UPSC : The Nationalist Movement (1858-1905)- 4 UPSC Notes | EduRev
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DEFENCE OF CIVIL RIGHTS
- From the beginning, politically conscious Indians had been powerfully attracted not only to democracy but also to modern civil rights, namely, the freedoms of speech, the press, thought and association. They put up a strong defence of these civil rights whenever the government tried to curtail them.
- It was during this period and as a result of nationalist political work that democratic ideas began to take root among the Indian people in general, and the intelligentsia in particular. In fact, the struggle for democratic freedoms became an integral part of the nationalist struggle for freedom.
- In 1897 the Bombay government arrested B.G. Tilak and several other leaders and newspaper editors, and tried them, spreading disaffection against the government. They were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment.
- At the same time two Poona leaders, the Natu brothers, were deported without trial. The entire country protested against this attack on the liberties of the people. Tilak, hitherto known largely in Maharashtra, became overnight an all-India leader.
METHODS OF POLITICAL WORK
- The Indian national movement up to 1905 was dominated by leaders who have often been described as moderate nationalists or Moderates. The political methods of the Moderates can be summed up briefly as constitutional agitation within the four walls of the law, and slow, orderly political progress.
- They believed that if public opinion was created and organised and popular demands presented to the authorities through petitions, meetings, resolutions and speeches, the authorities would concede these demands gradually and step by step.
- Their political work had, therefore, a two-pronged direction. First, to build up a strong public opinion in India to arouse the political consciousness and national spirit of the people, and to educate and unite them on political questions. Basically, even the resolutions and petitions of the National Congress were directed towards this goal.
- Though ostensibly their memorials and petitions were addressed to the government, their real aim was to educate the Indian people. For example, when in 1891 the young Gokhale expressed disappointment at the two-line reply of the government to a carefully proposed memorial by the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, Justice Ranade replied:
- You don’t realise our place in the history of our country. These memorials are nominally addressed to government. In reality they are addressed to the people, so that they may learn how to think in these matters. This work must be done for many years, without expecting any other results, because politics of this kind is altogether new in this land.
- Second, the early nationalists wanted to persuade the British government and British public opinion to introduce reforms along directions laid down by the nationalists. The Moderate nationalists believed that the British people and Parliament wanted to be just to India but that they did not know the true state of affairs there.
- Therefore, next to educating Indian public opinion, the Moderate nationalists worked to educate British public opinion. For this purpose, they carried on active propaganda in Britain. Deputations of leading Indians were sent to Britain to propagate the Indian view.
- In 1889, a British Committee of the India National Congress was founded. In 1890 this Committee started a journal called India. Dadabhai Naoroji spent a major part of his life and income in England popularising India’s case among its people.
- A student of the Indian national movement sometimes gets confused when he reads loud professions of loyalty to the British rule by prominent Moderate leaders. These professions do not at all mean that they were not genuine patriots or that they were cowardly men. They genuinely believed that the continuation of India’s political connection with Britain was in the interests of India at that stage of history.
- They, therefore, planned not to expel the British but transform the British rule to approximate national rule. Later, when they took note of the evils of the British rule and the failure of the government to accept nationalist demands for reform, many of them stopped talking of loyalty to the British rule and started demanding self-government for India.
- Moreover, many of them were Moderates because they felt that the time was not yet ripe to throw a direct challenge to the foreign rulers.
Role of the Masses
- The basic weakness of the early national movement lay in its narrow social base. It did not yet penetrate down to the masses. In fact, the leaders lacked political faith in the masses.
- Describing the difficulties in the way of the organisation of active political struggle, Gopal Krishna Gokhale pointed to “endless divisions and sub-divisions in the country, the bulk of the population ignorant and clinging with a tenacity to the old modes of thought and sentiment, which are averse to all changes and do not understand change”.
- Thus, the Moderate leaders believed that militant mass struggle against colonial rule could be waged only after the heterogeneous elements of Indian society had been welded into a nation. But, in fact, it was mainly in the course of such a struggle that the Indian nation could get formed.
