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Unit 1
Moderates – Political Programmes

Learning Outcomes

Upon the completion of this unit, the leaner will be able to:

  • generate awareness about the role of Moderates in the Indian freedom struggle.
  • familiarise with the strategies adopted by the Moderates to achieve their pro-grammes.
  • provide an insight into the phase of the Indian freedom struggle dominated by the so-called Moderates.
  • promote a comparative analysis between the programmes, ideologies and strategies adopted by Moderates and Extremists and the way in which it differed from each other.


Nationalism and its propounders were an integral part of any nation without which it cannot function with uniformity and solidarity. It is that binding force uniting them all under “one shelter house”. This is the one thing that makes a nation stand up for a particular cause. It also allows leaders and the people to protect their boundaries from foreign invasions and external encroachments. Despite the geographical boundaries which the humans draw to mark their territories, it is this nationalism that sustains and maintains a nation. Its reverberations can be felt in any field involving different areas whether it be sports, culture, social organisations, political decisions or things involving economy and its growth. It makes people do unimaginable things for their country. As far as India is considered this can be witnessed in its highest level during the colonial period where they began to get united as a nation despite having different people from varying cultures, ideologies, religions and from different social backgrounds. The bridge of events that happened in this time period united them as a nation which strengthened their mentality to fight against the British power with all its might.

Indian National Congress better known as INC was formed in the year 1885 under the auspices of Allan Octavian Hume as a ‘safety valve’ to resolve the issues of Indians through a proper channel. The moderates were the first set of leaders who became the part and parcel of Indian National Congress which later on went on to spearhead the Indian Freedom Struggle against the British rule here. Some of the major leaders who dominated the Moderate Phase (1885 – 1905) were Dadabhai Naoroji, Gopala Krishna Gokhale,Surendranath Banerjee, Womesh Chandra Banerjee, G.Subrahmania Iyer, M.G.Ranade, etc. They also fought to relieve Indians of the miseries which they suffered under British control and demanded changes in certain sectors like taxes, revenue, regarding ICS examinations, changes in administrative set up and other related things.

There is nothing wrong with the programmes they adopted as part of Indian Freedom Struggle on behalf of INC, however the issue was with the strategy which they adopted to achieve the same which was thrusted mainly on 3 P’s known as “Prayer, Petition and Protest strategy”. This way was adopted to resolve the issues and disputes in a peaceful manner as they adamantly believed in “British justice” and believed that one day they could change their rule for the betterment of Indian people through meetings, resolutions, propagandas, discussions and pamphlets. They did have some initial achievements like the expansion of the number of seats in Legislative Council; formulation of Indian Councils Act and they could also sow the seeds of nationalism among the educated class of Indians. Their activities further prompted others to act for a common goal which was to have freedom from foreign power. However, the moderates believed in a peaceful co-existence of Indians under British rule where our demands are met without any fail. This blind faith backfired as Britishers used it for their advantages to restrict a mass protest and to fool the Moderates by giving them false promises every now and then.

This gave rise to a new set of vibrant leaders better known as the Extremists(1905 – 1920) who never believed either the British or the strategies obtained by the Moderates to get their demands done for them. They were not ready to settle for anything other than Swaraj and vehemently opposed British imperialism. “Swaraj is my birth right, I shall have it” was the slogan upheld by them. They were led by three main leaders Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal who hailed from Punjab, Bombay and Bengal respectively. Other prominent ones in this group were Aurobindo Ghosh, Rajnarayan Bose, V.O.C.Pillai and A.K.Dutt. The activities of the extremists were motivated by spiritual nationalism and if possible they were ready to confront the British on certain occasions. Their goals pertaining to Indian Freedom Struggle were uncompromisable and played a predominant role in initiating and spreading movements like ‘Boycott’ and ‘Swadeshi’ among the masses. Lord Curzon and his policies to divide Bengal popularised their plans and perspectives among people. In the infamous Surat Split (1907) the moderates and Extremists parted their ways due to strong differences in their opinions and contrasting ideologies. The activities of extremists became really an issue for the British who used various laws to cut their meetings, stop press releases, propagandas and to completely ban their mass gatherings. These couldn’t stop their advances as people believed in them and began to get drawn to them every moment due to their programmes, strategies and ways. Furthermore, the situations also favoured their growth and influence among masses in those days, the details of which will be discussed further in this unit.

