Delhi under Syed Haider Raza, and in Madras under Chidambaram Pillai.
The Congress’s Position
The Indian National Congress, meeting in 1905 under the presidentship of Gokhale, resolved to (i) condemn the partition of Bengal and the reactionary policies of Curzon, and (ii) support the anti-partition and Swadeshi Movement of Bengal.
The militant nationalists led by Tilak, Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal and Aurobindo Ghosh wanted the movement to be taken outside Bengal to other parts of the country and go beyond a boycott of foreign goods to become a fullfledged political mass struggle with the goal of attaining swaraj. But the Moderates, dominating the Congress at that time, were not willing to go that far. However, a big step forward was taken at the Congress session held at Calcutta (1906) under the presidentship of Dadabhai Naoroji, where it was declared that the goal of the Indian National Congress was “self-government or swaraj like the United Kingdom or the colonies” of Australia or Canada. The Moderate-Extremist dispute over the pace of the movement and techniques of struggle reached a deadlock at the Surat session of the Indian National Congress (1907) where the party split with serious consequences for the Swadeshi Movement.