Indian Freedom Struggle 1885 1907

1885 was an important year in the Indian freedom struggle. It was the year in which the first pan-India organization, i.e., the Indian National Congress was formed.

Factors contributed to the formation of INC

  • The political unification of the country.
  • Western Education leads to the spreading of ideas like liberty, equality, freedom, and nationalism.
  • The development of the Press helped in arousing a national consciousness.
  • Oppressive policies introduced by Lytton such as the vernacular press act, arms act, salt tax, etc.
  • The development of Communication and Transport networks brought Indians closer.
  • Social and Religious Movements of the Nineteenth Century.
  • Realization of the economic and political exploitation done by the British.

Rise of Nationalism in India

  • The political, social, and economic factors motivated the people to define and attain their national identity. People began discovering their unity in the process of their struggle against colonialism.
  • The wisdom of being oppressed under colonial dominance provided a shared bond that combined different groups together. Each group and class felt the effects of colonialism differently.
  • The religious and social reform movements of the 19th century period also contributed to the feeling of Nationalism.
  • Swami Vivekananda, Henry Derozio, Annie Besant, and many other nationalists revived the glory of ancient India, created faith and trust among the people in their culture and religion, and thus, gave the message of love for their country.
  • The spiritual and intellectual side of Nationalism was voiced by persons like Bankim Chandra Chatterji, Aurobindo Ghosh, and Swami Dayanand Saraswati.
  • Bankim Chandra’s spiritual anthem to the Motherland, ‘Vande Matram’ became the mobilized cry of patriotic nationalists. It inspired generations to supreme self-sacrifice.
  • The Revolt of 1857 created a sense of permanent bitterness and suspicion between the British and the Indians.

Phases of Indian National Congress

In our previous session, we discussed the formation of the Indian National Congress. We also talked about the “Safety Valve Theory” suggested by Lala Lajpat Rai regarding the formation of INC. Here we would be covering some of the early demands of Congress.

Phases of Indian National Congress | Indian Freedom Struggle (1885-1907)

Moderate Phase of Congress

  • The phase of moderate nationalism (1885-1905) was when Congress continued to be loyal to the British crown.
  • They believed in gradual reforms through peaceful and constitutional means.
  • Lacked faith in the ability of the masses to participate in the political struggle.

The significant figures during the 1st phase of the National Movement were: A.O. Hume, Surendra Nath Banerjee, W.C. Banerjee, Feroze Shah Mehta, Dadabhai Naoroji, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Badruddin Tyabji, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, Justice Ranade, and G. Subramanya Aiyar.

  • Surendranath Banerjee was called the Indian Burke. He firmly opposed the Partition of Bengal. He constituted the Indian Association in 1876 to instigate political reforms. He had summoned the Indian National Conference (1883) which merged with the Indian National Congress in l886.
  • Subramanya Aiyar taught nationalism through the Madras Mahajana Sabha. He also began the Hindu and Swadesamitran.
  • Dadabhai Naorojiwas recognized as the Grand Old Man of India. He is considered India’s unofficial Ambassador to England. He was the 1st Indian to become a Member of the British House of Commons.
  • Gopal Krishna Gokhale was recognized as the political guru of Gandhiji. In 1905, he began the Servants of India Society to train Indians to dedicate their lives to the cause of the country.

Main Demands of Moderates

  1. Reforms and expansion of legislative councils.
  2. Greater opportunities were given to Indians in higher posts by conducting the ICS examination in England and in India.
  3. Separation of the judiciary from that of the executive and also more powers were given to the local bodies.
  4. Reduction of land revenue, reduction of expenditure on arms and protection of peasants from unjust landlords, and the abolition of salt tax & sugar duty.
  5. Freedom of speech & expression and freedom to form associations.

Methods of Moderates

  1. They were loyal to the British. They looked to England for inspiration and guidance.
  2. The Moderates used petitions, meetings, resolutions and pamphlets, memoranda, and delegations to present their demands.
  3. They limit their political activities to a specific class, i.e., the educated class only.
  4. Their target was to attain political rights and self-government stage by stage.
  5. With the increase in Congress’s demands, the government became unfriendly. It encouraged the Muslims to stay away from Congress.
  6. The only demand of the Congress conceded by the British was the expansion of the legislative councils by the Indian Councils Act of 1892.

