Indian History II

Delhi Law Academy

Indian National Congress:

Foundation and the Moderate Phase (1885-1905)

Foundation of Indian National Congress

•            In the later 1870s and early 1880s, a solid ground had been prepared for the establishment of an all-India organisation.

•            The final shape to this idea was given by a retired English civil servant, A.O. Hume, who mobilised leading intellectuals of the time and, with their cooperation, organised the first session of the Indian National Congress at Gokuldas Tejpal Sanskrit College in Bombay in December 1885.

•            The first session of the Indian National Congress was attended by 72 delegates and presided over by Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee.

•            Hereafter, the Congress met every year in December, in a different part of the country each time.

•            Apart from the Indian National Congress, nationalist activity was carried out through provincial conferences and associations, newspapers and literature.

Safety Valve Theory

•            There is a theory that Hume formed the Congress with the idea that it would prove to be a ‘safety valve’ for releasing the growing discontent of the Indians. To this end, he convinced Lord Dufferin not to obstruct the formation of the Congress.

•            Modern Indian historians, however, dispute the idea of ‘safety valve’. In their opinion the Indian National Congress represented the urge of the politically conscious Indians to set up a national body to express the political and economic demands of the Indians.

o            If the Indians had convened such a body on their own, there would have been unsurmountable opposition from the officials; such an organisation would not have been allowed to form. In the circumstances, the early Congress leaders used Hume as a ‘lightning conductor’ i.e., as a catalyst to bring together the nationalistic forces even if under the guise of a ‘safety valve’.

Aims and Objectives of the Congress

The main aims of the Indian National Congress in the initial stage were to—

(i)          found a democratic, nationalist movement

(ii)         politicise and politically educate people

(iii)        establish the headquarters for a movement

(iv)        develop and propagate an anti-colonial nationalist ideology

(v)         formulate and present popular demands before the government with a view to unifying the people over a common economic and political programme

Era of Moderates (1885-1905)

Important Leaders

•            The national leaders like Dadabhai Naoroji, Pherozshah Mehta, D.E. Wacha, W.C. Bonnerjea, S.N. Banerjea who dominated the Congress policies during the early period (1885-1905) were staunch believers in ‘liberalism’ and ‘moderate’ politics and came to be labeled as Moderates to distinguish them from the neo-nationalists of the early twentieth century who were referred to as the Extremists.

Moderate Approach

•            The moderate political activity involved constitutional agitation within the confines of law and showed a slow but orderly political progress.

•            The Moderates believed that the British basically wanted to be just to the Indians but were not aware of the real conditions. Therefore, if public opinion could be created in the country and public demands be presented to the government through resolutions, petitions, meetings, etc., the authorities would concede these demands gradually.

•            To achieve these ends, they worked on a two-pronged methodology

o            one, create a strong public opinion to arouse consciousness and national spirit and then educate and unite people on common political questions; and

o            two, persuade the British Government and British public opinion to introduce reforms in India on the lines laid out by the nationalists. They used the method of ‘prayer and petition’ and if that failed, they resorted to constitutional agitation.

Contributions of Moderate Nationalists

Economic Critique of British Imperialism

•            The early nationalists, led by Dadabhai Naoroji, R.C. Dutt, Dinshaw Wacha and others, carefully analysed the political economy of British rule in India, and put forward the “drain theory” to explain British exploitation of India.

•            They opposed the transformation of a basically self-sufficient Indian economy into a colonial economy (i.e., a supplier of raw materials and food stuff, an importer of finished goods and a field of investment for British capital).

•            Thus, the Moderates were able to create an all-India public opinion that British rule in India was the major cause of India’s poverty and economic backwardness.

Constitutional Reforms and Propaganda in Legislature

•            Legislative councils in India had no real official power till 1920. Yet, work done in them by the nationalists helped the growth of the national movement.

•            The Imperial Legislative Council constituted by the Indian Councils Act (1861) was an impotent body designed to disguise official measures as having been passed by a representative body.

•            From 1885 to 1892, the nationalist demands for constitutional reforms were centred around—

1.           expansion of councils—i.e., greater participation of Indians in councils; and

2.           reform of councils—i.e., more powers to councils, especially greater control over finances.

An Evaluation of the Early Nationalists

•            The early nationalists did a great deal to awaken the national sentiment, even though they could not draw the masses to them.

