Role of Moderates and Extremists in Indian Freedom Struggle

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Part Two: "Moderates" versus "Extremists" in the battle for "Swaraj" and "Swadeshi" Even as loyalist pressures cast a long shadow on political currents that were to influence the Indian elite of the late nineteenth century, rapidly deteriorating economic conditions also led to a heightened degree of radicalization amongst the most advanced sections of the new Indian intelligentsia. Ajit Singh in Punjab, Bal Gangadhar Tilak in Maharashtra, Chidambaram Pillay in Tamil Nadu and Bipin Chandra Pal in Bengal formed the nucleus of a new nationalist movement that tried valiantly, but mostly unsuccessfully to move the conservative leadership of the Indian National Congress in a more radical direction. Most charismatic amongst the new national leaders was Bal Gangadhar Tilak (b. 1856, d. 1920).

Portrayed as anti-Muslim by the Muslim-League, maligned by India's colonial rulers and British loyalists as an "extremist", and misrepresented as a sectarian Hindu revivalist by some historians, Tilak was in fact, one of the leading lights of the Indian freedom movement. Best remembered for his slogan "Swaraj is my birth-right ", he was one of the first to call for complete freedom from British rule, and fought a long and sometimes lonely political struggle against the forces of "moderation" that held sway over the Indian National Congress in the early part of the last century. After the defeat of 1858, one of the most significant challenges to British imperial authority in India had appeared in the form of Vasudeo Balvant Phadke's revolt of 1879, and amongst his many youthful followers and trainees in Pune was the young Tilak. Along with Chiplunkar, Agarkar and Namjoshi, Tilak initially concentrated on launching a nationalist weekly - the Kesari (1881), the publishing house - Kitabkhana, and developing Indian educational institutions such as the Deccan Education Society (1884). Tilak and his friends saw the right kind of education as being a crucial element in the task of national regeneration, and in this respect appeared to be continuing in the tradition of Jyotirao Phule (1827-1890) and Gopalrao Deshmukh (1823-1892) who was more known by his pen-name 'Lokahitwadi' . Foremost amongst the social revolutionaries of nineteenth century Maharashtra, Phule and his wife Savitribai, had advocated a radical restructuring of Hindu society on the basis of equality of caste, gender and creed. Phule, (who belonged to the Mali caste) was unsparing in his criticism of Brahminical society that looked down upon the shudra jatis, prevented the atishudra (untouchable) jatis from attending school, and treated young widows (particularly Brahmin widows) as outcastes. One of the first to start a school for girls (1848), Phule went on to found the first school for the atishudras (1851), a home for young widows (1863), and also the first to open the family well to atishudra women (1868). Social reformers in Maharashtra also emerged from the upper castes, such as Gopalrao Deshmukh, who although a Chitpawan Brahmin was a sharp critic of Brahminical society, and worked primarily through reformist middle-class organizations such as the Prasthana Samaj and the Arya Samaj to fight against caste inequities. But amongst Tilak's colleagues, not all were well-disposed towards Phule and Deshmukh (Lokahitwadi). Chiplunkar was particularly vitriolic in his criticism of Phule. Tilak, on the other hand, was not unsympathetic to the need for social reforms, and was opposed to evils like child-marriage, casteism and untouchability. Many years later, (at a conference in Bombay in 1918), he was to declare: "If God were to tolerate untouchability, I would not recognize him as God at all". However, he was reluctant to give precedence to social reforms over political struggle, believing that social change ought to come gradually, through the growth of enlightened public opinion, rather than through the legislative authority of an alien government. He was convinced that no...
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