Key Words

Moderates, Initial Phase, Peaceful Methods, Extremists, Swaraj, Bengal Division, Boycott, Swadeshi

5.1.1 The Moderate Phase

The period between 1885 to 1905 is referred to as the Moderate Phase of Congress
The prominent Moderate leaders include:

Dadabhai Naoroji : He is known as the “ Grand Old Man of India”. He was the first Indian to become a member of the House of Commons in Britain. He made a study on the economic condition of India and came up with his magnum opus Poverty and Un-British Rule in India through which he put forward ‘Drain Theory’ that explains the economic exploitation and corruption India was facing at the hands of the British and its officials. Dadabhai Naoroji is considered the pioneer of Moderate phase who inspired many leaders through his contributions to the Indian freedom struggle.

Womesh Chandra Bannerjee : He was the first president of Indian National Congress held in 1885. He was 41 years old when he was elected the party’s president in the Bombay Session. Womesh Chandra Banerjee slammed the British Salt Tax, calling it an unjust tax. He started his career as a lawyer and carried on politics and legal profession in a parallel way. He also got an opportunity to work in the Standing Council as well representing the Indian demands in the public sphere.

G Subramanya Aiyer : Founded ‘The Hindu’ Newspaper, where he criticised British imperialism. He was the co-founder of Madras Mahajana Sabha. He was one who showed to the world that journalism does have a role in the success of any movements or struggles affecting a society as a whole. Subrahmaniya Iyer and his friends vehemently criticized British policies and the economic drain that was happening in India as a consequence of their rule. He was a good leader and used the same skill to guide the rest in this moderate phase.

Gopal Krishna Gokhale : He was an inspirational and charismatic leader of moderate phase who is even considered a ‘political guru’ of Mahatma Gandhi. He was the founder of Servants of India Society. He became a member of Indian National Congress in the year 1889. Furthermore, he was a social reformer as well in the then Indian society. Gokhale envisioned proper political representation and power over public affairs. In order to obtain his objectives he adopted the moderate strategies of ‘prayer, petition and protest’. He served as the Joint Secretary of Congress alongside Tilak. Gokhale was concerned about a split in congress and differed in opinion with leaders like Tilak on certain occasions. His thought on the Indian economy was having a liberal approach towards the same. He served as a member of Bombay Legislative Council in the year 1899. Similarly, in the year 1901 he was also elected to the Imperial Council of the Governor General of India.

Surendranath Banerjee : He was often known as the ‘Rashtraguru’ and ‘Indian Burke’ of Indian nationalist movement. He was a prominent leader of the moderate phase who founded the Indian National Association which later merged with the Indian National Congress. He is also responsible for the emergence of a newspaper by name ‘The Bengalee’ which did its own part as far as the Indian freedom struggle was considered. Even though he was one of the founding members of Indian National Congress , in the later stages he decided to quit it as he could not get along with either the extremist views or the civil disobedience movements proposed by Gandhi. However, he founded ‘The Indian Liberation Federation’ and supported Indians in their struggles against the British.

Moderate Approach
The Early phase believed in a patient conciliation rather than a confrontation, adopting orderly progress and constitutional means to realise their aims. To educate the people, to arouse political consciousness, and to create powerful public opinion in favour of their demands, they organised annual sessions. Processions and meetings were held, speeches delivered and discussions were held on various economic, social and political questions. They also drafted petitions and memorandums before submitting them to the government. To influence the British government and to enlighten the British public and its political leaders, the Early Nationalists sent deputations of leading Indian leaders to England.