(i)          They represented the most progressive forces of the time.

(ii)         They were able to create a wide national awakening of all Indians having common interests and the need to rally around a common programme against a common enemy, and above all, the feeling of belonging to one nation.

(iii)        They trained people in political work and popularised modern ideas.

(iv)        They exposed the basically exploitative character of colonial rule, thus undermining its moral foundations.

(v)         Their political work was based on hard realities, and not on shallow sentiments, religion, etc.

(vi)        They were able to establish the basic political truth that India should be ruled in the interest of Indians.

(vii)       They created a solid base for a more vigorous, militant, mass-based national movement in the years that followed.

Growth of Militant Nationalism

•            A radical trend of a militant nationalist approach to political activity started emerging in the 1890s and it took a concrete shape by 1905. As an adjunct to this trend, a revolutionary wing also took shape.

Reasons for growth of Militant Nationalism

Recognition of the True Nature of British Rule

•            Having seen that the British government was not conceding any of their important demands, the more militant among those politically conscious got disillusioned and started looking for a more effective mode of political action.

•            Also, the feeling that only an Indian government could lead India on to a path of progress started attracting more and more people.

•            The economic miseries of the 1890s further exposed the exploitative character of colonial rule.

o            Severe famines killed 90 lakh persons between 1896 and 1900.

o            Bubonic plague affected large areas of the Deccan.

o            There were large- scale riots in the Deccan.

•            The nationalists were wide awake to the fact that instead of giving more rights to the Indians, the government was taking away even the existing ones.

1892— The Indian Councils Act was criticised by nationalists as it failed to satisfy them. 1897 — The Natu brothers were deported without trial and Tilak and others, imprisoned on charges of sedition.

1898— Repressive laws under IPC Section 124 A were further amplified with new provisions under IPC Section 156 A

1899— Number of Indian members in Calcutta Corporation were reduced.

1904— Official Secrets Act curbed freedom of press.

1904— Indian Universities Act ensured greater government control over universities, which it described as factories producing political revolutionaries.

•            Also, British rule was no longer progressive socially and culturally.

o            It was suppressing the spread of education, especially mass and technical education.

Growth of Confidence and Self-Respect

•            There was a growing faith in self-effort. Tilak, Aurobindo and Bipin Chandra Pal repeatedly urged the nationalists to rely on the character and capacities of the Indian people.

•            A feeling started gaining currency that the masses had to be involved in the battle against colonial government as they were capable of making the immense sacrifices needed to win freedom.

Growth of Education

•            While, on the one hand, the spread of education led to an increased awareness among the masses, on the other hand, the rise in unemployment and underemployment among the educated drew attention to poverty and the underdeveloped state of the country’s economy under colonial rule.

•            This added to the already simmering discontent among the more radical nationalists.

International Influences

•            Remarkable progress made by Japan after 1868 and its emergence as an industrial power opened the eyes of Indians to the fact that economic progress was possible even in an Asian country without any external help.

•            The defeat of the Italian army by Ethiopians (1896), the Boer wars (1899-1902) where the British faced reverses and Japan’s victory over Russia (1905) demolished myths of European invincibility.

•            Also, the nationalists were inspired by the nationalist movements worldwide—in Ireland, Russia, Egypt, Turkey, Persia and China.

•            The Indians realised that a united people willing to make sacrifices could take on the mightiest of empires.

Reaction to Increasing Westernisation

•            The new leadership felt the stranglehold of excessive westernisation and sensed colonial designs to submerge the Indian national identity in the British Empire.

•            Intellectuals like Swami Vivekananda, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Swami Dayananda Saraswati inspired many young nationalists with their forceful and articulate arguments, painting India’s past in brighter colours than the British ideologues had.

•            These thinkers exploded the myth of western superiority by referring to the richness of Indian civilisation in the past.

Dissatisfaction with Achievements of Moderates

•            The younger elements within the Congress were dissatisfied with the achievements of the Moderates during the first 15-20 years.

•            They were strongly critical of the methods of peaceful and constitutional agitation, popularly known as the “Three ‘P’s”—prayer, petition and protest—and described these methods as ‘political mendicancy’.

Reactionary Policies of Curzon

•            A sharp reaction was created in the Indian mind by Curzon’s seven-year rule in India which was full of missions, commissions and omissions.

