The Movement Under Militant Leadership - (INM 1905 to 1917)

After the failure of Swadeshi Movement of 1905, a revolutionary movement was led by militant nationalists who tried to copy the methods of the Irish nationalists and Russian nihilists and populists.

The militant leadership or the revolutionists decided to organise the assassinations of unpopular British officials. They thought that such assassinations would strike terror into the hearts of the British rulers, arouse the patriotic instincts of the people, will inspire them and remove the fear of authority from the minds of people. They believed that by terrorising British officials, they would be able to demoralise the entire machinery of the government and this will help in bringing out freedom.

This signified, as Sumit Sarkar(1973) points out, a shift from non-violence to violence and also from mass action to elite action, necessitated primarily by the failure of the mass mobilization efforts.

Reasons behind the rise of Militant Movement

  1. Growing consciousness among the Indians.
  2. So called failure of the Moderate agitation- Moderate methods were not working, for example Partition of Bengal happened even after a widespread movement. The younger elements within the Congress were strongly critical of the methods of peaceful and constitutional agitation adopted by the Moderates.
  3. Lord Curzon's reactionary rule was the immediate cause. Administrative measures adopted during his rule such as the Official Secrets Act, the Indian Universities Act, the Calcutta Municipality Act and, above all, the partition of Bengal were repressive in nature.
  4. Realisation of the need for mass action.
  5. Growth of self respect among the Indians. Tilak declared that Swaraj was the birth right of every Indian. Aurobindo and Bipin Chandra Pal repeatedly urged the nationalists to rely on the character and capacities of the Indian people.
  6. Influence of western education and ideas. 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.
  7. Realisation of social and cultural evils of British rule.
  8. Influence of international events. 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.

About Militant Leadership

Background

The culture of violence as a mode of political protest was alive in India even after the suppression of the revolt of 1857. In Maharashtra, Vasudeo Balwant Phadke had gathered around him a hand of Ramoshis and other backward classes and engaged them in dacoities to collect money for his grandiose scheme of an armed revolt against the British. Though he was arrested, but the revolutionary trend was kept alive in Maharashtra through the physical and culture movement and formation of youth clubs, the most well known of which was founded by the Chapekar brothers, Balkrishna and Damodar in Poona. The brothers assassinated Rand, the Plague Commissioner of Poona, who was allegedly responsible for the atrocities perpetrated by the soldiers during their house searches to identify plague victims.

In Bengal, militant nationalism developed in the same way since the 1860s and 70s, when the physical culture movement became a craze and akharas or gymnasiums were set-up everywhere to develop what Swami Vivekanand had described as strong muscles and nerves of steel.

Chapekar brothers-Damodar Hari Chapekar, Balkrishna Hari Chapekar and Vasudeo Hari Chapekar

Rash Behari Bose

Bal Gangadhar Tilak

V D Savarkar

Militant Leadership

In Bengal:

  • The real story of militant nationalism in Bengal began from 1902 with the formation of four groups, three in Calcutta and one in Midnapur. The first was the Midnapur Society, followed by the founding of a gymnasium by Sarala Ghosal in Calcutta, the Atmonnoti Samiti and the Anushilan Samiti. The progress of this movement till 1905 was modest, but the beginning of the Swadeshi Movement in 1905 brought an upsurge in secret society activities.
  • Important militant leaders of Bengal include Jnanendranath Basu, Pramathnath Mitra (Pramotha Mitter), Jatindranath Banerjee, Barinder Kumar Ghosh (Aurobindo Ghosh's brother), Rash Behari Bose, Sachin Sanyal and Bhupendranath Dutta.
  • An all-Bengal conference of the revolutionaries and a revolutionary weekly called Yugantar was started.

Yugantar openly noted in an editorial-

" If the 30 crores of country's population raise their 60 crores of hands aloft in the vow of resistance, then only the oppression stop. Only force can silence this use of force."

  • But the abortive attempt at Muzzafarpur on the life of the Presidency Magistrate Kingsford in 1908 by Khudirma Bose and Prafulla Chaki and the following arrest of Aurobindo Ghosh and Barinder Ghosh, dealt a great blow to such militant activities.
  • An unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the Viceroy Lord Hardinge in Delhi by Rashbehari Bose and Sachin Sanyal.

In Maharashtra:

  • Ramosi Peasant Force was organised by Vasudeo Balwant Phadke, which aimed to rid the country of the British by instigating an armed revolt by disrupting communication lines.
  • Bal Gangadhar Tilak popularised the propaganda through Ganpati and Shivaji festivals. He also published the newspapers, Kesari and Maratha for imbibing the spirit of Swaraj among the people.
  • V D Savarkar and his fellows organized Mitra Mela. In 1904, he organized Abhinav Bharat as a secret society of revolutionaries and merged Mitra Mela with it.

In Punjab:

  • Lala Lajpat Rai organised Punjabee (motto-self help at any cost). He imbibed the spirit of struggle among the people through his writings in The People, Bande Mataram, The Punjabee.
  • Ajit Singh, Bhagat Singh's uncle organised Anjuman-i-Mohisban-i-Watan in Lahore. He also started a journal named Bharat Mata.

Abroad:

  • Madan Lal Dhingra assassinated Curzon Wylie, a British official in London .
  • Shyamji Krishnavarma organised Indian House, an Indian home rule society which served as a centre for Indian students. It granted scholarships for Indian radical youth. Shyamji also started a journal, the Sociologist.
  • Berlin Committee for Indian Independence was started in 1915 by Virendranath Chattopahyay, Bhupendranath Dutta, Lala Hardyal and others. The committee with the help of German foreign office made a 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.

Ghadar Party

In 1913, in San Francisco, North America, Sohan Singh Bhakana, Taraknath Das, Lala Hardyal and others formed the Ghadar Party. The programme was to organise the assassinations of officials, publish revolutionary and anti-imperialistic literature, work among Indian troops stationed abroad, procure arms and bring about a simultaneous revolt in all British colonies.

The flag of Ghadar Party

Conclusion

Hence the movement under the militant leadership made a valuable contribution to the growth of nationalism in India. As a historian has put it, 'they gave us back the pride of our manhood.'

Despite their limitations and weaknesses, their effort to emancipate the country from foreign rule was a patriotic act and a progressive step.

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