The Extremist (1905-1920)



  • The rise of extremism on the Indian political scene was not sudden. In fact it had been growing steadily since the uprising of 1857.
    • Though the uprising was brutally suppressed by the British, the ideas of ‘Swadharma’ and ‘Swaraj’, which had kindled the uprising continued to linger on as an undercurrent among the Indian people
  • The ‘peaceful’ methods used by the moderate leaders were not effective in making the British Government accept their demands.
    • As a result a number of politically conscious people became frustrated and disillusioned.
    • At the end of the 19th century, a strong feeling arose among the people that more radical political action was needed to force the British to accept popular demands
  • Various international events also gave impetus to the growth of extremism in India.
    • Revolutionary movements in Ireland, Russia, Egypt, Turkey, China and the Boer War in South Africa made the Indian leaders aware that the British rule could only be challenged by putting a united stand against it
    • The defeat of the Italian Army by the Ethiopians in 1896, and the Russian Army by the Japanese in 1905, showed that the Europeans were not invincible
    • All these instilled a sense of self-respect and self-confidence in the Indian Nationalists
  • They became prominent after the Partition of Bengal in 1905
    • Their radical ideology and programme became popular during the movement against Partition of Bengal, also known as the ‘Swadeshi Movement’


Ideology and Methods

  • Unlike moderates, the extremist leaders neither believed in the goodness of the British rule nor in their sense of justice and fair play
  • Since exploitation of India was the chief motive of the British, the extremists did not expect them to take a sympathetic view of the popular demands of the Indian people.
    • Therefore, it was necessary to use pressure to make them accept the demands, not by petitioning or praying like the moderates, but by openly agitating against them
  • The Extremist programme involved the following activities:
    • ‘Boycott’ of foreign goods and promotion of ‘Swadeshi’ goods to give impetus to the growth of indigenous industry and commerce.
    • Non-cooperation with the bureaucracy; this included ‘boycott’ of governmental activities.
    • Establishment of schools and colleges that gave education in the Indian languages and instil in the students pride for the glorious heritage of India, make the students nationalistic and public spirited in character and knowledgeable, self-reliant and independent in spirit
    • ‘ Passive Resistance’ to British rule by non-payment of revenue and taxes and by organising separate ‘indigenous administrative institutions’ parallel to those of the British at the level of villages, talukas and districts
    • Public meetings and processions emerged as major methods of mass mobilisation. Simultaneously they were forms of popular expression
    • The swadeshi spirit also found expression in the establishment of swadeshi textile mills, soap and match factories, tanneries, banks, insurance companies, shops, etc. These enterprises were based more on patriotic zeal than on business acumen
  • Further, The Extremist leaders disfavoured the use of violence against British rule and did not approve the methods of political murder and assassination used by the Indian revolutionaries.
    • However, they did take a sympathetic view of the activities of the revolutionaries


Significance of the Extremists

  • There was a fundamental change in the nature of Indian nationalism under extremist leadership due to their forceful articulation of the demand for ‘Swaraj’ and use of more radical methods than those of the moderates.
  • Their concept of Nationalism was emotionally charged and based on rich interpretation of Indian religious traditions.
    • The Extremist leaders tried to reorient Indian religious traditions to worldly life and link them with the national liberation struggle
    • Example: Aurobindo Ghose reinterpreted Vedanta philosophy, which advocated unity of man and God and based his concept of nationalism on it
  • The extremists emphasised the mobilisation of people against foreign rule by launching political movements.
    • If the nation was not ready to undertake political movement, then it was the duty of the leaders to prepare the people for it
    • The extremists were ready to suffer imprisonment, deportation and other physical suffering for the sake of mobilising the masses for struggle against foreign rule.
  • The demonstrations, processions undertaken by the extremists brought about an involvement of the common people in agitations against British rule.
    • They also made use of popular symbols like Shivaji, and religious symbols like God Ganapati and Goddess Kali for mobilising the people


Prominent leaders of the Extremist Period

  • Lala Lajpat Rai
    • Known as the Lion of Punjab
    • He found the National School at Lahore under the influence of Arya Samaj
  • Bal Gangadhar Tilak
    • He was also known as Lokamanya Tilak
    • He found the Deccan Education Society and was the co-founder of Fergusson College
    • He gave the slogan, ”Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it”
    • Kesari(Hindi) and Mahratta(English) were the newspapers started by him
    • He started the All India Home Rule League in 1916
  • Bipin Chandra Pal
    • He is known as the father of revolutionary thoughts in India
    • Together the above leaders were referred to as the Lal-Bal-Pal triumvirate of assertive nationalists
  • Aurobindo Ghosh
    • He started an English newspaper called Bande Mataram


Comparison between Moderates and Extremists

Basis Moderates Extremists
Phase 1885-1905 1905-1920
Aim 1. Aimed at administrative and constitutional reforms.

2. Wanted more Indians in the administration and not to an end of British rule.

3. They were secular in their attitudes, though not always forthright enough to rise above their sectarian interests. They knew the exploitative nature of British rule but wanted its reforms and not expulsion.

1. Aim of getting Swaraj

2. Wanted to end the tyranny rule of British.

Ideology 1. They believe in the efficacy of peaceful and constitutional agitation.

2. They had great faith in the British sense of justice and fair play.

3. They were inspired by the ideas of western philosophers like Mill, Burke, Spencer and Bentham. Moderates imbibed western ideas of liberalism, democracy, equity and freedom.

1. They were radical in their approach. Demands of extremists were aggressive.

2. They believed in atmashakti or self-reliance as a weapon against domination.

3. Ideological inspiration was Indian History, Cultural heritage, national education and Hindu traditional symbols. Hence, they revived the Ganapati and Shivaji festivals to arouse the masses.

4. They wanted to inculcate pride in India’s glorious culture to generate the spirit of nationalism. They invoked goddesses Kali or Durga for strength to fight for the motherland.

5. Guided by four: principles Swarajya, Swadeshi, Boycott of foreign goods and National education to make the Indian aware.

Methodology 1. They follow the principles of 3P: Petition, Prayer and Protest.

2. They believed in cooperation and reconciliation.

1. They believe in militant methods.

2. They follow the principle of atmashakti or self-reliance as a weapon against domination.

3. Method of Non-Cooperation.

4. They advocated democracy, constitutionalism and progress.

Leaders A.O. Hume. W.C. Banerjee. Surendra Nath Banerjee, Dadabhai Naoroji, Feroze Shah Mehta. Gopalakrishna Gokhale. Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. Badruddin Tyabji. Justice Ranade and G.Subramanya Aiyar Lala Lajpat Rai, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Bipin Chandra Pal, Aurobindo Ghosem Rajnarayan Bose, and  Ashwini Kumar Dutt
Social Support Zamindars and Upper middle classes in towns Educated middle and lower middle classes in towns
Contribution 1. Economic Critique of British Imperialism

2. Constitutional Reforms and Propaganda in Legislature

3. Campaign for General Administrative Reforms

4. Defence of Civil Rights

1. Demand of Swaraj

2. Mass movement

3. Spread of national education

4. Upliftment of downtrodden

5. Nationalism

6. Support to revolutionary movements

7. Rise of communalism

8. Encouraged co-operative organisation

9. Set up charitable association for rural sanitation, preventive police duties, regulation of fairs and pilgrim gatherings for providing relief fund during famines and other calamities.