Growth Of Militant Nationalism (1905 – 1918)
Gradually, over the years, the trend of militant nationalism or Extremism had been growing in the country. It found expression in the movement against the partition of Bengal in 1905.
The Indian national movement even in its early days had made a large number of people conscious of the evils of foreign domination and of the need for fostering patriotism and had imparted the necessary political training to the educated Indians.
At the same time, the failure of the British Government to accept any of the important demands of the nationalists produced disillusionment among the younger generation, with the principles and methods of the moderates. There was a strong demand for more vigorous political action and methods rather than just presenting petitions and memorials and making long speeches in the Councils.
The roots of extremism in India lay in the Renaissance and the belief in the vibrant traditional cultural values of Indian civilization as expounded by Swami Vivekananda. There was also a discovery of India’s rich heritage. The English had established the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784 under William Jones, who learnt Sanskrit and translated Kalidasa’s Abhijnana Shakuntalam into English while another scholar, Charles Wilkins translated the Bhagawad Gita. But the greatest contribution came from the German scholar. Max Muller translated the Rig Veda into English and was founded a discipline called Indology (study of India). They had brought India’s rich past into focus and the extremists drew inspiration from this to attack the British. They held, that India is in no way inferior to Britain and relations between peoples and countries should be based on equality and self-respect.
Besides this, they were sharply critical of the moderates whose continuous attachment to western idealism has, they felt, alienated them from the general masses and they felt the need for bridging this gap. Their solution was mass action against the British rule and replace it with swaraj or independent India.
Besides these ideological roots, there were many factors responsible for the rise of extremism.
Gradually, the nationalists began to realise the exploitative nature of British rule. The drain theory expounded by the moderates provided good fuel for the Extremists who began to feel that India would not progress until the British rule was replaced by a government-controlled and run by Indian people.
Secondly, by the end of the 19th century, the Indian nationalists had grown in self-respect and self confidence which was drawn from the spirit of the socio-religious renaissance. The nationalists felt confident in their capacity to govern the country.
Leaders like Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal preached the message of self-respect and asked the nationalists to rely on the capacities of the Indian people. They taught the people that the remedy to their sad condition lay in their own hands. The belief in self-effort also created an urge for extending the national movement to the masses instead of relying on a few upper class educated Indians. The political consciousness of the masses was to be aroused and there was the realisation that only the masses could make the immense sacrifices needed to win freedom.
Growth of Education and Unemployment
By the close of the 19th century, the number of educated Indians had increased perceptively. A large number of them worked in the administration on extremely low salaries, while many others increasingly faced unemployment. Their economic plight made them look critically at the nature of British rule and many of them were attracted by radical nationalist politics.
Even more important was the ideological aspect of the spread of education. The larger the number of educated Indians, the larger was the area of influence of western ideas of democracy, nationalism, and radicalism. The educated Indians became the best propagators and followers of militant nationalism.
Several events abroad during this period tended to encourage the growth of Extremism in India. The rise of modern Japan after 1868 showed that a backward Asian country could develop itself without Western control. The defeat of the Italians by the Ethiopians in 1896 and of Russia by Japan in 1905 exploded the myth of European superiority. Revolutionary movements in Ireland, Russia, and China and the Boer War in South Africa convinced the Indians that a united people willing to make sacrifices could challenge the most powerful of despotic governments.
Existence of a Militant Nationalist School of Thought
From almost the beginning of the national movement, a school of militant nationalism had existed in the country led by the fiery Bal Gangadhar Tilak later popularly known as Lokamanya Tilak. In 1885, ‘he helped found the Fergusson College, and the newspapers Mahratta (in English) and the Kesari (in Marathi). From 1889, he edited the Kesari and preached nationalism in its columns and taught people to become courageous, self-reliant, and selfless fighters in the cause of India’s independence. In 1891, he launched an agitation against the Age of consent Bill. In 1893, he started using the traditional religious Ganapati festival to propagate nationalist ideas and in 1895 he started the Shivaji festival to stimulate nationalism among young Maharashtrians by holding up the example of Shivaji for emulation. During 1896-1897 he initiated a no-tax campaign in Maharashtra. He asked the famine-stricken peasants of Maharashtra to withhold payment of land revenue if their crops had failed. He set a real example of boldness and sacrifice when he was arrested in 1897 on charges of sedition. He refused to apologise to the government and was sentenced to 18 months’ rigorous imprisonment. Thus he became a living symbol of the new national spirit of self-sacrifice.
At the dawn of the 20th century, the school of Extremists found a favourable political climate and they came forward to lead the second stage of the national movement. The most outstanding Extremist leaders, apart from Lokamanya Tilak, were Bipin Chandra Pal, Aurobindo Ghose, and Lala Lajpat Rai. The main political aspects of the programme of the Extremists were as follows:
They believed that Indians themselves must work out their own salvation and make the effort to rise from their degraded position. Their speeches, writings, and political work reflected their ideas of boldness, self-confidence and sacrifice. They denied that India could progress under the control of the English. They deeply hated foreign rule and declared in a clear cut manner that Swaraj was the goal of the national movement.