•            He refused to recognise India as a nation, and insulted Indian nationalists and the intelligentsia by describing their activities as “letting off of gas”.

•            Administrative measures adopted during his rule—the Official Secrets Act, the Indian Universities Act, the Calcutta Corporation Act and, above all, the partition of Bengal—left no doubt in Indian minds about the basically reactionary nature of British rule in India.

Existence of a Militant School of Thought

•            By the dawn of the 20th century, a band of nationalist thinkers had emerged who advocated a more militant approach to political work.

•            These included Raj Narain Bose, Ashwini Kumar Datta, Aurobindo Ghosh and Bipin Chandra Pal in Bengal; Vishnu Shastri Chiplunkar and Bal Gangadhar Tilak in Maharashtra; and Lala Lajpat Rai in Punjab.

•            Tilak emerged as the most outstanding representative of this school of thought.

The basic tenets of this school of thought were:

•            hatred for foreign rule; since no hope could be derived from it, Indians should work out their own salvation

•            swaraj to be the goal of national movement

•            direct political action required

 •           belief in capacity of the masses to challenge the authority

•            personal sacrifices required and a true nationalist to be always ready for it.

Emergence of a Trained Leadership

•            The new leadership could provide a proper channelisation of the immense potential for political struggle which the masses possessed and, as the militant nationalists thought, were ready to give expression to.

•            This energy of the masses got a release during the movement against the partition of Bengal, which acquired the form of the swadeshi agitation.

The Swadeshi and Boycott Movement (1903-1908)

•            The Swadeshi and Boycott movement began as an agitation to oppose the Bengal partition, which later turned into a mass movement throughout the country.

•            The formal proclamation of Swadeshi Movement was made on 7th August 1905 in a meeting held at the Calcutta Town Hall. In the meeting, the famous Boycott Resolution was passed.

•            The Congress Session of 1905- The session took place at Banaras. Gopal Krishna Gokhale took up Swadeshi call.

•            The Congress Session of 1906– The session took place at Calcutta under the presidentship of Dadabhai Naoroji. In this session, four resolutions on the Swadeshi, Boycott, National Education and Self-Government demands were passed.

•            It is to be noted that the two terms- Swadeshi and Boycott are complimentary. By the term Swadeshi, we mean adopting indigenous products. And by the term Boycott, we mean rejecting foreign made products.

The Bengal Partition and the Movement

•            The Swadeshi movement began as an agitation against the Bengal partition in 1905, which Lord Curzon had designed as a means of destroying political opposition in Bengal province.

•            In 1901, census was conducted which revealed that Bengal had a population of 78.5 million.

o            Curzon and his administration had given the reason that Bengal was being partitioned because it has become too big to be administered.

o            But the real motive behind the partition plan was the British desire to weaken Bengal, the nerve centre of Indian nationalism.

•            The Government’s decision to partition Bengal was made public in December 1903. It sought to achieve by putting the Bengal under two administrations by dividing them:

(i)          on the basis of language (thus reducing the Bengalis to a minority in Bengal itself as in the new proposal Bengal was to have 17 million Bengalis and 37 million Hindi and Oriya speakers), and

(ii)         on the basis of religion, as the western half was to be a Hindu majority area (42 million out of a total 54 million) and the eastern half was to be a Muslim majority area (18 million out of a total of 31 million).

•            Trying to woo the Muslims, Curzon, the viceroy at that time, argued that Dacca could become the capital of the new Muslim majority province, which would provide them with a unity not experienced by them since the days of old Muslim viceroys and kings.

•            Thus, it was clear that the Government was up to its old policy of propping up Muslim communalists to counter the Congress and the national movement.

The Movement

•            From 1903, the partition proposals became publicly known.

•            So, during the 1903-1905 period, moderate techniques of petitions, memorandum, speeches, public meetings and press campaigns held full sway.

•            But despite the widespread protests, the decision to partition Bengal was announced on 19th July, 1905.

•            The Congress leadership then made the final proclamation of the Swadeshi Movement on 7th August 1905, in a meeting held at the Calcutta Town Hall.