5.1.2 Achievements of Moderate Nationalists

Moderate Nationalists created a national awakening among the people that made Indians conscious of the bonds of common political, economic, and cultural interests that united them. They also trained people in politics by popularising the ideas of democracy, civil liberties, secularism and nationalism. They carefully analysed the political economy of British rule in India, and put forward the “drain theory” to explain British exploitation of India. The efforts of the Early Nationalists also led to the implementation of various social reforms, such as the appointment of a Public Service Commission, a resolution of the House of Commons (1893) allowing for simultaneous examination for the Indian Civil Service in London and India, and the appointment of the Welby Commission on Indian Expenditure (1895).

The early nationalists worked with the long-term objective of a democratic self-government. Their demands for constitutional reforms were meant to have been conceded in 1892 in the form of the Indian Councils Act. Through an incessant campaign, the nationalists were able to spread modern democratic ideas, and soon the defence of civil rights became an integral part of the freedom struggle. It was due to the increased consciousness that there was a great public outrage at the arrest of Tilak and several other leaders and journalists in 1897 and at the arrest and deportation of the Natu brothers without a trial.

5.1.3 Evaluation of Early Work of Congress

Whatever may be the drawback in the demands put forward by the Congress, it was a national body in the true sense of the term: there was nothing in its programme to which any class might take exception. Its doors were open to all classes and communities. Its programme was broad enough to accommodate all interests. It may be said that it was not a party, but a movement. It must be said to the credit of the nationalist leaders that though they belonged to the urban educated middle class, they were too broad-minded and free from narrow and sectional class interests. They kept in mind the larger interests of the people in general.

The methods used by the Early Nationalists of passing resolutions and sending petitions were seen as inadequate by critics who argued that they depended on the generosity of the British instead of relying on their own strength and directly challenging colonial rule. Some historians have argued that the Early Nationalists misunderstood the British government and believed the fundamentally diametric interests of both the colonial administration and the nationalist movement could be resolved in favour of the latter. The Early Nationalists failed to draw the masses into the mainstream of the national movement such that their area of influence remained limited to urban educated Indians.

5.1.4 The Moderate Congress (1885- 1905)

The moderates contributed significantly in the Indian freedom struggle. The main objective of the Moderates was to achieve self-governance within the British Empire. They followed a middle path and not an extreme path against the British Empire.

Methods Employed by the Moderates
In order to achieve their aim, they made several demands for reform and indulged in criticising the Government policies. They believed in patience and reconciliation rather than in violence and confrontation. They relied on constitutional and peaceful methods in order to achieve their aim. They focussed on educating people, arousing their political consciousness and creating public opinion. In order to create public opinion in England, the Moderates arranged lectures in different parts of England. A weekly journal called India was published in England for circulation among the British population. Moderates used different types of newspaper and chronicles to criticise the government policies through newspapers like Bengali, Bombay Chronicle, Hindustan Times, Induprakash, Rast Goftar and a weekly journal named India. They also asked the Government to conduct an enquiry and find ways and means to solve the problems faced by people. They held meetings and held discussions concerning social, economic and cultural matters. The moderates organised meetings at various places like England, Mumbai, Allahabad, Pune and Calcutta. Major Demands of the Moderates

The major demands of the moderates were the expansion and reform of legislative councils, greater opportunities for Indians in higher posts by holding the ICS examination simultaneously in England and in India, separation of the judiciary from the executive, and more powers for the local bodies.