Contributions of Moderate Nationalists

  • The economic critique of Nationalists
  • Constitutional Reforms and Propaganda in Legislature
  • Campaign for General Administrative reforms
  • Protection of Civil Rights

The Rise of Extremists

The period in the 1890s saw the beginning of the rise of Extremist nationalists. Several factors contributed to the rise of extremists in Congress:

  • The collapse of the Moderates to gain any evident success other than the expansion of the legislative councils by the Indian Councils Act (1892)
  • The famine and plague between the period of 1896-97 affected the entire country and led to the misery of the masses.
  • The economic conditions of the people became very bad.
  • The Indians were treated badly in South Africa because of their skin color.
  • The rise of extremism was sudden because of the reactionary rule of Lord Curzon: He came with the Calcutta Corporation Act, (1899) which reduced the control of Indians on their local body.
  • The Universities Act (1904) decreased the number of elected members in the University bodies. It also decreased the autonomy of the universities and made their government departments.
  • The Sedition Act & the Official Secrets Act decreased the freedoms of all people.
  • Partition of Bengal (1905) was his worst measure.
  • External factors like the defeat of Russia by Japan, and the Boer War.

Methods Used by the Extremists

  • By boycotting government courts, schools, and colleges, they were showing their non-cooperation.
  • Public meetings and processions.
  • Corps of Volunteers or ‘Samitis’.
  • Organized Festivals and Melas.
  • Emphasis is given to Self-Reliance.
  • Promotion of Swadeshi or Indigenous Enterprises.
  • Boycott of foreign goods.
  • Introduction and promotion of national education.

Leaders of the Extremists

  • Bal Gangadhar Tilak is considered the real founder of the famous anti-British movement in India. He was recognized as ‘Lokamanya’. He invaded the British through his weeklies – The Maratha and The Kesari. He was imprisoned twice by the British for his nationalist activities and in 1908 deported to Mandoli for six years. He set up the Home Rule League in 1916 at Poona and declared “Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it.”
  • Lala Lajpat Rai is famously recognized as the ‘Lion of Punjab’. He played a significant part in the Swadeshi Movement. He began the Indian Home Rule League of America in the US in 1916. He was transported to Mandalay on the grounds of sedition. He received fatal injuries while leading a progression against the Simon Commission and died on 17th November 1928.
  • Bipin Chandra Pal started his career as a moderate but later on turned an extremist.
  • Aurobindo Ghosh was another extremist leader. He actively participated and played a significant role in the Swadeshi Movement. He was also put in jail. After he got released from jail, he settled in the French territory of Pondicherry and got engrossed in spiritual activities.

Reson of Growth of Extremists

  • Growth of confidence and self-respect of the masses under leaders like Tilak, Aurobindo, and Bipin Chandra Pal.
  • The growth of education- among the masses led to increased awareness about the country’s unemployment, poverty, and underdevelopment under British Rule.
  • Reaction to increasing Westernization– as it was leading to the subordination of Indian identity and culture. Leaders like Swami Vivekananda, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee urged nationalists to take pride in the Indian civilization.
  • Dissatisfaction with the achievements of Moderates and their methods of struggle (3 Ps – petition, prayer, and protest).
  • Curzon’s Reactionary policies – Curzon’s refusal to recognize India as a nation, his insulting of nationalists, and his administrative measures like the Indian Universities Act, Official Secrets Act, and Calcutta Corporation Act invoked strong criticism from nationalists.
  • Existence of a Militant school of thought– Raj Narain Bose, A K Dutta, Aurobindo Ghosh, Bipin Chandra Pal in Bengal; Vishnu Shastri Chiplunkar and Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Lala Lajpat Rai. The basic tenets of this school were: Swaraj- the goal of national movement through Direct political action + Belief in masses and Personal sacrifices required.
  • The emergence of a trained leadership- could channel the energy of the masses during movements like for Swadeshi and against the Bengal partition, etc.
  • International Influences demolished the myths of European invincibility.
  • Recognition of the exploitative nature of British rule – Famines of 1896,1900 and the Bubonic plague in the Deccan, the suppression of the spread of education, exposed the economic exploitation of the British. So, a need for an Indian government was felt. Nationalists noticed the British were imposing several restrictions on the Indians as follows:
1892Indian Councils Act was passed, but it failed to satisfy the nationalists as their demands of representative government, etc. were not fully met.
1897The Natu brothers were deported without trial and Tilak was imprisoned for sedition under section 124A.
Sedition, under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, is defined as any action that brings or attempts to bring hatred or contempt towards the government of India.
1898The repressive laws under section 124A were further strengthened.
1899The number of Indian members in Calcutta Corporation was reduced.
1904Official Secrets Act enacted when Lord Curzon was Viceroy of India from 1899-1905, curbed freedom of the press.
1904Indian Universities Act ensured greater government control over universities, which it described as factories producing political revolutionaries