•            Then in the same year, the Annual Congress Session, which took place at Banaras took up the Swadeshi call under the presidentship of Gopal Krishna Gokhale.

o            The people were urged to boycott foreign cloth and the shops selling foreign goods were picketed.

o            The Ganpati and Shivaji festivals popularized by Tilak became a medium of Swadeshi propaganda.

o            People tied rakhis on each other’s hand as a symbol of unity of two halves of Bengal.

•            Rabindra Nath Tagore also made huge contribution in the movement. He made public speeches, wrote essays, short stories, poems inspiring the Bengali mind. His patriotic songs swayed the Bengali heart, touching a chord within and filling them with love and pride for their country.

o            Women came out of their homes for the first time and joined processions and picketing.

•            During the movement, even the moderate leaders like Surendranath Banerjee toured the country urging the people to unite and boycott British made goods.

•            But the partition took effect on 16th October, 1905. On this day, people fasted and no fires were lit at the cooking hearth. In Calcutta, ‘hartal’ was declared.

•            However, the partition instead of dividing and weakening the Bengalis, further united them through the anti-partition agitation. The Curzon administration had ignored the emerging Bengali identity which cut across narrow interest groups, class, as well as regional barriers.

Aims of the Swadeshi and Boycott movements

•            To secure the annulment of the partition of Bengal.

•            Passive resistance- to oppose the British colonial rule through violation of its unjust laws.

•            Boycott of British goods such as Manchester cloth and the Liverpool salt and British institutions.

•            Development of indigenous alternatives, that is, swadeshi goods and national education.

Impact of the Swadeshi and Boycott Movements

•            Self-reliance popularised through the movement meant an effort to set-up Swadeshi or indigenous enterprises.

•            The period saw mushrooming of Swadeshi textile mills, soap and match factories, tanneries, banks, insurance companies, shops, etc. Though unable to survive for long, Acharya P.C. Ray’s Bengal Chemicals Factory, became successful and famous.

•            Indian craftsmen got their work back.

•            In science, Jagdish Chandra Bose, Prafulla Chandra Ray and others pioneered original research that was praised around the world.

•            Nandlal Bose made a major imprint on Indian art. He was the first recipient of a scholarship offered by the Indian Society of Oriental Art, which was founded in 1907.

•            The students boycotted schools and colleges and organised meetings and demonstrations, picketed the shops and burnt foreign goods.

•            Swadeshi or national education was emphasised. Taking a cue from Tagore’s Shantiniketan, the Bengal National College was founded, with Aurobindo Ghosh as its principal.

Significance of Swadeshi and Boycott movements

•            The movement made a major contribution in taking the idea of nationalism to many sections of the population.

•            It eroded the hegemony of colonial ideas and institutions.

•            The movement evolved several new methods and techniques of mass mobilization.

•            It led to the emergence of the capitalist class which funded the leaders of the national movement in coming years.

•            This legacy they bequeathed was one on which the later national movement was to draw heavily.

Annulment of Partition

•            It was decided to annul the partition of Bengal in 1911 mainly to curb the menace of revolutionary terrorism.

•            The annulment came as a rude shock to the Muslim political elite. It was also decided to shift the capital to Delhi as a sop to the Muslims, as it was associated with Muslim glory, but the Muslims were not pleased.

•            Bihar and Orissa were taken out of Bengal and Assam was made a separate province.

Differences between Moderates and Extremists

Social base—zamindars and upper middle classes in  towns.Social base—educated middle and lower middle classes in towns.
Ideological inspiration— western liberal thought and European historyIdeological inspiration—Indian history, cultural heritage and Hindu traditional symbols.
Believed political connections with Britain to be in India’s social, political and cultural interests.Believed that political connections with Britain would perpetuate British exploitation of India.
Believed that the movement should be limited to middle class intelligentsia; masses not yet ready for participation in political work.Had immense faith in the capacity of masses to participate and to make a difference
Demanded constitutional reforms and share for Indians in services.Demanded swaraj as the panacea for Indian ills.
Insisted on the use of constitutional methods of protest.Did not hesitate to use extra-constitutional methods like boycott and passive resistance to achieve their objectives.

The Surat Split

•            The Congress split at Surat came in December 1907, around the time when revolutionary activity had gained momentum. The two events were not unconnected.

Run-up to Surat

•            In December 1905, at the Benaras session of the Indian National Congress presided over by Gokhale, the Moderate- Extremist differences came to the fore.