- The result of this wrong approach towards the masses was that the masses were assigned a passive role in the early phase of the national movement. It also led to political moderation. Without the support of the masses,, they could not adopt a militant political position. As we shall see, the later nationalists were to differ from the Moderates in precisely this respect.
- The narrow social base of the early national movement should not, however, lead to the conclusion that it fought for the narrow interests of the social groups which joined it. Its programme and policies championed the cause of all sections of the Indian people and represented the interests of the emerging Indian nation against colonial domination.
Attitude of the Government
- The British authorities were from the beginning hostile to the rising nationalist movement and had become suspicious of the National Congress. Dufferin, the Viceroy, had tried to divert the national movement by suggesting to Hume that the Congress should devote itself to social rather than political affairs.
- But the Congress leaders had refused to make the change. It soon became a tool in the hands of the authorities and it was gradually becoming a focus of Indian nationalism.
- British officials now began to openly criticize and condemn the National Congress and other nationalist spokesmen. British officials from Dufferin downwards began to brand the nationalist leaders as ‘disloyal babus’, ‘seditious Brahmins’ and ‘violent villains’. The Congress was described as ‘a factory of sedition’. In 1887, Dufferin attacked the National Congress in a public speech and ridiculed it as representing only “a microscopic minority of the people”.
- In 1900, Lord Curzon announced to the Secretary of State that “the Congress is tottering to its fall, and one of my great ambitions, while in India is to assist it to a peaceful demise.” Realising that the growing unity of the Indian people posed a major threat to their rule, the British authorities also pushed further the policy of ‘divide and rule’.
- They encouraged Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Raja Shiva Prasad of Benaras, and other pro-British individuals to start an anti- Congress movement. They also tried to drive a wedge between Hindus and Muslims.
- They followed a policy of minor concessions on the one hand and ruthless repression on the other to put down the growth of nationalism. Opposition by the authorities failed, however, in checking the growth of the national movement.
Evaluation of the Early National Movement
- According to some critics, the nationalist movement and the National Congress did not achieve much success in their early phase. Very few of the reforms for which the nationalists agitated were introduced by the government.
- There is a great deal of truth in this criticism. But the critics are not quite correct in declaring the early national movement a failure. Historically viewed, its record is quite bright if the immediate difficulties of the task they had undertaken are kept in view.
- It represented the most progressive force of the time. It succeeded in creating a wide national awakening, in arousing among the people the feeling that they belonged to one common nation—the Indian nation. It made the people of India conscious of the bonds of common political, economic, social and cultural interests and of the existence of a common enemy in imperialism and thus helped to weld them in a common nationality.
- It trained people in the art of political work, popularized among them the ideas of democracy, civil liberties, secularism and nationalism, propagated among them a modern outlook and exposed before them the evils results of British rule. Most of all, the early nationalists did pioneering work in mercilessly exposing the true character of British imperialism in India.
- They linked nearly every important economic question with the politically dependent status of the country. Their powerful economic critique of imperialism was to serve as the main plank of nationalist agitation in the later years of active mass struggle against British imperialism.
- They had, by their economic agitation, undermined the moral foundations of the British rule by exposing its cruel, exploitative character. The early national movement also evolved a common political and economic programme around which the Indian people could gather and wage political struggles later on. It established the political truth that India must be ruled in the interests of the Indians.
- It made the issue of nationalism a dominant one in Indian life. Moreover, the political work of the Moderates was based on a concrete study and analysis of the hard reality of the life of the people rather than on narrow appeals to religion, mere emotion or shallow sentiments.
- While the weaknesses of the early movement were to be removed by the succeeding generation, its achievements were to serve as a base for a more vigorous national movement in later years. It can, therefore, be said that in spite of their many weaknesses, the early nationalists laid strong foundations for the national movement to build on and that they deserve a high place among the makers of modern India.