Besides, they also demanded reduction of land revenue and protection of peasants from unjust landlords. They wanted abolition of salt tax and sugar duty. They wanted to restrict freedom of speech, expression and also freedom to form associations. They demanded the repeal of the Arms Act, reduction of spending on the army, and the introduction of permanent settlement to other parts of India. Contributions of Moderate Nationalists

The Moderates were led by Dadabhai Naoroji, R.C. Dutt, Dinshaw Wacha and others, analysed the political economy of British rule in India, and put forward the “drain theory” to explain British exploitation of India. They were able to create a nation wide public opinion that British rule in India was the major cause of India’s poverty and economic backwardness. The Moderates demanded reduction in land revenue, abolition of salt tax, improvement in working conditions of plantation labour, etc. They helped in the expansion of council’s power i.e., greater participation of Indians in councils, and helped in reform of councils, especially of greater control over finances.

The early nationalists worked with the long-term objective of a democratic self-government. They campaigned for General Administrative Reforms. They demanded and put pressure on the British Empire on Indianisation of government service on economic grounds. They demanded and contributed to Separation of judicial from executive functions. They criticised oppressive and tyrannical bureaucracy and an expensive and time-consuming judicial system: aggressive foreign policy which resulted in annexation of Burma, attack on Afghanistan and suppression of tribals in the North-West: increase in expenditure on welfare, education, especially elementary and technical, irrigation works and improvement of agriculture, agricultural banks for cultivators, etc.

They fought for civil rights including the right to speech, thought, association and a free press. Through campaigns, the nationalists were able to spread modern democratic ideas, and soon the defence of civil rights became an integral part of the freedom struggle.

The nationalists were, thus, able to build a national movement while undermining the political and moral influence of imperialist rule. This helped in generating anti-imperialist sentiments among the public. But, at the same time, the nationalists failed to widen the democratic base of the movement by not including the masses, especially women, and not demanding the right to vote for all.

5.1.5 The Extremists (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 an 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 among 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 programmes 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, including ‘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 publicspirited 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, taluks and districts.Public meetings and processions emerged as major methods of mass mobilisation.

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 the 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 a 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. 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 to struggle against foreign rule. The demonstrations, and processions undertaken by them brought about an involvement of the common people in agitations against the 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 founded the National School at Lahore under the influence of Arya Samaj
  • Bal Gangadhar Tilak
    He was also known as ‘Lokamanya Tilak’. He founded 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. Annie Besant was another prominent figure who joined his movement and contributed much to the Indian freedom struggle against the British.
  • 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 Ghoshe
    He started an English newspaper called Bande Mataram.

Differences between the Moderates and the Extremists
When the failure of moderate politics became quite apparent by the end of the 19th century, reaction set in from within the congress circles and this new trend is referred to as the ‘Extremists’ trend. This extremism developed in three main regions and under the leadership of three important individuals- Bipin Chandra Pal in Bengal, Bal Gangadhar Tilak in Maharashtra and Lala Lajpat Rai in Punjab.


Basis Moderates Extremists
Phase 1885-1905 1905-1920
  1. Aimed at administrative and constitutional reforms.
  2. Wanted more Indians in the administration and not the end of British rule.
  3. They were secular in their
  4. attitudes, though not al-ways
  5. Forthright enough to rise above their sectarian inter-ests.
  6. 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 the British
  1. They believed 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 and generate the spirit of national-ism. 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.
  1. They followed the principles of 3P: Petition, Prayer and Protest.
  2. They believed in co-operation and reconciliation.
  1. They believed in militant methods.
  2. They followed the principle of ‘atmashakti’ or self-reliance as a weapon against domination.
  3. Method of Non-Cooperation.
  4. They advocated democracy, constitutionalism and progress.
  • 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, Lokman-ya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bi-pin Chandra Pal, Aurobindo Ghose, Rajnarayan Bose, and Ashwini Kumar Dutt
Social Support Zamindars and Upper middle classes in towns Educated middle and lower middle classes in towns
  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. Uplift of the 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.