•           The Extremists wanted to extend the Boycott and Swadeshi Movement to regions outside Bengal and also to include all forms of associations (such as government service, law courts, legislative councils, etc.) within the boycott programme and thus start a nationwide mass movement.

•           The Moderates, were not in favour of extending the movement beyond Bengal and were totally opposed to boycott of councils and similar associations. They advocated constitutional methods to protest against the partition of Bengal.

•           As a compromise, a relatively mild resolution condemning the partition of Bengal and the reactionary policies of Curzon and supporting the swadeshi and boycott programme in Bengal was passed. This succeeded in averting a split for the moment.

•            At the Calcutta session of the Congress in December 1906, the Moderate enthusiasm had cooled a bit because of the popularity of the Extremists and the revolutionaries and because of communal riots.

•           Here, the Extremists wanted either Tilak or Lajpat Rai as the president, while the Moderates proposed the name of Dadabhai Naoroji, who was widely respected by all the nationalists.

•           Finally, Dadabhai Naoroji was elected as the president and as a concession to the militants, the goal of the Indian National Congress was defined as ‘swarajya or self-government’ like the United Kingdom or the colonies of Australia and Canada.

•           Also a resolution supporting the programme of swadeshi, boycott and national education was passed.

•           The word swaraj was mentioned for the first time, but its connotation was not spelt out, which left the field open for differing interpretations by the Moderates and the Extremists.

•            The Extremists thought that the people had been aroused and the battle for freedom had begun. They felt the time had come for the big push to drive the British out and considered the Moderates to be a drag on the movement.

•            They decided that it was necessary to part company with the Moderates, even if it meant a split in the Congress.

•            The Moderates thought that it would be dangerous at that stage to associate with the Extremists whose anti-imperialist agitation, it was felt, would be ruthlessly suppressed by the mighty colonial forces.

•            The Moderates saw in the council reforms an opportunity to realise their dream of Indian participation in the administration. Any hasty action by the Congress, the Moderates felt, under Extremist pressure was bound to annoy the Liberals, then in power in England. The Moderates were also ready to part company with the Extremists.

Split Takes Place

•            The Extremists wanted the 1907 session to be held in Nagpur (Central Provinces) with Tilak or Lajpat Rai as the president along with a reiteration of the swadeshi, boycott and national education resolutions.

The Moderates wanted the session at Surat in order to exclude Tilak from the presidency, since a leader from the host province could not be session president (Surat being in Tilak’s home province of Bombay). Instead, they wanted Rashbehari Ghosh as the president and sought to drop the resolutions on swadeshi, boycott and national education.

Both sides adopted rigid positions, leaving no room for compromise. The split became inevitable, and the Congress was now dominated by the Moderates who lost no time in reiterating Congress’ commitment to the goal of self-government within the British Empire and to the use of constitutional methods only to achieve this goal.

Government Repression

•            The government launched a massive attack on the Extremists.

Between 1907 and 1911, five new laws were brought into force to check anti-government activity.

Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the main Extremist leader, was tried in 1909 for sedition for what he had written in 1908 in his Kesari.

Tilak was judged guilty and sentenced to six years’ transportation and a fine of Rs 1,000. He was sent to Mandalay (Burma) jail for six years.

Aurobindo and B.C. Pal retired from active politics. Lajpat Rai left for abroad.

•            The Extremists were not able to organise an effective alternative party to sustain the movement. The Moderates were left with no popular base or support, especially as the youth rallied behind the Extremists.

•            After 1908, the national movement as a whole declined for a time. In 1914, Tilak was released and he picked up the threads of the movement.

Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909

•            In October 1906, a group of Muslim elites called the Simla Deputation, led by the Agha Khan, met Lord Minto and demanded separate electorates for the Muslims and representation in excess of their numerical strength in view of ‘the value of the contribution’ Muslims were making “to the defence of the empire”.

The Muslim League intended to preach loyalty to the empire and to keep the Muslim intelligentsia away from the Congress.

The Reforms

•            The viceroy, Lord Minto, and the Secretary of State for India, John Morley, agreed that some reforms were due so as to placate the Moderates as well as the Muslims.

•            They worked out a set of measures that came to be known as the Morley- Minto (or Minto-Morley) Reforms that translated into the Indian Councils Act of 1909.