Partition of Bengal (1905)

  • British Govt. made the decision public to divide Bengal in 1903 and partition came into force in October 1905.
  • Reasons given by the British– Bengal is too big to be administered and this division of Bengal into eastern and western Bengal would develop Assam.
  • Moderates started anti-partition campaigns:
    • Leaders associated– Surendranath Banerjee, K.K Mitra, and Prithwishchandra Ray.
  • Newspaper associated– Hitabadi, Sanjibani, Bengalee.
  • Curzon declared the partition of Bengal.
  • The reason behind that partition was given as an attempt to improve administration.
  • But the real target was to ‘Divide and Rule’. The partition was executed to create a separate State for Muslims and with that to introduce the poison of communalism in the whole country.
  • However, the Indians saw the partition as an effort by the British to disturb the increasing national movement in Bengal and split the Hindus & Muslims of the area.
  • Extensive disturbance ensued in the streets and in the press. People from various parts of the country opposed the Bengal partition throughout the country.
  • This opposition was carried on by organizing processions, meetings, and demonstrations, etc. Hindus & Muslims tied ‘Rakhi’ on each other’s hands to show their unity and their protest.
Partition of Bengal (1905) | Indian Freedom Struggle (1885-1907)

Swadeshi Movement and Boycott Movement

They were mass movements to oppose the Bengal partition. The movement later spread to other parts of the country:

  • The formal proclamation of the Swadeshi Movement: 7th August 1905 at the Calcutta Town Hall with the passage of Boycott Resolution.
  • Partition came into force: on October 16, 1905
  • the boycott of government services, schools, colleges, courts, and foreign goods
  • Promotion of Swadeshi goods
  • Promotion of National Education by the establishment of national schools and colleges
Poona and BombayBal Gangadhar Tilak
PunjabLala Lajpat Rai, Ajit Singh
DelhiSyed Haider Raza
MadrasChidambaram Pillai
  • It was a combined economic and political movement.
  • In Bengal, even the landlords joined the movement.
  • The women and students took to picketing. Students refused to use books made of foreign paper.
  • It was Bal Gangadhar Tilak who recognized the significance of the boycott as a weapon that could be adapted to disable the entire British administrative machinery in India.
  • The Boycott & Swadeshi movements were instrumental in the foundation of Swadeshi enterprises – textile mills, hosiery, tanneries, banks, chemical works, and insurance companies. Swadeshi stores were opened.
  • This made the British turn back the partition of Bengal and get united in the year 1911.
1905, BenarasGokhale (moderates and extremists differences came up. Extremists wanted to extend the movement outside Bengal and include all forms of associations within the boycott. Moderates didn’t want that.)Condemned Partition, Supported anti-partition and Swadeshi Movement
1906, CalcuttaDadabhai Naoroji (Extremists wanted either tilak or Lajpat rai as president. Moderates proposed Dadabhai Naoroji.)The goal of the INC was “self-government/ swaraj like the United Kingdom or the colonies” of Australia or Canada.
The word swaraj was mentioned for the first time.
1907, SuratSURAT SPLIT- Rash Bihari GhoshExtremists wanted either Tilak or Lajpat rai as President. Moderates proposed Rashbehari Ghosh and wanted the session to be in Surat in order to exclude Tilak from the presidency since a leader from the host province could not be session president, they also sought to drop resolutions on swadeshi, boycott, and national education.