  • Indian Freedom Struggle was predominantly influenced by two phases namely the Moderate Phase (1885 – 1905) and Extremist Phase(1905 – 1920)
  • Main leaders of Moderate Phase were Dadhabhai Naoroji, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee
  • Leaders of this phase adopted the strategy of Prayer Protest and Protest to fulfill their goals
  • They rather depended upon the generosity and peaceful co-existence with the British
  • Moderates could instill the feelings of nationalism, democracy, secularism and liberalism in the minds of people
  • Most of their Programmes were limited to the reforms in legislature and changes in the Indian Civil Service rules and judiciary
  • Indian Councils Act can be considered as a major achievement during this phase
  • Most of the demands put forward by Moderates were either not accepted or purposefully delayed by the British
  • The British used Moderate rulers as a tool which is stated in ‘Safety Valve Theory’
  • The failure of Moderate leaders gave rise to a new set of leaders with new ideologies, thoughts and strategies, better known in Indian history as Ex-tremists
  • The trio Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal con-trolled this period
  • Aurobindo and Subrahmaniya Iyer were also part of the extremist movement
  • They believed in the concept of Swarajya
  • Extremists condemned British imperialism and their cruelties against Indian natives
  • Their activities were based on Non co-operation, self-reliance and militant attitude towards oppressors
  • “Swarajya is my birth right, I shall have it”, was their slogan all throughout the phase (1905-1920)
  • Partition of Bengal intensified their influence upon people
  • Spiritual Nationalism influenced their activities
  • Possessions, demonstrations, meetings and protest gatherings were the meth-ods used by them
  • They promoted Boycott and Swadeshi campaigns among the masses
  • Extremist phase gave a new life to the Indian Freedom Struggle based on radical actions and Passive resistance

Objective type questions

  1. What was the methodology adopted by the Moderates for achieving their goals?
  2. Name the leader in the moderate phase who made an intense study on economic history of India and related ‘Drain Theory’ stating about British economic exploitation?
  3. Which time period is popularly known as the Moderate Phase in the history of India?
  4. What is considered a remarkable achievement during the time period of the Mod-erates?
  5. Mention the year in which the Surat Split occurred.
  6. Name the trio who spearheaded the activities of Extremists.
  7. What was the name of the English Newspaper started by Aurobindo Ghosh?
  8. Name the main aim of the extremists pertaining to the Indian Freedom Struggle?
  9. Who was the founder of Indian National Congress?
  10. State the theory associated with the creation of INC?

Answer to Objective type questions

  1. 3P’s : Prayer-Petition-Protest.
  2. Dadabhai Naoroji
  3. 1885 – 1905.
  4. Indian Councils Act of 1892.
  5. 1907
  6. Lala Lajpat Rai, Balgangadhar Tilak & Bipin Chandra Pal(Better Known as Lal-Bal-Pal)
  7. Vande Mataram
  8. Swaraj (Independent Dominion or Sovereignty)
  9. Allan Octavian Hume
  10. Safety Valve Theory


  1. Make a comparative analysis on the activities of Moderates and Extremists of In-dian National Congress based on their aims, ideologies and contributions to Indian Freedom Struggle.
  2. Trace the individual contributions of Extremist leaders and the way it impacted the freedom struggle against British imperialist rule in India.
  3. Discuss the goals drafted by the moderates as part of their programmes
  4. Elucidate on the pros and cons of moderate phase in Indian Freedom Struggle.

Suggested Reading

  1. Daniel Argov, Moderates and Extremists in Indian National Movement, Asia Pub-lishing House, 1968.
  2. David Hardiman, Non-violent Struggle For Indian Freedom, 1905 – 1919, Viking Publishers, 2018.
  3. Sumit Sarkar, Modern India: 1885 – 1947, Pears Education Publishers, 2014.
  4. Bipan Chandra, India’s Struggle For Independence, Penguin Books Random Pub-lishing House, 2016.
  5. Bipan Chandra, History of Modern India, Orient Blackswan,2019.
  6. Mushirul Hasan, Roads To Freedom: Prisoners of Colonial India, Oxford Univer-sity Press, 2016.
  7. Lala Lajpat Rai, Unhappy India, Books For All Publishers, 2002.