•            The elective principle was recognised for the non-official membership of the councils in India. Indians were allowed to participate in the election of various legislative councils, though on the basis of class and community.

•            For the first time, separate electorates for Muslims for election to the central council was established—a most detrimental step for India.

•            The number of elected members in the Imperial Legislative Council and the Provincial Legislative Councils was increased.

•            In the Imperial Legislative Council, of the total 69 members, 37 were to be the officials and of the 32 non-officials, 5 were to be nominated.

•            The elected members were to be indirectly elected. The local bodies were to elect an electoral college, which in turn would elect members of provincial legislatures, who in turn would elect members of the central legislature.

•            Besides separate electorates for the Muslims, representation in excess of the strength of their population was accorded to the Muslims. Also, the income qualification for Muslim voters was kept lower than that for Hindus.

•            Powers of legislatures—both at the centre and in provinces—were enlarged and the legislatures could now pass resolutions, ask questions, vote  on separate items in the budget, though the budget as a whole could not be voted upon.

•            One Indian was to be appointed to the viceroy’s executive council (Satyendra Sinha was the first Indian to be appointed in 1909).

Revolutionary Activities (1907 – 1917)


•            The first revolutionary groups were organised in 1902 in Midnapore (under Jnanendranath Basu) and in Calcutta (the Anushilan Samiti founded by Promotha Mitter, and including Jatindranath Banerjee, Barindra Kumar Ghosh and others

•            In April 1906, an inner circle within Anushilan (Barindra Kumar Ghosh, Bhupendranath Dutta) started the weekly Yugantar. By 1905-06, several newspapers had started advocating revolutionary violence.

o            Rashbehari Bose and Sachin Sanyal had organised a secret society covering far-flung areas of Punjab, Delhi and United Provinces while some others like Hemachandra Kanungo went abroad for military and political training.

o            In 1908, Prafulla Chaki and Khudiram Bose threw a bomb at a carriage supposed to be carrying a particularly sadistic white judge, Kingsford, in Muzaffarpur. Kingsford was not in the carriage. Unfortunately, two British ladies, instead, got killed. Prafulla Chaki shot himself dead while Khudiram Bose was tried and hanged.

•            The Anushilan Samiti found a good leader in Jatindranath Mukherjee or Bagha Jatin and emerged as the Jugantar (or Yugantar).

o            During the First World War, the Jugantar party arranged to import German arms and ammunition through sympathisers and revolutionaries abroad.

o            Jatin asked Rashbehari Bose to take charge of Upper India, aiming to bring about an all-India insurrection in what has come to be called the ‘German Plot’ or the ‘Zimmerman Plan’.

o            It was planned that a guerrilla force would be organised to start an uprising in the country, with a seizure of Fort William and a mutiny by armed forces.

o            Unfortunately for the revolutionaries, the plot was leaked out by a traitor. Jatin Mukherjee was shot and died a hero’s death in Balasore on the Orissa coast in September 1915.

•            The newspapers and journals advocating revolutionary activity included Sandhya and Yugantar in Bengal, and Kal in Maharashtra.


•            The first of the revolutionary activities in Maharashtra was the organisation of the Ramosi Peasant Force by Vasudev Balwant Phadke in 1879, which aimed to rid the country of the British by instigating an armed revolt by disrupting communication lines.

o            It hoped to raise funds for its activities through dacoities. It was suppressed prematurely.

•            During the 1890s, Tilak propagated a spirit of militant nationalism, including use of violence, through Ganapati and Shivaji festivals and his journals Kesari and Maharatta.

•            Savarkar and his brother organised Mitra Mela, a secret society, in 1899 which merged with Abhinav Bharat in 1904. Soon Nasik, Poona and Bombay emerged as centres of bomb manufacture.


•            The Punjab extremism was fuelled by issues such as frequent famines coupled with rise in land revenue and irrigation tax, practice of ‘begar’ by zamindars and by the events in Bengal.

•            Among those active here were Lala Lajpat Rai who brought out Punjabee (with its motto of self-help at any cost) and Ajit Singh (Bhagat Singh’s uncle) who organised the extremist Anjuman-i-Mohisban-i-Watan in Lahore with its journal, Bharat Mata.

•            Extremism in the Punjab died down quickly after the government struck in May 1907 with a ban on political meetings and the deportation of Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh.