Movement Under Extremist Leadership

  • New forms of struggle were introduced such as-Boycott of foreign goods, Public meetings, and processions.
  • Imaginative use of Traditional Festivals, Melas– Tilak’s Ganapati and Shivaji festivals became a medium of swadeshi propaganda.
  • Importance to Self-Reliance (Atma Shakti)- Emphasis was placed on honor and social and economic regeneration of the villages.
  • Swadeshi program or National Education:
    • Bengal National College – Aurobindo Ghosh as its Principal – inspired by Tagore’s Shantiniketan.
    • The National Council of Education (1906) was set up to organise national education in vernacular medium.
    • Bengal Institute of Technology was set up for technical education.
  • Swadeshi enterprises– Swadeshi textile mills, banks, etc, were set up. V.O. Chidambaram Pillai set up the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company at Tuticorin.
  • Cultural Impact– Rabindranath Tagore wrote Amar Sonar Bangla, and Subramania Bharati wrote Swadesha Geetham.
  • Corps of volunteers or ‘Samitis’– they generated political consciousness among the masses.
BarisalSwadeshi Bandhab Samiti by Ashwini Kumar Dutta
Tirunelveli (Tamil Nadu)Swadeshi Sangam by V.O. Chidambaram Pillai, Subramania Siva etc.

The extent of Mass Participation in Swadeshi and Boycott Movement

StudentsParticipated in large numbers, especially in Bengal, Maharashtra, and South India.
MuslimsLed by Nawab Salim Ullah of Dacca, most of the upper and middle-class Muslims did not participate.
Couldn’t get the support of the Muslim peasantry.
All India Muslim League came up on December 30, 1905, as an anti-Congress front.
WomenTook an active part in procession and picketing
LaborStrikes were organized in Bengal, Punjab, and Tamil Nadu.

Congress Response to Swadeshi Movement

  • The movement was in opposition to the partition of Bengal when the partition of Bengal was at its height. At the annual session of the Congress, the movement was held at Calcutta in 1906 under the leadership of Dadabhai Naoroji.
  • This session is very significant because of the conciliation between the Moderates & the Extremists.
  • Congress criticized the Partition of Bengal. In the words of Dadabhai Naoroji, it was an ill-blunder of the British.
  • The promotion of education was considered the target of Congress.
  • The Swadeshi & the Boycott were getting full support from Congress. This is for the 1st time; Boycott was recognized to be used as a political weapon.

Government Repression

  • The British government followed the “carrot and stick policy”. It is a 3-way approach of repression – conciliation and suppression.
  • 5 new laws were brought to curb anti-government activity:
    • Seditious Meetings Act,1907
    • Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1908
    • Indian Newspapers Act,1908
    • Explosives Substances Act,1908
    • Indian Press Act,1910
  • Tilak was tried for sedition in 1909 for his writings in “Kesari” about a bomb thrown by Bengal revolutionaries in Muzzafarpur – sent to Mandalay jail for 6 yrs- released in 1914.
  • Aurobindo and B.C Pal retired from politics and Lala Lajpat rai left for abroad.

Formation of Muslim League (1906)

  • As the radical movement grew powerful, the British began to look for ways and means to split the unity among Indians.
  • They tried to execute this through the partition of Bengal and by sowing the seed of communalism among the Indian people.
  • They inspired Muslims to create a permanent political association of their own.
  • In December 1906, during the Muhammadan Educational Association in Dacca, Nawab Salimullah Khan embraced the idea of establishing a Central Muhammadan Association to take care of Muslim interests.
  • Correspondingly, on 30th December 1906, the All India Muslim League was created. Another distinguished person, Aga Khan was selected as its president.
  • The main aim of the league was to secure and advance the rights of Muslims in India and represent their demands to the government.
  • By supporting the issue of separate electorates, the government sowed the seed of communalism and separatism among the Indians.
  • The creation of the Muslim League is considered to be the 1st fruit of the British master strategy of ‘Divide and Rule’. Mohammad Ali Jinnah then later joined the League.

Surat Session (1907)

  • The INC breaks into two groups i.e. The extremists & The moderates, at the Surat session in 1907.
  • Extremists were led by Lal, Bal, and Pal, while the moderates by G.K. Gokhale.
  • Controversy arose over the elected President, Ras Bihari Ghosh, as extremists didn’t accept him.
  • Extremists wanted Lala Lajpat Rai to be chosen.
  • The government launched a massive attack on extremists by suppressing their newspapers and arresting their leaders.


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