Bharat Ek Khoj

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Extremists And Moderates
(Episode 50)

Nehru opines that early stage of the political movement where dominated by the ideological urges of upper middle classes. With the coming-of-age of the National congress founded in 1885, a new type of leadership appeared, more aggressive and defiant, representing the much larger number of lower middle classes as well as youth. The powerful agitation against 'Partition' of Bengal had trrown up many able and aggressive leaders but the real symbol of the 'radical' new age was Bal Gangadhar Tilak from Maharashtra with his power base around Pune. 'Moderates' , who favoured constitutional methods, become identified with Gopal Krishna Gokhale whose power-base was among Mumbai intelligentsia.

The first signs of polarization in the Congress ranks loom large in Maharashtra in late 1890's. in the prevailing debate on the Age of Consent Bill, Gokhale declines to go against the government. 'Radicals' like Tilak argue about the futility of revisionist petitions to the government. Revolutionary slogans are in the air, tempers run high and conflicts seem inevitable. To avoid confrontation, opinions of Dadabhai Naoroji, universally regarded as the father-figure of the country, are sought but to no avail.

Gokhale accepts the need for patience, and move easily between the presidency of Congress and membership of the Viceroy's Council. His contrived view is that the establishment of railways has hastened the policy of free trade. Tilak experiments with mass-focus appeals like the politicization of festivals, patriotic crusades based on the legacy of Shivaji and exhortations to Civil disobedience, and printing seditious poetry in his newspaper 'Kesari'. Reports of incidents of defiling idols and molesting women by the Tommies bring charges of sedition on tilak. Gokhale left in a quandary and hastens to pardon him in public.

Sentenced to prison, Tilak become a martyr for the Nationalist cause. As Nehru notes, the explosion that greeted the 'Partition' of Bengal in 1905 finds its echo in Tilak's incendiary speeches, while in Gokhale's camp, there is consolatory anticipation that the incoming Secretary of State is going to be sympathetic to the Nationalist cause. Gokhale continues to be the voice of moderation, yet the pamphlets and petitions flood everywhere, announcing extension of Swadeshi protest to the whole of India. It spreads in a remarkable display of united and effective action. Congress, however, disowns the movement. At the 1906 Congress in Nagpur, a split is avoided by extending an invitation to the octogenarian Dadabhai Naoroji to take the chair by Surendranth Banerjee, and some contrite resolutions favouring Swaraj (self-rule). In the 1907 Congress meet at Surat, the divisions between 'radicals' like Tilak and 'moderates' like Gokhale can no longer be contained.

As Nehru summarises, the 1907 clash in Congress resulted apparently in a victory for the 'moderates' through organizational control. There was, however, no doubt that the vast majority of political-minded people in India favoured Tilak and his 'radical' group.