Revolutionary Activities Abroad

•            Shyamji Krishnavarma had started in London in 1905 an Indian Home Rule Society—‘India House’—as a centre for Indian students, a scholarship scheme to bring radical youth from India, and a journal The Indian Sociologist.

o            Revolutionaries such as Savarkar and Hardayal became the members of India House.

•            New centres emerged on the continent—Paris and Geneva—from where Madam Bhikaji Cama, a Parsi revolutionary who had developed contacts with French socialists and who brought out Bande Mataram, and Ajit Singh operated.

The Ghadr

•            The Ghadr Party was a revolutionary group organised around a weekly newspaper The Ghadr with its headquarters at San Francisco and branches along the US coast and in the Far East.

•            These revolutionaries included mainly ex-soldiers and peasants who had migrated from the Punjab to the USA and Canada in search of better employment opportunities.

•            To carry out revolutionary activities, the earlier activists had set up a ‘Swadesh Sevak Home’ at Vancouver and ‘United India House’ at Seattle.

o            Finally, in 1913, the Ghadr was established.

•            The Ghadr programme was to organise assassinations of officials, publish revolutionary and anti-imperialist literature, work among Indian troops stationed abroad, procure arms and bring about a simultaneous revolt in all British colonies.

•            The moving spirits behind the Ghadr Party were Lala Hardayal, Ramchandra, Bhagwan Singh, Kartar Singh Saraba, Barkatullah, and Bhai Parmanand.

•            The Ghadrites intended to bring about a revolt in India. Their plans were encouraged by two events in 1914—the Komagata Maru incident and the outbreak of the First World War.

Komagata Maru Incident

•            Komagata Maru was the name of a ship which was carrying 370 passengers, mainly Sikh and Punjabi Muslim would-be immigrants, from Singapore to Vancouver.

•            They were turned back by Canadian authorities after two months of privation and uncertainty. It was generally believed that the Canadian authorities were influenced by the British government.

•            The ship finally anchored at Calcutta in September 1914. The inmates refused to board the Punjab- bound train.

•            In the ensuing conflict with the police at Budge Budge near Calcutta, 22 persons died.

•            Inflamed by this and with the outbreak of the First World War, the Ghadr leaders decided to launch a violent attack to oust British rule in India. They urged fighters to go to India.

•           Kartar Singh Saraba and Raghubar Dayal Gupta left for India. Bengal revolutionaries were contacted; Rashbehari Bose and Sachin Sanyal were asked to lead the movement.

o            Political dacoities were committed to raise funds.

•            The Ghadrites fixed February 21, 1915 as the date for an armed revolt in Ferozepur, Lahore and Rawalpindi garrisons. The plan was foiled at the last moment due to treachery.

•            The authorities took immediate action, aided by the Defence of India Rules, 1915. Rebellious regiments were disbanded, leaders arrested and deported and 45 of them hanged.

o            Rashbehari Bose fled to Japan (from where he and Abani Mukherji made many efforts to send arms) while Sachin Sanyal was transported for life.

Evaluation of Ghadr

•            The achievement of the Ghadr movement lay in the realm of ideology. It preached militant nationalism with a completely secular approach.

•            But politically and militarily, it failed to achieve much because it lacked an organised and sustained leadership, underestimated the extent of preparation required at every level—organisational, ideological, financial and tactical strategic.

Revolutionaries in Europe

•            The Berlin Committee for Indian Independence was established in 1915 by Virendranath Chattopadhyay, Bhupendranath Dutta, Lala Hardayal and others with the help of the German foreign office under ‘Zimmerman Plan’.

•            These revolutionaries aimed to mobilise the Indian settlers abroad to send volunteers and arms to India to incite rebellion among Indian troops there and to even organise an armed invasion of British India to liberate the country.

•            The Indian revolutionaries in Europe sent missions to Baghdad, Persia, Turkey and Kabul to work among Indian troops and the Indian prisoners of war (POWs) and to incite anti-British feelings among the people of these countries.

Mutiny in Singapore

•            Among the scattered mutinies during this period, the most notable was in Singapore on February 15, 1915 by Punjabi Muslim 5th Light Infantry and the 36th Sikh battalion under Jamadar Chisti Khan, Jamadar Abdul Gani and Subedar Daud Khan.

•            It was crushed after a fierce battle in which many were killed. Later, 37 persons were executed and 41 transported for life.


•            There was a temporary respite in revolutionary activity after the First World War because the release of prisoners held under the Defence of India Rules cooled down passions a bit

•            There was an atmosphere of conciliation after Montagu’s August 1917 statement and the talk of constitutional reforms; and the coming of Gandhi on the scene with the programme of non-violent non-cooperation promised new hope.

Impact of Russian Revolution (November 7, 1917)

•            The Bolshevik Party of workers overthrew the Czarist regime and founded the first socialist state, the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov or Lenin.

•            The Soviet Union unilaterally renounced the Czarist imperialist rights in China and the rest of Asia, gave rights of self-determination to former Czarist colonies in Asia and gave equal status to the Asian nationalities within its borders.

•            The October Revolution brought home the message that immense power lay with the people, and that the masses were capable of challenging the mightiest of tyrants provided they were organised, united and determined.

Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms and Government of India Act, 1919

•            In line with the government policy contained in Montagu’s statement of August 1917, the government announced further constitutional reforms in July 1918, known as Montagu-Chelmsford or Montford Reforms.

•            Based on these, the Government of India Act, 1919 was enacted.

Main Features

The main features of the Montford Reforms were as follows.

Provincial Government—Introduction of Dyarchy

•            The Act introduced dyarchy for the executive at the level of the provincial government.


(i)          Dyarchy, i.e., rule of two—executive councillors and popular ministers—was introduced. The governor was to be the executive head in the province.

(ii)         Subjects were divided into two lists: ‘reserved’ which included subjects such as law and order, finance, land revenue, irrigation, etc., and ‘transferred’ subjects such as education, health, local government, industry, agriculture, excise, etc.

The reserved subjects were to be administered by the governor through his executive council of bureaucrats, and the transferred subjects were to be administered by ministers nominated from among the elected members of the legislative council.

(iii)        The ministers were to be responsible to the legislature and had to resign if a no-confidence motion was passed against them by the legislature, while the executive councillors were not to be responsible to the legislature.

(iv)        In case of failure of constitutional machinery inthe province the governor could take over the administration of transferred subjects also.


(i)          Provincial legislative councils were further expanded and 70 per cent of the members were to be elected.

(ii)         The system of communal and class electorates was further consolidated.

(iii)        Women were also given the right to vote.

(iv)        The legislative councils could initiate legislation but the governor’s assent was required. The governor could veto bills and issue ordinances.

(v)         The legislative councils could reject the budget but the governor could restore it, if necessary.

(vi)        The legislators enjoyed freedom of speech.

•            Central Government—Still Without Responsible Government


(i) The governor-general was to be the chief executive authority.

(ii)         There were to be two lists for administration— central and provincial.

(iii)        In the viceroy’s executive council of eight, three were to be Indians.

(iv)        The governor-general retained full control over the reserved subjects in the provinces.

(v)         The governor-general could restore cuts in grants, certify bills rejected by the central legislature and issue ordinances.


(i)          A bicameral arrangement was introduced. The lower house or Central Legislative Assembly would consist of 145 members (41 nominated and 104 elected— 52 General, 30 Muslims, 2 Sikhs, 20 Special) and the upper house or Council of State would have 60 members, of which 26 were to be nominated and 34 elected—20 General, 10 Muslims, 3 Europeans and 1 Sikh.

(ii)         The Council of State had a tenure of 5 years and had only male members, while the Central Legislative Assembly had a tenure of 3 years.

(iii)        The legislators could ask questions, pass adjournment motions and vote a part of the budget, but 75 per cent of the budget was still not votable.


The reforms had many drawbacks—

(i)          Franchise was very limited. The electorate was extended to some one-and-a-half million for the central legislature, while the population of India was around 260 million, as per one estimate.

(ii)         At the centre, the legislature had no control over the viceroy and his executive council.

(iii)        Division of subjects was not satisfactory at the centre.

(iv)        Allocation of seats for central legislature to the provinces was based on ‘importance’ of provinces—for instance, Punjab’s military importance and Bombay’s commercial importance.

(v)         At the level of provinces, division of subjects and parallel administration of two parts was irrational and, hence, unworkable. Subjects like irrigation, finance, police, press and justice were ‘reserved’.